Monday, August 11, 2014

Contemplating the Public Square

There's a scene from the Dick Van Dyke Show in which the Petries' son, Richie, asks, "Where did I come from?" Rob (Dick Van Dyke) and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) exchange meaningful glances before Rob launches into an explanation that begins, "When a mommy and daddy love each other very much. . . ." After hearing the story of the birds and the bees, Richie says, "I didn't want to know that. Freddie Helper says he's from Chicago. I want to know where I'm from." Presentations of the proposed "re-imagining" of Seventh Street Park somehow call to mind that scene.

Last Thursday, there was a second meeting to discuss that proposal for Seventh Street Park (a.k.a. the Public Square). People who had been at the first meeting came to the second meeting hoping to learn something new, but Cathryn Dwyre went over the same territory, with the same presentation, starting with dissing the park's 1878 design as a "default park design."

John Knott was the first to interject a comment. "One of the things that has been a general hope," he told Dwyre, "is that the fountain will be restored." Another audience member concurred, "The town is a bunch of preservationists, and they want their fountain back."

To illustrate the advisability of restoring the historic park, Ian Nitschke told the tale of two parks in Syracuse. One of the parks, Fayette Park, was restored in the 1980s, using 19th-century photographs of the park to inform the restoration. The restored park spurred revitalization in the area around the park.

Another Syracuse public space, Clinton Square, along the Erie Canal, received different treatment. In the 1980s, the park was redesigned according to what was trendy in park design at the time. Twenty years later, everything that was done in the 1980s was ripped up, and the park was totally redone.

Phil McCarthy cautioned, "What is cool and hip and works today may age badly."

Matthew Frederick expressed the feelings of many when he said that public involvement was being limited to "critiquing a scheme rather than working through the design process." He also observed that "rather than things growing out of the conditions that are there, things are being lifted [from other places]."

The grant request is for $340,000, and the question was raised about how much of the proposed design could be funded with that amount. The answer was "demolition and new paving." The complete realization of the re-imagining, which is expected would be done in phases with "successional grants," is expected to cost between $1 and $1.5 million.

It was suggested that if the grant is awarded, the $340,000 be used to make the park "so that people want to use it," to do "simple things that don't get into re-imagining it." David Voorhees observed that a change of use is already being seen in the park. Different people are using it than once did, more people are eating their lunch in the park, and the park is now being used, very successfully, for the midweek farmers' market. 


  1. Historic Parks, like historic buildings, should preserve what there is that is historic about them. The 7th Street Park evolved from an open space into an elegant, if modest, 19th century park that perfectly served the function of a park--as a place for gathering and as a centerpiece for the city, and one that made excellent use of the existing somewhat problematical space. It was later "re-imagined" by the city. Perhaps that re-imagining was thought to be timely modernizing. Instead it was hugely destructive of the original design and it destroyed its primary feature, the elegant ( and valuable) historic fountain, and made the park unwelcoming and banal. The latest re-imagining invents yet another banality that ignores rather than echoes the history of a space central to Hudson and its community life. The city is fortunate to have excellent documentation of what the park looked liked. Why not restore to the city what the city destroyed, restore what is historic and original to Hudson, rather than create another dubious design that, as many noted, may well be as unacceptable to future Hudsonians and seem as unimaginative to them as the present park does now.

  2. I was there Thursday and it was my first time to see the presentation and the illustrations of all the places that inspired the design. To me, all of them seemed to be very large and TALL, elements in pretty huge spaces. In other words, I could not see them fitting in the little park here -- maybe one, but all of them? So, I was wondering why we have seen no examples of work she has done. Why all is by others? It would be helpful to see her work, places she has designed and installed, to better get a feel for what she can do.

    One of the aspects of the park now that pleases me is how open it is. Yes, there are tall trees, but under the canapy of the trees, from every side, you can see to the other side, and the historic Hudson buildings surrounding the park. I fear that if this design gets built the park will have little or no shade but the new elements will be so tall as to obliterate those views of structures surrounding the park. This will be especially true if the "vegetation corridor" -- aka the trellis/tunnel for the train -- is built. That will become a permanent green wall that blocks views on either side 24/7. Currently those views are blocked only for the few minutes a train passes through the park. But, the "vegetation corridor" will be there full time. How ironic that the Marina Abravovic Institute, which will be one of the most important projects for the city, will be invisible from the Warren St. end of the park, as well as most of Park Place. And, visitors standing in front of the MAI looking toward the park will see only the "vegtation corridor" as it will pretty much block all of the park except for the little triangle in front of it.

    Also, about that triangle: if my memory serves, only half of that space would be for the dog run, and it is the smaller end, not the larger one as mentioned in the Register Star article. Over the weekend I drove by that and honestly, will any dog other than the tea cup breeds be able to get a good run going in the space? And, in the larger half, bordering Columbia there is to be some platform seating? Why? what would be visible from them? The little dogs running around and the "vegetation corridor" for the trains?

    I am sorry but I just don't "get" this plan.

    Elizabeth Nyland

  3. A few observations and concerns about the costs. First, each time she was pushed to look into restoring the Venus fountain, Cathryn Dwyre exclaimed how expensive it would be to restore. As I recall the figure of $50,000 was quoted to which some people in the audience gasped. That is a lot of money. But, since she is assuming a budget up to $1.5 million to complete her plan, it is interesting to note that the $50,000 restoration fee would be just 3.3% of the total. Seen in this perspective, it seems a nominal amount to spend on what is such an important element of the park and one which so many seem to value.

    And, since most restoration/reno budgets seem to go way over the original estimate, we should probably be prepared for needing more than that $1.5 million. Where is it all going to come from? How many years and how many grants would be needed to complete this project? And, what will be the condition of the park as each bit of money is spent? The prospect of a park "in progress" for long duration might be a reason to consider a smaller project, one that changes fewer elements and fixes what is wrong rather than starting from scratch on something that may never get done.

    1. Sorry I forgot to sign the second note, above about the costs,
      Elizabeth Nyland

  4. This past weekend the Hudson Music Festival once again used the park by placing a tented stage there. Many musician commented by microphone that they loved being so close to the fountain. Also to collaborate with the CCCA with an Artists' Marketplace in the park really gave the park a festive feeling! There were also two food vendors there and lots of visitors!

    I'd like to see a public restroom at the park too. I think the Wednesday farmer's market project is great! I'd like to see more use by other vendors, artists and musicians.

  5. Thanks Carole for the accurate review of my comments and the information I sent you. I would like to add a few comments:

    In both cases, the parks in Syracuse could not be exactly restored to the period of their peak significance but were inspired by their 19th century history.

    In the case of Fayette Park, the original 19th century cast iron fence surrounding the park was restored but the original fountain was lost, replaced early in the 20th century by a fountain featuring a Syracuse Fire Chief who lost his life firefighting. It was the fireman’s fountain that was restored. [Hudson still has its original 19th century fountain!]

    The first (disastrous) renovation of Clinton Square in the 1980s was made with little respect for the history and importance of the most prominent square in Syracuse. It consisted of massive piles of brick spouting water and dry depressions with wide steps paved in concrete and brick where, presumably, people would gather to gawk at the water trickling down the pile of bricks.

    As Carole mentions, the 1980s renovation “was ripped up, and the park was totally redone.” The renovation in 2001 was inspired by the Eire Canal that ran through the square during its peak in the 19th century (see painting by Johann Culverhouse a successful Rotterdam born painter who began working in the United States in 1843 By 1923, when the Erie Canal was closed and the Barge Canal bypassed Syracuse, the engineering wonder of the 1800s was filled in to become Erie Boulevard. The new renovation closed Erie Boulevard through the square and replaced by a reflecting pool simulating the Erie Canal. It now forms the centerpiece of the park. “Once again, this public square is a gathering place for Syracusans who come to ice skate in the winter and attend many festivals and events held throughout the year.” See

  6. The design was unfortunate...where are the flower beds?

  7. This distressing process seems to be an instance of the cart pulling the horse. Apparently its impetus was money made available by the state parks department to fund parks. Thus we get a concept design for a park, not an urban public square. There's a difference. The first questions should have been, "What's the need here? What are the activities that need to be accommodated?" Not, "How can we snag some of this money that's being doled out and then do what the grant requires."
    I myself don't love 7th Street Park's historic plan, I wouldn't reject a modernist design, and I like a lot of the elements in Ms. Dwyers' concept. But her concept exists to get a grant rather than to give Hudson what it needs. We are surrounded by gorgeous countryside, greenery and topography. There already is a brilliant proposal to create a park along the north bay that would connect to the Greenport Conservation Area, which will provide us with more gorgeous greenery, topography, and such, walkable from town. What we lack and need in the central urban location under discussion is a flexible town square — think of a plaza, and put aside for the moment the specifics of its design and style — which can accommodate a range of activities. Tables and chairs where people can eat lunch or play chess. Space for performance, rallies, food carts, craft shows, exhibitions, square dances, whatever. A space that invites people to step into it from all around its perimeter and is seamlessly connected to its very urban context. I wouldn't even call it a park, but a square, and perhaps that concept would not qualify for the available park-development grant. But let's talk about what we need, not what we can do to get the money.

  8. Please bring our fountain back

  9. I never understood why that beautiful fountain was replaced by what is there now. The large iron bars surrounding it echo much of the "do not ..." and "no ..." signs we see around Hudson. I think a lot of that was due to the crime that once dominated our downtown area. That time has long since passed though and it would be nice to see a change in the subtext throughout the City. 7th Street Park would be a great place to start!

  10. The City of Hudson is laid out in cruciform. The park was too. Venus crowned the original fountain.
    In today's secular world, any reference to Christianity or classic "misogynistic" Pagan beauty seems to belong in the dustbin of Western history and design. Replacing classic symbols and design elements with politically correct vapid design elements shows only the anger and resentment that a contemporary designer has against the simple and beautiful formality of the past.

  11. It ain't broke.

    So stop using it as an excuse to get grant money to level it for your ego.