Saturday, June 14, 2014

Park or Public Square?

Last evening, Cathryn Dwyre unveiled her conceptual design for the Public Square, commonly known these days as Seventh Street Park. In her preface to presenting the design, Dwyre spoke of "bringing new ideas into the context of history," but in the design presented the "context of history" seemed confined to the buildings that surround the square.

Dwyre's rethinking of the Public Square starts with dismissing the original 1878 design as a Roman concept, already out of fashion when it was inappropriately imposed on the Public Square--inappropriately because it pretended that the railroad tracks did not slice through the space. The original design of the park being dismissed, the inspiration for the conceptual design that will accompany the City's grant application came instead from Teardrop Park in lower Manhattan, Sou Fujimoto's Serpentine Pavilion in London, the Overhoff-Halprin fountain in Seattle, and the High Line, which Dwyre mentioned often.

The new concept for the Public Square (a.k.a. Seventh Street Park) involves a trellis structure to create a "green tunnel" for the train to pass through, a water feature (not the original fountain re-created and restored) positioned closer to Warren Street, rerouted pathways that are efficient, seating walls, a dog run in part of the triangle separated off by the railroad, and a "whole diverse ecosystem" of native plantings to replace most of the trees now there, which are predominantly Norway maples, an introduced and now scorned species.

Not surprisingly, although people expressed gratitude to Dwyre for her work and dedication, the conceptual plan did not meet with unanimous enthusiasm. James Male objected that the Public Square was not a park but a town square, and hence "every cliché about parks" did not apply. He went on to say that the proposal "completely eradicated what exists to create something 'on trend.'" Norman Mintz agreed that the area in question should be seen "less as a park than a public space." He and John Isaacs likened it to a European plaza.

Carrie Haddad commented, "It's an awful lot you're trying to put in there." Similarly, Alana Hauptmann suggested the plan was "ambitious for such a small space." Along the same lines, Melanie Mintz observed that all the projects cited as precedents were "huge projects"--much bigger than one city block in Hudson.

Nick Haddad recalled the notion of "editing" the space, suggesting, "If we take out a lot of the stuff that was added thoughtlessly, then you can reassess what we have." David Voorhees wondered if there wasn't "a way of incorporating some of the original elements and not just totally erase the past."

A fair amount of criticism was directed at the process. John Friedman observed, "It all sounds very nice, but why are we doing this one time on a Friday night?" (The grant application is due on Monday.) Bill Roehr, of TGW Consultants, explained more than once that the idea was to get the money and then seek community feedback to refine the plan. Since the maximum grant is $250,000, it seems unlikely that, whatever the final plan, it could be realized for for that amount. Roehr acknowledged this, by saying, "After we get the money, that's when we talk about phasing"--but the decisions about phasing require a plan that is more than just conceptual.

Don Moore, who waited until the end of the meeting to comment, said, "I would hate to see the process stop because people are unhappy with the plan." He urged that the process needs to continue, and he wants to see it continue, concluding, "We're discovering a lot about ourselves."


  1. The one thing that draws tourists, and therefore antique and restaurant business to Hudson is it's historic charm.
    The lure of $250,000 spons a misguided plan based on greed... "the idea was to get the money" and then decide how to spend it even if it results in destroying a historic part of hudson that just needs a good tidying up. Nick and David are on the right track. This is so messed up on so many levels.

  2. Only in Hudson does preserving historical use and charm start with destruction of the working model...

  3. The trees may not be native, but they are nice big shade trees. Replacing full grown trees with new ones means a hot sunny park with no shade and little trees. Seems like a bad idea to me. Better to plant new trees and let them grow, when they get big enough some of the older ones could be removed.

  4. Jonathan Lerner submitted this comment:

    Town square? Great. But the historic and current layout isn’t that. Where’s paved space for congregation, raised space for performance or speech, bleacher-like seating, tables for playing chess? This new proposal might not be good. But it has intriguing elements. A trellis-tunnel for the train? Charming. Turning that leftover sliver into a dogrun? An obviously felt need in town. A contemporary design for today’s needs won’t compromise Hudson’t historic character.

  5. Oh boy, so many questions raised by this plan. But, I will start with my general questions/observations:

    1. How did the desire to fix up, refurbish, restore, the City Square/Park become a project that would eliminate everything? Is there nothing the planner considers worth saving?
    This is Hudson, NY, a city that is known for its 18th and 19th century architecture; a city that has earned a name in recent years for the refurbishing and restoration of that architecture, not the elimination of it. How is this total re-design of this historic park in keeping with what Hudson is all about?

    How do those applying for the grant feel? Do they agree it needs to be totally re-done? If not, why is this plan part of the application?

    2. How much more is it going to cost to implement a plan such as this than one that would actually involve refurbishing what is there -- keeping what is good and getting rid of bad interim "improvements"? Probably a lot more money?

    3. Given all the different sources of inspiration that were sited for the various elements in the plan, is this a plan with one vision or does it represent many visions, and are those different visions/sources compatible with each other? Are they compatible with the city and its history and other physical assets? Will a green trellis inspired by a naturally evolving arch in the Ukraine live comfortably with a water feature that seems to be inspired more by very modern design? Will either "fit" in Hudson?
    Elizabeth Nyland

  6. Why is there only ONE proposal to choose from and why is it happening moments before the deadline ?

  7. I have to disagree with Jonathan Lerner. Anyone interested in historic buildings,or antiques would be disappointed to discover a new square poising as an original real deal. You can't recreate the charm of an original antique. The main ugly factor at the current square is all the signage and I'll bet a new square would have even more (signs). Cathryn Dwyre apeares to have solved a problem that did not exist except for the signs which she can do nothing about.

    1. Jonathan Lerner responds:

      Chris, you misread me. It depends what you want. We could restore the original real deal, and we would still not have a town square that accommodated active programming and civic uses. Performance, demonstrations, festivals, exhibitions, canned food drives, whatever — those functions need flexible space intentionally designed in. The original plan seems intended exclusively for strolling and bench sitting, and cleaning it up won’t change that. Personally, I don’t think the original design has much charm anyway, but that’s a subjective aesthetic judgement, not an observation about what it can be easily used for. A new design can be sympathetic to the surrounding historic urban fabric, and even incorporate and reflect what’s already in the park. But if it’s a town square we want, restoring the original design won’t provide it.

  8. Jonathan,I agree with all your points especially "It depends what you want". There's not much room for much more than is already there. I guess I got my back up because the proposal as reported in the gossip sounded like the city's first priority was to get their hands on some "free" money and then try to make everyone happy by promising way more than that little space can accommodate. As an Architect / designer / builder / inventor I believe simpler is always better, sometimes less is more and sometimes it's only greed or someones ego behind doing anything at all. I agree the space needs some help, but what? I long for the town squares I visited as a design student in Mexico where people played the guitar or chess or ball or ate street food or just sat. Dogs and cigars were welcome, lovers kissed and there were no signs because the parents taught there children how to behave in public and everyone knew the common sense rules. You could cool your feet in the fountain 'cus thats what fountains are for, right? OK... I'l stop.

    1. That description of squares in Mexico is lovely. I agree, the process sounds typically lame, and almost guaranteed to produce nothing in the end...

  9. years ago i designed the building known as Proprietors Hall that sits on the corner of 7th and Columbia..i spent several months also overseeing the construction and always found the park to be quite sad...i imagine the original scheme as shown in the first picture above to be one that should be followed and most of the elements that have been added over the years should be reevaluated and either taken down or moved to some other location ....