A five-year, $27 million proposal for streetscape improvements has been unveiled for Hudson Square, a neighborhood bordered by the Hudson River and Sixth Avenue to the east and Houston and Canal Streets from north to south.
The area’s park at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel—currently an exhaust-choked triangular gravel patch known as Freeman Plaza—won’t become the next Herald Square any time soon, but both subtle and immediate upgrades to be made throughout the neighborhood will expand sidewalks and seating options while mitigating the psychological impacts of tunnel traffic on pedestrians.
Historically, Hudson Square’s warehouses once hummed with printing presses, but they’ve been converted to loft-like offices that have attracted technology and creative companies, including architecture and design firms. Though more than 35,000 people work in the area, they have access to less than one acre of public space.
That’s going to change. Ellen Baer, president of the Hudson Square Connection Business Improvement District (BID), the non-profit behind the proposed improvements, said that, traditionally, “This has been an area of the city where pedestrians haven’t mattered, and all we’re trying to do is restore the natural urban balance.” The neighborhood may soon be rezoned to allow more residential occupancy (currently less than 4 percent), and while those zoning changes may dovetail nicelywith the upcoming streetimprovements, the timing is purely coincidental, said Baer.
Signe Nielsen, principal of design team leader Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, agreed. “People often assume there has to be residential use in an area before open space is really necessary,” Nielsen said. But playgrounds and basketball courts are not always the goal. People in the area just need a place to sit down, she said.
Led by Mathews Nielsen, the design team (including Rogers Marvel Architects; Billings Jackson Design; and Arup and Open) proposed a variety of improvements for the neighborhood’s north-south and east-west corridors. SoHo Square, enhanced with new paving and custom seating, will become the gateway. Narrower traffic lanes on Varick Street, a main thoroughfare for tunnel traffic, will allow for wider sidewalks with seating, to include subway grate benches. Since the subway runs below, planting street trees is not an option. Instead, designers, wanting to integrate some green, proposed vine-covered planters that will function as “personal parks,” providing shade and seating while serving as visual and acoustic buffers from traffic.
Hudson Street’s lanes will also be reduced to gain six feet for pedestrians, and this strip will be furnished as a series of “outdoorliving rooms.” Spring Street, which connects SoHo to the waterfront, will be subtly enhanced with new light fixtures and street trees.
The Hudson Square Connection has already installed some new bike racks and benches, but the group’s more ambitious plans are subject to public review and agency approval. As for the proposed park by the tunnel entrance? It’s on the wish list. Renderings of the park’s design, which incorporates grassy berms to dull the drone of traffic from tunnel approach ramps, are expected to be released next month.