Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Assessing Hudson's Natural Environment

The Conservation Advisory Council is embarking on a multi-year project to inventory the city's open spaces and natural resources. Specialists from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Hudson River Estuary Program have been assisting the CAC with this project by preparing summaries of existing data on the condition of natural habitats within the city, the challenges posed by severe climate events, and the state of our wetlands. On Monday, April 18, these specialists from DEC will be in Hudson to present their findings and discuss how this information can help us plan for Hudson's future. The presentation takes place at 6:30 p.m. in the community room of the new Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street.


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  2. These summaries will provide a perfect launching point for our next foray into waterfront planning.

    The natural resource inventories to follow the summaries will synthesize many layers of data from multiple systems into single images, providing a holistic vision of the waterfront we've never had before.

    The failed LWRP was linear, land-bound, and sclerotic. At each point, it started from a given set of unnecessary limitations (often the personal limitations of its author), and then tried to work outwards. Whenever the LWRP met the natural world, it would stick in a legalistic toe and go no further.

    It was always a struggle to get our officials who dominated the program to accept fauna and flora records which the State had already acknowledged. The Spongy Arrowhead (NYS-Threatened) was never admitted, probably because it grows at the foot of the Furgary shacks.

    It's a good thing that the LWTP failed, and another good thing to get the process going again.

    What I'd hope people can resist doing is revisiting the subject by beginning with the previous document. I've read it a half dozen times, and there's no nutrition there.

    The 2011 LWRP was created by a lawyer from miles inland who didn't know the Ferry Street Bridge from the Railhead Bridge (true!), and an uncaring design firm which had no idea how many slips are in the waterfront park (also true!).

    But today, we're already hearing City officials discussing the new effort by using the dead language and ideas resuscitated from the failed document. I think they have a responsibility to be more careful with their language. All that many of us ever wanted was a chance to create the LWRP ourselves, without the meddling of so-called experts who are always from elsewhere. If we're not careful, they will continue to guide the process with their abstract, spectral language. Their words will do our thinking for us.

    If you wanted to find an original film interpretation of King Lear, would you begin by watching and studying every example of Lear ever filmed? No, you would read King Lear and have your own response. Similarly, we should ignore the old LWRP and instead head straight to the river, like those "thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries" on the first page of Moby-Dick.

    Ask the most basic questions: Why is the river that color? Why is the water smooth there, but not there? Where did those rocks come from? Those pilings? Who paid for the docks? What's that building? Who owns it (really)?

    Let's make the program anew, and forget the badly-formed past until we've formed our own questions.

    These summaries created by the Hudson River Estuary Program are a great place to start.

    1. I meant not "find," but create an original interpretation of a play. You'd go straight to the play, right?

      It's so easy to be unimaginative, especially when a lot of people just want to get this done and get the money back that we already shelled out.

      But the people finally have their opportunity to shape Hudson's future now that the bums have lost. Don't begin with their proven bad work, but look at the waterfront with new eyes, with your own eyes.

  3. Though I understand Unheimlich's wonderful point about not making the same mistakes as the LWRP, it is wrong to assume that one should not read it. All too often in Hudson (and elsewhere) erstwhile well-intentioned government bodies and agencies, so enamored of their new powers and privileges, don't read anything from the past and thus fall into an even worse trap: repeating the mistakes of the past. Anyone can read King Lear and will no doubt have his or her own response -- that certainly doesn't mean you can create a good film interpretation. It is certainly good to understand the flora and the fauna of our waterfront, but it is equally important to understand what previous generations (and previous committees) did wrong -- and why. Part of the problem in Hudson (and elsewhere) is collective hubris: closed meetings, unresponsiveness to the public (if you can't reply to an email, how can you possibly reply flora and fauna?!) who can't come to the meetings, etc.

  4. Of course read it, but only afterwards - after people have brought their own imaginations to the challenge.

    There are no generations now living who were trained to privilege the source materials; literary criticism, to stay with the model, interprets other literary criticism. Everything about this culture is secondary and derivative, and we'll do the same thing with the waterfront.

    After Herbert Dreiseitl left us, no one ever approached our waterfront planning holistically again.

    If you begin with the previous LWRP, it will kill you. Your images will be fixed to a board, like a collected specimen. No one can survive it who hasn't already spent years reading it, and then carefully, loving, applied the right emetic.

    As I write this, I see that the situation may be hopeless. It will be POF all over again (people only follow).

  5. The new Waterfront Committee has not even met yet. But I have great faith in the people that I know who have been appointed. Could we all just take a breath and see how things develop. I know that friends like unheimlich have worked tirelessly for the ecology and the city at large. But can we not characterize a committee or government before they have even begun for once?

    1. But I just saw the guest list, and it's the same old people.

      I was actually asked not to be part of this, but it's becoming evident that some were blocked so that others could make their reentry.

      If nature takes a backseat for a second time so people can resuscitate their tarnished reputations, then things will definitely go badly.

      Now is the time to think about that.

  6. I disagree, of course, that "there are no generations now living who were trained to privilege the source materials." I for one have spent most of the last 40 years doing just that: privileging sources. And I know plenty of others who know how to do just that. Politics and government, of course, have a way of demeaning sources and looking the other way rather than privileging them. This is precisely why Jefferson said that if he had to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, he would "not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." So, to the barricades: Privilege the Sources!

  7. The conservation of resource is the "amalgamation of public wealth." Question is who is it being saved for? Is the favorite at court entitled to more use than the county man with rod and reel?

  8. Dear Carol, Peter, Victor, Unheimlich, and other friends reading this,

    I also disagree that "there are no generations now living who were trained to privilege the source material," although I can sympathize with someone who might draw that conclusion as they observe the lifestyle that many of my generation exhibit.

    Victor, thank you for being so thoughtful and well spoken in this context and in many others. I agree with your comment completely.

    Having had the honor of living with Herbert Dreiseitl and his family for some time in Germany, I can assure you that he is a very busy and productive man who runs an incredible enterprise. He is almost always producing material for plans that are often farther along or more seriously adaptive than the plans we have developed so far. When he isn't working he is exercising, enjoying life, friends and family, and soaking in nature. When and if we develop a plan worthy of his help and input, I bet he'd be happy to come on back and or partake in a constructive Skype chat or two.

    As we as a community embark on this next phase I think it is important that we not jump to conclusions and interject with accusations and phrases such as 'same thing,' 'right and wrong,' 'read the plan,' ‘don't read the plan,’ ‘same old people,’ ‘kill you’ ‘hopeless,' etc. because although they may be valid on some levels, the collective good is what will lead us to conclusions that are not to be made with haste or in fear. Haste and fear is what tarnishes reputations, and projecting that reputations are tarnished is what prevents us from growing into a powerful team that believes we can maintain sustainable decision-making processes. Processes that are based in understanding what happened to the river and our waterfront, and what we can do to prevent current threats from taking over our small waterfront and gorgeous North and South Bays.
    What are these threats? We will all have time to speak before we state them collectively.

    We are lucky, privileged and blessed as a community because we have opportunities to go to plays and then go home and think about them, because we have a waterfront that can still be kept safe if we're careful, and because we have a new mayor that is listening to all of us, not just some of us. If she can't speak to all of us exactly when we need her to, exercise some patience, have faith, call me or another friend if you need to, but please don't jump to conclusions.
    Unheimlich, you have devoted countless time to science and nature in a way that is appreciated by some very important people, and occasionally resented by others; in my opinion only because of the way you present yourself. Let's just chill out a minute and be calm before we storm. While we’re chilling, guest lists will probably start to get a little longer and the sentiments will probably become more and more carefully presented.

    Let's prepare ourselves for this next phase so we can storm together with pride and honor.
    Let’s try trusting each other for six months or a year before we bring out the big dogs.

    Progress takes steps. We're taking them, one at a time.
    Chances are there's still a chance.
    Believe. Be Peaceful.
    Love nature so it will love us in return.

    P.S. Apologies for the soapbox, I’ve waited a long time to add my two cents and apparently there are more pennies in the jar than I thought I’d put in there, maybe even a few quarters and some dollars!

    P.P.S. Unheimlich, ich denke nicht beängstigend zu Ihnen passt besser.

    1. 1.

      Beängstigend is right, from the perspective of the local ecology: a bit "scary" for the flora and fauna to be so underrepresented on the new waterfront committee.

      Nor is there anyone on this committee who's well versed in the state's Coastal Policies, and to appreciate how the policies privilege a conservation ethos. This may be concerning for the success of a program meant to be developed wholly within the sphere of those policies.

      People are already wondering (and not just me), how has this happened? And they're right to ask, although the answer is right in front of their noses.

      I do appreciate your hopeful tone, D. Rose (o reiner Widerspruch), but you're inadvertently soft-peddling a power struggle which is already won and lost for the new effort. Nevertheless, I'll attribute to hopefulness your inclination to side uncritically with those who've come out ahead.

      To present my own activity briefly, and aptly, I champion a single cause because nobody else can or will: ECOLOGY.

      As a conservative-minded person (I call myself a "conservationist" and not an "environmentalist"), I don't believe for an instant that people must identify with my interests, or that my concern for the ecology is automatically privileged over other interests. I also don't believe, to use the word in the metaphysical sense, that my ecological goals must prevail in the end. I have no concept of the "purity" of a supposedly untrammeled Nature, and little patience with any brand of neo-Puritanism.

      However, I will do my utmost, within the bounds of reason and the law, to advance the cause of ecology. This can also be expressed as care for the transmission of traditional knowledge, forever formed from the interactions between humans and the natural environments they often had a hand in shaping.

    2. 2.

      When I first arrived in Hudson, now over a decade ago, I resumed where I'd last engaged the ecology of the mid-Hudson region, which was in the Tivoli marshes in the late 1970s. (The first place I ever saw Least Bitterns.)

      In the meantime, I had science training at two universities (philosophy of science too), and work in a variety of fields from molecular biology (protein separation), to lots of field work with birds.

      So when I arrived in Hudson and made the acquaintance of those who professed to be "environmentalists," I was caught off guard by what I soon realized was an abundance of hypocrisy. After extending the customary gestures of politeness (a flavor of hopefulness), I eventually learned to be less soft (-headed).

      Little by little, though, I did find like-minded people in Hudson, with whom I'd discuss the hazards of engaging certain individuals. Through these conversations, we all became better people, and for that alone I'm grateful for my time here. But all that to the side, we always, always always put Hudson's ecology first, which shaped and grounded our shared vision of what Hudson's waterfront could be.

      Now, all these years later, I'm not going to suddenly adopt a noncritical view of those who've vexed every ecological issue since I arrived in Hudson. For the sake of preserving the hopefulness which you and I would otherwise wish to keep intact, those in leadership positions ought to have thought more deeply on the matter. I think I'll let those folks put the toothpaste back into the tube, and I'll just continue doing what I've always done, despite the good advice of those who don't contribute much to my cause (few do).

    3. 3.

      Frankly, I have the state's Coastal Policies and Environmental Conservation Law to back me up. It's that simple.

      And when the State of New York is too lame, or too corrupt, to enforce its own laws in the City of Hudson, then there are federal laws and agencies to be summoned against the state, like giant levers which take an enormous amount of time and knowledge to pull.

      Surely there are good people in Hudson who simply don't have the time to devote themselves to this work on behalf of the ecology. If they have kids, then whatever expression of support they can muster is pretty darned marvelous.

      Meanwhile, I'm free to be relentless in my defense of wetlands ecology. I have no need of the society Hudson offers, nor am I so deluded to suppose that I'd ever have been welcomed into it anyway. That's over and done with, and my freedom from it makes me more effective than I'd otherwise be. Socially, I have nothing to lose.

      So as long as nobody else is able or willing to dedicate themselves to ecology (free from all other interests), then I will continue to do so, apologizing to nobody, currying favor with no one. I learned a long time ago, in Hudson that's a fool's game.

      Rather than look to undependable people, one alternative is to arm oneself with the federal and state policies and laws which already support one's own interests. And if that creates some sort of social problem, or if it means sometimes exposing frauds in our midst, then please explain, D. Rose, why that should cause me even a moment's concern?

  9. Joe, eloquently put!

    I believe that the conservation of resource could be used to give our children and greater community the opportunity to contemplate the future of science, cultures and their origins, history, art, and the understanding of the human condition in a beautiful and inspiring protected environment. One that showcases Hudson's history as well as our plant and animal neighbors.
    Catch and release programs are gaining support, and aquatic based public spaces are eligible for more funding as time and awareness expand.

    Yes, the law protects freedom and rights. Rights that the country man with rod and steel is also entitled to respect as a citizen and owner/renter of property, or as a visitor to our lovely city.

    I think its important to present to the public what we are teaching our future generations and how we integrate that into the consumer market.

    Participation from both sides of the political spectrum coming together on common ground where politics doesn't directly dictate what we perceive to be beautiful and nourishing for the body and the mind, is in my opinion the sign of a stabilizing economy. I think it is also the sign of a community that can withstand increases of tourism while representing all of the cultures that live, have lived, and will live on the shores of an incredible estuary, and within a city grid that in itself is a testament to revitalization and sustainability.

  10. Henceforth county Fisher folk will swear allegiance to Empire or be required to fly a black flag. Separated from their home shore they retreat to nearby islands and plot their revenge against the new rule.

    Sounds like the last season of Black Sails...

    Tim hits the nail squarely, wicked smart not scary.