Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On gas stations, street walls, and beer gardens

The view from the park to the northeast/east is unwelcoming.
Urban spaces succeed through their relationship with their context. If a public space is of a type that is to be activated by workaday activities, it usually needs to be fronted by a well-defined street wall. Strong built edges generate life in a park, define it as a meaningful place, and provide a sense of "hereness."

Hudson's Seventh Street Park is defined reasonably well on most of its perimeter, where two and three story buildings directly front the sidewalk. But the northeastern/eastern side/corner is "spatially leaky." A homely, one-story Citgo station sits sixty or more feet from the public way. A train right-of-way immediately west of the Citgo station and some odd building and street geometries to the east contribute to additional spatial weakness. A park user walking toward this corner is presented with a destination that ranges from unclear to unpleasant.

Most of the park's perimeter has fairly well-defined street
walls, but on the northeast and east it is spatially leaky.
Of the several offenders, the Citgo station receives the most frequent criticism. I hear occasional, hopeful musings that economic pressures from increasing real estate values will cause it to eventually go away. I think this is unlikely. It is difficult to get rid of gas stations under almost any economic circumstance, because they earn more than almost any other use. If we are going to address the problems at this end of the park, I think it would be wiser to seek an urbanistically friendlier design for the gas station site that maintains Citgo as a tenant. If nothing else, the exercise is good practice, design-wise and emotion-wise, for learning to work with undesirable constraints.

At present, vehicles enter and exit the Citgo site on the same side, i.e., Columbia Street (below left). This design decision, made long ago, required that the building be sited on the back of the site. A more sympathetic building placement can be achieved by employing a drive-through circulation pattern, from Columbia Street to the alley (below right). 
Vehicles currently enter and exit the site
via Columbia Street.
A through circulation pattern would permit a
friendlier building placement.
This would allow the placement of a building on the Columbia Street edge, where a building stood years ago. Ideally, a new building here would be three stories high (the former building was two stories) and would house ground floor retail (including the gas station mini-mart) and other uses that would activate the sidewalk and park edge.
The Citgo site with a 3-story building fronting on Columbia Street

This would solve part of the problem, but the railroad right-of-way to the west (i.e., left) of the gas station would remain spatially leaky. At bottom, I've illustrated one way of strengthening the street wall here. I offer no warranties on the quality of any of the architecture represented, although I suspect some will find the beer garden compelling.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need to concern ourselves with oddities such as a gas station and a railroad on our town square. If we were facing the decision today for the first time, would any of us, other than Citgo and ADM, choose to have them here? And yet many Hudsonians, even some staunch formalists, admit to liking the intrusion of the railroad. It is part of who we are, part of what the park is, part of what makes Hudson different from other places. Indeed, the things that by some measures don't belong in a city are the very things that make it authentic and interesting. Granted, it may be easier to romanticize a railroad line than a Citgo sign. But before declaring that a conclusion, we probably should check in on the question with the Red Sox fans among us...perhaps even some Yankees fans.
Some possibilities for strengthening the street wall at the northeastern side of Hudson's Seventh Street Park.


  1. You had me at beer garden.

  2. Why move the fountain (and we shouldn't) to the gas station truck route end of the park ?
    I don't get it.

  3. I don't know why the fountain is there, but I don't think it was the point of the post. Although, I drove by that end of the park about a half hour ago and could imagine the fountain and statue in view from that entrance to the city, all lit up to draw the eye in.