Sneak peak on our streetscape plan

Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects is leading a team of seven specialty firms in creating a master plan that will turn Hudson Square’s streetscape into a vibrant new reality.

The other members of the team are Rogers Marvel Architects (urban design); Billings Jackson Design (industrial design); ARUP (transportation planning and lighting design); Open (graphic design); Mercator Land Surveying; and VJ Associates (cost estimating).

“The chance to re-imagine this great area of Manhattan is an urban planner’s dream,” said Signe Nielsen, principal of Mathews Nielsen, who gave us a “glimpse ahead” by addressing a series of questions about some of the design project’s specifics.

What makes Hudson Square unique as a shared habitat?

Hudson Square is unique in its challenges and opportunities. Some of the challenges include the enormous amount of through traffic. Some of it may be difficult to “capture” in the form of visitors who are willing to linger beyond business hours. On the other hand, the area has evolved to result in a number of short – and even dead-end – streets. These are east-west streets that offer the opportunity to create distinctive routes, therein offering users of the district a wider variety of streets to choose from as they go to and from work, lunch time or after-hours destinations.

What makes the Hudson Square streetscape project such a good fit for Mathews Nielsen?

Mathews Nielsen has devoted much of its 30-year practice to improving the public realm in urban areas. In New York City, we have designed many well-known streetscapes such as Stone Street, Greenwich Street in TriBeCa, 125th Street in West Harlem and Clinton Street on the Lower East Side, among others.  Each of these has had a long-term, very positive impact on the neighborhoods.  In each case there has been a significant increase in ground floor retail, frequently food establishments that take advantage of the slower traffic pace, wider sidewalks, tremendous increase in trees and other vegetation, and better lighting. We feel confident that though the challenges are of course different in Hudson Square, we know how to approach the issues and capitalize on the district’s inherent strengths.

How will the streetscape enhance the identity of Hudson Square as a creative community?

Brief as it may seem, this is really a three-part question. One, the streetscape will make manifest the firms and people in the district who are engaged in creative activities. Second, the streetscape will make this creative energy manifest to the larger pool of people that either randomly or intentionally enter Hudson Square. Third, the streetscape will foster an environment that stimulates creative interaction. Our goal will be to accomplish all three of these such that an identity emerges. This will likely be a combination of physical elements and public places that form a fabric that is distinctly Hudson Square.

What sort of “staying” (all-hours) activities will your design seek to catalyze?

Staying implies that people have time. So, the first thing is to study and understand when people have this time and to encourage them to spend this time in Hudson Square. Lunch time and after work are obvious examples of leisure time. However, if the neighborhood becomes more residential, then there are many more opportunities to create venues that capture weekend and evening time. Clearly some of the low-hanging fruits in the district are SoHo Square and Freeman Plaza as well as the temporary open area of LentSpace. Transforming these into destinations that offer a wide range of leisure activities, from inviting places to chat over a sandwich, to regularly programmed music events, to holiday festivals are what could enable limited space to serve a broad audience.  Other ideas include street closings or shared streets that can become seasonal or weekend places that can offer different opportunities for interaction and engagement.

What are some of the more exciting opportunities for streetscape improvements?

Some opportunities include creating small urban “forests” on wider or less traveled sidewalks. Rather than merely planting individual trees in regularly spaced pits, we would like to explore more extensive planting zones with more densely planted trees that can also serve as stormwater filtration beds.

What special challenges does the role of design-team leader pose for Mathews Nielsen?

As design team leader, one of our major roles is to be responsive to the leadership and multiple voices within the district. We want this to be a planning and design process that touches the minds of many and welcomes their thoughts into our efforts. This can be challenging in a neighborhood that is primarily occupied by daily workers; residential neighborhoods are frequently much more outspoken about their immediate environment.

What previous design projects in Mathews Nielsen’s portfolio are appropriate preludes to your work on Hudson Square?

No two places are the same, which is what makes landscape architecture so fascinating. Design is, however, a coherent process. Therefore, many of the street improvement and large-scale neighborhood planning projects we have done have given us relevant experience in understanding the types of issues, concerns and aspirations that accompany the Hudson Square project.  We do not have a predetermined set of solutions for Hudson Square; design concepts will emerge from analysis, listening and observing.

What are your thoughts about the sustainable and green-design aspects of Hudson Square?

In addition to a number of possible streetscape initiatives that we could propose, such as dark-sky compliant streetlights, to solar-powered muni-meters and event lighting, to porous pavements and compactor litter receptacles, “going green” is everyone’s responsibility. We will have to understand the district’s appetite for stewardship of many of these ideas. While the City has made giant strides forward in the past decade, there are still huge hurdles with respect to maintenance of these features. And many of the most significant sustainable measures can only occur within private property; our project aspires to inspire a broader constituency of stewards and we look forward to working with each of them. We view sustainability across the spectrum from economic and social to environmental and health.

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