Garbage plan trashes Hudson Square’s future

When one mentions Hudson Square, many people, including even most New Yorkers, are at a loss. This unique neighborhood, located between Greenwich Village, Soho and Tribeca, was formerly known as the Printing District. But its new name, Hudson Square, is taking hold. This Downtown neighborhood is undergoing rapid change, which is why we have chosen this week to devote a special section highlighting Hudson Square’s attributes, as well as the challenges facing its future.

On one hand, Hudson Square is a place one can enjoy fine restaurants and a historic, quirky bar, like the Ear Inn, in a more tranquil environment removed from the crowds of Soho. On the other hand, the area has become a magnet for new construction, particularly in its southern section, which was rezoned in 2003 to allow residential use. In short, the neighborhood’s identity, a mixture of old and modern, is taking shape in exciting ways to create a vital, new district.

This trend is precisely why Hudson Square now needs intelligent, comprehensive planning to guide its continuing transformation. No longer should or can this area be a dumping ground for trucks, particularly garbage trucks, as before. Yet, that is precisely what the city seems intent on doing, with plans for a new 140-foot-tall garage for 95 garbage trucks for three Department of Sanitation districts to be built on the UPS lot at Spring and Washington Sts.

However, there is united community opposition to this project. From artists living in lofts on Canal St. to affluent residents of the new Urban Glass House — designed by the late Philip Johnson — to a neighborhood native who owns a cafe on Washington St. and hopes to benefit at last from the neighborhood’s new cachet, no one wants a towering garage and garbage-truck convoy roaring through the streets.

Fear of the garage has spurred local developer Peter Moore and Eugene M. Grant Co., the St. John’s Center building’s owner, to seek creative, community-minded visions for Hudson Square. Earlier this year, they started a “charrette” process, commissioning five architectural groups to think outside the box — and beyond the mega-garage — and envision a dynamic, integrated neighborhood plan.

As seen in the ambitious charrette illustrations in our special section, the architects focused on key elements: more park space and retail, better access to the waterfront and a saner allocation of the neighborhood’s buildable square feet. The studies are all predicated on increased residential use and a smaller, one-district Sanitation garage.

The charrette is a model of grassroots neighborhood planning, in which community input and ideas begin a comprehensive dialogue — as opposed to planning being driven by the Department of Sanitation’s need for a place for its garbage trucks. The charrette’s intent is to start a discussion based on ideas and possibilities, then build a political consensus on how best to develop Hudson Square.

Hudson Square is changing organically, in many positive ways, and shows great promise. The city must not dump on this nascent neighborhood’s future.