Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Bringing urbanism home

I wrote the following essay for Architect magazine in September 2009.

Firefighters parade through Hudson, N.Y.
Macduff Everton/Corbis via Architect magazine

I love big cities, but I often find small cities more compelling. The dispiriting and encouraging aspects of urbanism are more immediately juxtaposed, often heart-rendingly so, but the disparity between them seems bridgeable. Surely, this place can be made to work, if only.

Hudson, N.Y., a settlement of 8,000 residents two hours north of Manhattan, is a two-square-mile snapshot of America’s urban disparity. Its main avenue, Warren Street, is a stunner; it looks as if eight very charming blocks of Brooklyn left the big city a century ago and moved to Columbia County. It has its rough spots, but Warren Street has been experiencing a revival, thanks to gentrification, historic preservation, an influx of antique dealers and tourists, and the helping hand of government.

In the blocks immediately to either side of Warren Street, one finds the other Hudson: comparatively poor, nonwhite, disconnected, and underemployed. The crime rate is higher, and the rough spots in the urban fabric are rougher. The industrial base is nearly gone, as are innumerable mom-and-pop shoe stores, food marts, and repair services that once made Hudson, Hudson.
What has happened in Hudson, as elsewhere, is that the middle has dropped out. But before blaming its vanishing middle class on the global economy, look closer to home. In fact, look in the home, for this is where American businesses—and American urbanism—used to get started. Before we became enamored of top-down urbanism—funded by government, propped up by feasibility studies, packaged by city hall, guarded by aesthetic review boards, and delivered by developers—urbanism arose through an organic process of small entrepreneurs opening home-based businesses to the sidewalk. Their one-of-a-kind shops and industries were the starting point for innumerable mixed-use streets, districts, and downtowns that we love today. Read more...

No comments:

Post a Comment