Monday, October 6, 2014

Contemplating Curating

The verb curate has become very popular in recent years. Hudson has a shop subtitled "Life Curated," a vendor market that curates the artisans and makers who participate, a real estate office that professes "We curate the best properties in the Hudson Valley." A word maven contemplating the evolution of the word curate from "nice, quaint little word" to trendy "all-purpose buzzword" observes: "Ground zero in the curate-ification movement is the emerging upscale exurb of Hudson, N.Y., where, The New York Times reports, you can now stay at a 'curated' bed and breakfast." 

The concept of curating, once limited to the selection, presentation, and maintenance of objects in museum collections, is now used to talk about the thoughtful and expert selection, presentation, and maintenance of just about everything. Maybe it's time that Hudson's public spaces, particularly its parks, benefit from some curating.

Most people who have given thoughtful consideration to Seventh Street Park over the years conclude that all the park needs is some editing. Since the park was created in 1878, too much "stuff" has found its way there, the fountain has been lamentably updated, too many inappropriate trees have been planted, too many asphalt paths crisscross the open space. Seventh Street Park would have benefited from some curating over the years--that is, some expert knowledge and sensitivity guiding the changes that happened and the elements that were introduced into the park.

Hudson has two historic parks--Promenade Hill and Seventh Street Park--and one new park--Henry Hudson Riverfront Park, which provides access to views of the Hudson River and the Catskills of statewide significance. Who is curating what is done in these parks--in terms of changes, additions, and maintenance?

Last summer, the rubbing medallion installed on Promenade Hill as part of the Hudson River School Art Trail drew criticism for obstructing the very view it celebrated: "People of every sort are unconsciously drawn to the furthest promontory of our Promenade to look outwards. Only now America's first panorama park is being redesigned by someone with zero sensibility. Students of history, where is your sensibility? Why do we allow this?" One of the complaints was that Promenade Hill had been set aside as a public space and granted by the Proprietors to the Common Council, yet the Council allegedly had no input in the placement of the rubbing medallion.

Recently, Supervisor Sarah Sterling (First Ward) discovered a memorial tree that had been planted last spring in riverfront park and raised objections in an email addressed to the mayor and the Common Council. At the heart of Sterling's criticism was a question of policy. In her email, Sterling explained: "When I was part of the Waterfront Committee, we had a request by Gail Grandinetti to plant a tree in honor of her husband. It was decided then, by a formal vote of the committee, that memorial trees could get out of hand and that, as the placement, design, and type of the trees for the park had been carefully planned, we would let people purchase a bench with a plaque in honor of the deceased but no further trees!"

This policy, established by the committee that planned the park, was never documented. If it had been, the mayor, who sees it as his job "to make sure the laws are enforced," as well as rules and regulations, and who recently combed the city code and other documents to find justification for banning dogs from the cemetery, would surely have found it. Instead, he granted permission for the tree to be planted.

The question remains: Who makes the decisions about additions and alterations that have a significant and long-term--if not permanent--effect on city parks? Right now it seems it is up to the mayor, who, according to DPW superintendent Rob Perry, "has the authority and power bestowed upon him that allow him to do things on this own." 

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, thinks there needs to be a process by which such decisions are made. He is quoted in the Register-Star as saying, "Governmental action can't be sui generis--it must be grounded in a rational basis at least. And the process should be public (i.e., pursuant to public notice). Otherwise, it merely perpetuates the stereotype of Hudson local government doing whatever it feels like."
Sterling advocates for a parks commissioner, "so that we can make sure changes to any of our parks are not undertaken without consideration of the park as a whole." A parks commissioner, however, would likely be a mayoral appointment, so there is no assurance that such a commissioner would have the expertise or sensibility to make appropriate decisions.

Another possibility is a parks conservancy, such as the one that exists in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy works in partnership with city government and the community to restore and maintain the parks in Pittsburgh. In 2000, in a process that involved city government as well as public input, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy developed a parks master plan that included the history of each park in the system and made recommendations for future projects and maintenance. Hudson, its parks, and the residents and visitors who enjoy the parks would definitely benefit if such an organization existed here.


  1. Curated is right up there with "artisanal" and "hand crafted" as the current buzzwords that seemingly add some mystic value to a product or service.

  2. Excellent post, Gossips!

    I'd re-word one notion though. It wasn't simply that the Common Council had "no input" in the placement of an advertisement for the Thomas Cole House at the Promenade Park, but that the council unilaterally relinquished one of the very first duties it was ever given, which was to oversee alterations at this one park.

    This would reinforce one thing I think I'm reading in this post, which is to say that Hudson residents don't care very much about the city's history, or maybe any history (which is not quite synonymous with caring about your own house!).

    It was pretty obvious at the time that the aldermen relinquished their responsibility towards the Promenade because the public didn't give a damn.

    That's how we got where we are today, which is not a very inspiring history!

  3. A Hudson Parks Conservancy desperately needs to be formed!

  4. the Columbia Land Conservancy plan calls for addressing the North Dock in years 7,8, and 9, no thanks...

  5. Just how many Hudsonians & curated, artisanaled, handcrafted visitors to Hudson park themselves in Hudson's Parks? The City of Hudson's Park Place fire stations sponsored free entertainment (Ghent Band, etc.) & the event actually closed Park Place to all traffic. Yes, even the trucks.
    I believe the events occurred on Sundays & did attract many people. Sunday in the park requires a reason to go there & not to just walk the dog.
    I must agree w/ unheimlich with stating the obvious; people are not interested nor do they give a dam about Hudson's history & the parks. Unless of course it's about whores, gambling or a house they purchased to restore.