Last night, because of the title and the context (Kunstler had been asked to speak by Planning Board chair Walter Chatham, as part of the Future Hudson discussion series), one expected something more focused on urban design and Hudson, but anything Hudson specific was reserved for the beginning and the end, bookending a discourse about the "Clown Architecture," the unraveling of the global economy, the end of the Industrial Age, the renewed importance of inland waterways for moving goods, and the need to live more locally and at a smaller scale.
Kunstler opened his talk by displaying two pictures that had appeared on Gossips earlier this week: pictures of Charles S. Rogers' home on Green Street and of the building on Columbia Street where Rogers' wholesale grocery business was located.
Kunstler used the pictures to talk about how the economy had changed in the past century, making the point that a hundred years ago a wholesale grocery business provided sufficient wealth to enable its proprietor to own and maintain two substantial buildings in town.
Kunstler returned to Hudson at the end of his presentation, using pictures of a row of buildings in the 300 block of Warren Street--356 to 362--and the east side of South Front Street--8 and 10--to talk about "orders of unity"--orders of unity being pretty much the same as the elements of compatibility: height, scale, fenestration, material, color. He stressed the need for the "orderliness of geometric design" for urban parks and opined that the square in front of the courthouse "needs to be more ordered and formal." Of course, Kunstler couldn't have known that it once was--two courthouse buildings and more than a hundred years ago.
Kunstler then focused his recommendations on the waterfront. Speaking of the oft-discussed area south of Allen Street and west of Third Street, he pronounced it "an opportunity to create a new urban district," with "connective streets that are an extension of the grid of Hudson," echoing what Chatham has been advocating. Speaking of Colarusso and the gravel hauling operation, Kunstler suggested that "truck traffic may be exaggerated as a problem," presumably alluding back to his earlier prediction that moving goods by truck is destined soon to be an impossibility, owing to the decreasing availability of fossil fuels.
Kunstler also critiqued Henry Hudson Riverfront Park, wondering why there was no "continuity of pavement"--the sidewalk along the street is cement, the paths through the park are asphalt made to look like paving stones. He made a comment about there being a picture of the park on the sign for the park, which drew a laugh, but in fact the picture on the park signage is of Henry Hudson's ship, the Half Moon. He also complained that the floating docks in the embayments had been done "with no artistry."
In his comments about the Dunn warehouse, he acknowledged that he had gotten certain of his information from "Hudson Gossip" and urged, "Please do something with that"--that being the building. On the topic of the North Bay shacks, Kunstler commented, "Americans are so hysterical about losing anything old that was once beloved," and urged demolishing the shacks, reiterating his opinion that there was a need for a working waterfront.
|Photo: Don Moore
Seeming to indicate that the Hudson Correctional Facility may be one of the prisons slated for imminent closure (something that seems unlikely), Kunstler suggested that the ideal reuse of the facility would be as an institution for homeless people, likening its potential for reuse to the poor farms of the 19th century.
Among the more memorable things Kunstler said were these: "It is important to live in a place that informs you of where you are," and when making planning decisions, it is necessary to consider "whether this choice will result in a place that is more worth caring about or less worth caring about."
Of interest, too, were statements made by Council president Tom DePietro during the question-and-answer period. DePietro spoke of plans to "concentrate our board process." Ignoring the fact that the Conservation Advisory Council has made it clear that it does not wish to become a regulatory board but to remain an advisory board, DePietro spoke of streamlining the review process from four regulatory boards--Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Historic Preservation Commission, and Conservation Advisory Council--to one board. It's an idea inspired by what was done in Newburgh, but it seems both unnecessary and a little reckless.
Most of the projects that come before the ZBA do so for variances having to do with parking requirements and setbacks. If the parking requirements are eliminated and the setback requirements altered to reflect what already exists in neighborhoods of the city, the ZBA's raison d'etre will be significantly diminished. As already noted, the Conservation Advisory Council has no interest in becoming a regulatory board. That leaves the HPC.
DePietro won't be the first Common Council president to think the concerns of historic preservation can be rolled into a Planning Board review. Back in 2003, Mike Vertetis wanted to do the same thing. Fortunately, those who recognized the importance of preserving authentic architectural fabric to maintaining a sense of place and who realized that achieving this requires careful case-by-case consideration by people with expertise in architectural history and preservation prevailed in 2003. Let's hope there are still champions of historic preservation in Hudson, and they will prevail again.
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