Sunday, June 1, 2014

Not Very Public Planning for Public Spaces

Last Wednesday, at the Common Council Public Works Committee meeting, DPW superintendent Rob Perry included in his monthly report to the committee the plans and the budget for a ramp to provide handicapped access to Promenade Hill.

The ramp would be constructed out of wood, like a deck, and is expected to cost just under $20,000. Common Council president Don Moore, who is an ex officio member of the committee, was puzzled by the existence of such a plan. He was unclear about why Perry had developed such a plan, when TWG Consulting Group is working on an application for a grant to fund design improvements to the entrance to Promenade Hill that would include a handicapped ramp. Perry explained that he had been pressured by Second Ward aldermen Tiffany Garriga and Abdus Miah to come up with a plan to provide handicapped access to Promenade Hill, and this was it.

Handicapped access to Promenade Hill has been talked about for a while. In 2011, the City of Hudson applied for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to create a ramp at the entrance to the historic park. Morris Associates, one of Hudson's favorite go-to engineering firms, came up with the plans that were used for the grant application--plans that carried a price tag of slightly less than $280,000. The rendering below is from the 2011 grant application.

Hudson's 2011 CDBG application was not successful, and in September 2013, in the run-up to the election, the idea of the ramp came up again at a Public Works Committee meeting. There was talk at the time of appropriating money for the ramp in the 2014 budget, but that wasn't done, and in December, when the Council voted to approve that 2014 budget, Miah expressed his disappointment that there was no money in the budget to make Promenade Hill accessible to people unable to climb stairs. Miah remains committed to delivering a ramp for his constituents, hence the plan produced by Perry.

So now, at one end of the city, there is the possibility of some kind of budget ramp being built at the entrance to our most historic public open space, and at the other end, there is a plan, about which little is known, for a "partial renovation to Seventh Street Park." The only information about this project came from Mayor William Hallenbeck in an interview on WGXC at the end of February. According to the mayor, a company he did not name (but some suspect is Lowe's) has "chosen Hudson to donate some materials and other workers and things to provide a renovation of our choosing." Seventh Street Park, a.k.a. the Public Square, is to be the subject of the renovation, but, to quote the mayor, "what that's going to be we don't know yet." (If you want to hear all the mayor says about the project, that part of the interview begins at 18:30.)

Hoping to get some information about what is in the works for our historic parks, Gossips asked Bill Roehr, of TGW, what he knew about the plans. He explained that two grants are being pursued through the Consolidated Funding Application--one, in the category of Historic Preservation, to improve the entrance to Promenade Hill, improvements that would include a ramp for handicapped access; the other, in the category of Parks, to restore the Public Square.

Both these projects, if successful in getting CFA funding, would involve landscape architects in a planning process that included community participation and would likely result in outcomes that both park users and those who fuss about aesthetics and maintaining the integrity of the parks' original designs might find satisfactory. (Promenade Hill was created in 1785, and improvements were made to the park in 1878--one of them being "the erection of an ornamental iron fence along the full length of its dangerous frontage." The Public Square, which had been simply a cobble-stoned market place, has transformed into a park in 1878.) It's the $20,000 handicapped ramp at Promenade Hill and the unspecified "partial renovation" of the Public Square that makes one wish we had a Parks Commissioner or better yet a Park Commission committed to the appropriate care and keeping of the parks to oversee what is planned and implemented.

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