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Hudson Yards versus Hudson Valley: Where Is Your Field of Dreams?

Hudson Yards (Max Touhey, Curbed NewYork)

Earlier this spring the Manhattan skyline changed rather dramatically. As the front page of the New York Times put it: “A Gleaming Behemoth Rises, for Better or Worse”(print edition March 15, 2019; online title Hudson Yards Is Manhattan’s Biggest, Newest, Slickest Gated Community. Is This the Neighborhood New York Deserves?).   It’s called Hudson Yards. Do you think there will ever be an historical society there? What kind of place is it?

Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for the paper, was fairly critical of this addition. To the publicity that the Hudson Yards was inspired by ancient Indian stepwells, Kimmelman asserted, it is about as much like them as Skull Mountain at Six Flags Great adventure is like Chichen Itza. Space does not permit a full expression of his criticisms so I will present only some summary comments that go the heart and lack of soul of the complex.

Over all, Hudson Yards epitomizes a skin-deep view of architecture as luxury branding. Each building exists to act as a logo for itself. The assortment suggests so many crowded perfume bottles vying for attention in a department store window display….

It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 per cent. A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid….

Hudson Yards glorifies a kind of surface spectacle ⸺as of the peak ambitions of city life were consuming luxury goods and enjoying a smooth, seductive, mindless materialism.

The best feature of the complex is the 1100 feet high observation deck. It will have bleachers next year raising the height of one’s view even more. And that view is spectacular. You can practically see all creation. From there one can gaze upon the most magnificent vistas of New York imaginable…because from there you cannot see the Hudson Yards!

Kimmelman compares Hudson Yards to the beloved Rockefeller Center of Christmas tree fame and the new edifices are found wanting in almost every way imaginable. It’s not a place where Jane Jacobs would live, where organic communities will be nurtured, or where a community historical society will take root.

In the New Yorker, Hudson Yards is the Hotel California of New York, Alexandra Schwartz lambasts “unremitting artificiality” of the place. This supposed “neighborhood of the future” is a high-end corporate park enclave sustained by $6 billion in tax breaks, more than Amazon sought for its failed attempt to locate in Queens.  Schwartz even mocks the seeming triumph of urban reimagination as the “embodiment of this narcotic nowhere-ness” the nearby High Line exemplifies: a beautiful highway that has sliced through a living neighborhood, Robert Moses style, leaving luxury buildings in its wake.” Hell’s Kitchen has character, Hudson Yards has superficial slick size.

A subsequent article Hudson Yards: A City Within a City: New York’s newest neighborhood drew inspiration from Battery Park City, but is filled with 21st-century twists by C. J. Hughes in the New York Times, specifically notes this dichotomy using the 20th-century Battery Park City in lower Manhattan also along the Hudson River for comparison.

While Battery Park City may embody the lessons of urbanist Jane Jacobs, who favored short blocks [as in her beloved Greenwich Village], Hudson Yards can feel derived from her opposite, the master builder Robert Moses, whose approach was often big and muscular.

Hudson Yards is located in New York but is it really part of New York? Where does it belong?

Consider the view of Sebastian Modak, a New York Times reporter assigned to visit every place on the “52 Places to Go in 2019” list (New, Strange and Familiar, It’s Still New York, print edition April 7, 2019; I Walked the Length of Manhattan. Here Is What I Found.

My parents live in Dubai and the only way I’ve learned to like that superlative-obsessed, chrome-and- steel glass city is by gravitating toward the polyglot migrant communities that built the city and the scant traces of the pearl-diving beginnings that haven’t been swallowed up by the drive to build, build, build. To me, Hudson Yards is New York City trying to be the Dubai I’ve always avoided….

Getting back to the Hudson River Greenway was a relief, and entering Central Park made me ecstatic.

In another article (It’s Really Two Malls in One, print edition April 11, 2019; At Hudson Yards, One Mall for the Rich, and One for Everyone Else in New York Times, reporter Jon Caramanica takes to task all those people who have been comparing Hudson Yards to Dubai: “That’s a grave insult to Dubai [!]”

Two different lifestyles are being contrasted here. One is high above the river and for the very rich people; the other is at the street level where the real people live. As the superstar cities from Manhattan to San Francisco increasingly cater to the rich, the stratification increases. Sometimes it reaches a point where normal people cannot even afford to live in the city anymore.

In science fiction, the dichotomy takes on extreme forms. H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine (1895) about time travel to the future but reflective of his present. The future division of beings into Morlocks and Eloi were a projection of the two classes he encountered: the one who struggled with ceaseless physical labor often underground while the other surface-dwelling leisured class was capable of producing nothing. In the Star Trek episode “The Cloud Minders,” once again there two classes of people. The Troglites mine the earth doing the physical labor while the intellectuals reside above it all in Stratos, a luxurious metropolis which literally floats in the sky. New York did extend the subway to reach Hudson Yards, but I cannot help but wonder if that is more for the people who work there then who live there. How did Gene Rodenberry know? In effect, these Hudson Yard residents are part of a global community like Spectre and not a local or national community.

At the same time that Hudson Yards was garnering unfavorable publicity, Hudson Valley was reaping more positive press. The article “An Instant Community in the Catskills” is about how people created an instant community in the Catskills. It’s about a group of people from the city who all bought homes in a tiny Catskill hamlet. According to the reporter, almost everyone in the group said they have richer social lives and deeper bonds as a result of having bought homes in Sullivan County. Critical to that result was having a sense of community in a place where none of them had lived before. In this case, they brought a community with them and then became part of the larger local [native or indigenous] people who lived there.

A similar pattern occurred in Hudson, NY, according to “Is the Hudson Valley Turning Into the Hamptons?” In this example it was a case of Brooklyn moving north to an Amtrak stop on the Hudson. However, the article serves as a cautionary tale about what the Hudson Valley maybe losing if it replicates West Manhattan aka the Hamptons.

As it turns out even the commuting suburb of Westchester where I live has become part of the story. Once upon a time, post-World War II and Korean War veterans and families moved north in great numbers from the city to find a piece of the American Dream. When they did so, they cut their home ownership or rental ties to the city. A new trend is for people to maintain their city residence while acquiring a second home in Westchester or Connecticut. In a “Close Escape from New York,” a broker exults:

There is the assumption that you have to go far away for it to be wild and natural. But we have areas where, thanks to rocky outcroppings, lakes and streams, you swear you are in New Hampshire.

One such person waxed poetic in her love of her new dwelling in Connecticut:

It was the stone walls that got me. You pass over the Saugatuck River, and there is this little house in Wilton where the road turns from two lanes to one, and when I see it, all of the tension from my neck and back falls away. We see woodpeckers; we see hawks; we see deer. But we don’t see people, and we don’t hear them. It’s a true escape. For us it’s a refuge.

Just as Central Park is for the city dwellers in the example cited above.

Another person making the move to Pound Ridge in Westchester shared similar views.

With young kids, it can get harder to travel. So we created our own Shangri-La up here. The benefit of the location is unbeatable.

The reporter observed of a third couple: “They longed to wake up in nature, by the water, for longer than a weekend.

Or as the couple said:

I feel much healthier out here. It feels good just to breathe fresh air.

Perhaps it is James Earl Jones, resident of Pawling in Dutchess County and supporter of the Friends of the Great Swamp in Putnam and Dutchess Counties who said it best:

For it is money they have and peace they lack.

And all these locations have historical societies too. We need to belong in time as well as space.

Hudson Yards is glitzy, glamorous, and soulless. It appeals to the 1% who want to be above it all living lives of conspicuous consumption. Meanwhile, the real people seek a connection with nature and community. Keep these thoughts and observations in mind when seeking to understand the true issues at stake in the culture wars between Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Tikkun Olam. Repair the World.

Sharing the Good News: Some County-Level Programs

Bundy Museum of History and Art, Victorian Tea

If a tree falls in the woods and it’s not on YouTube, has anything happened? Shouldn’t everyone have to reinvent the wheel?

These questions raise the issue of how should the history community disseminate information on good practices? How should we share the news of what people have done? I am not referring to a museum launching an exhibit or an historical society having a lecture, but to the steps in creating a successful exhibit that resonates with the public, to the crafting of a lecture series that reaches new audiences, to the creating a template others can follow.

One form of communication is by attending conferences. But not everyone is able to attend such conferences and even when one attends it is not possible to see all the concurrent sessions. Occasionally, probably less than I should, I write about sessions I have attended as I started to do before the NYSHA fiasco consumed multiple posts. I hope to return to that reporting shortly. I sometimes ask people to submit guest posts about their work. People are very agreeable when you ask them at the conference to write about what they just presented, but once they return to the real world, the willingness dissipates and the rhythm of the daily routine takes over.

In this post, I would like to mention some local-level activities with state-wide relevance.


The first is an undergraduate class this spring on New York State History offered by Ed Knoblauch at Adirondack Community College.

This is a survey course providing an overview of the peoples and land of New York State from the earliest human occupation to the 21st century. The course will focus on physical geography, literature and the arts, demographics, government and politics relating to various time periods in New York State’s history including but not limited to Native American occupation, New Netherland, the Colonial and Revolutionary eras, and the Industrial Revolution, literature and the arts, urbanization and suburbanization, and New York government and politics.

This semester is not the first time he has taught this class and I have invited him to write guest blogs about the various topics.

The class raises several questions:

1. How many classes in New York State history are being taught at community colleges, SUNY and CUNY, and private colleges?

It seems like it would be beneficial to have list of such courses. It also would be appropriate to have a session the New York History conference, in the event there is a New York History conference, about teaching state history at the college level.

2. How are social studies teachers expected to learn about state and local history?

If teachers are expected to teach local and state history under the guidelines, how are they supposed to learn it, especially if such classes are few and far between? Apparently by osmosis or if someone happens to mention New York during an American history class. Can’t we do better than that? Imagine if the Regents required that teachers be knowledgeable in something they are required to teach.

You may ask, that is all fine and good to teach state history, but what about something more local.


The second good news is that John Conway, the Sullivan County historian, has the answer for that. He teaches a six week class on Sullivan County history.

1. The Lenape – their language, their culture, their legacy
2. The Arrival of the Europeans – Cushetunk, Minisink, Chestnut Woods
3. Timber, Tanning and the D&H Canal – The role of Transportation in development
4. The Railroads and the Beginning of Tourism – Doctors Say “go to The Mountains!”
5. The Silver Age and the Healing Environment – Grand Hotels and Sanitariums
6. The Golden Age and After the Fall – Glitz, Glamour, and Gangsters.

The class is more of an adult education class than a college class. It also raises some questions.

1. Isn’t this something every county historian can and should do?

I don’t mean to suggest the other county historians aren’t teaching such classes or that such county (or municipal history) classes aren’t offered at the college level elsewhere. Again, it would be beneficial to have an inventory of such classes. It would be beneficial to have a session at the New York State History conference on the teaching of county and municipal history classes.

2. Couldn’t such classes be offered to teachers for professional development and CTLE credit?

3. Couldn’t such classes include visiting the local sites mentioned in the class?

If teachers are expected to know about the history in the community in which they teach, it seems that such classes are a natural way to do so…provided, of course, the intent to teach local and state history in the social studies guideline isn’t simply an on-paper only requirement not to be taken seriously.


The third and final example in this post is the county history conference. Regular (and long-time) readers of my posts, know that I am a strong advocate of the county history conference. Every county should have one and it should be done annually. I have initiated and helped organize multiple such conferences so I welcomed receiving the following email from a regular reader of my posts:

Broome County Area History Conference
Sponsored by: Bundy Museum of History and Art

The rich and complex history of Broome County has long attracted attention from a diverse array of researchers and citizens. In recent years, the area’s local history scene has become more accessible and vibrant than ever. Adding to well-drawn biographies of notable residents and surveys of important institutions, recent work has examined local ethnic and racial history, women’s experiences, environments and ecologies, class relations, art and architecture, social movements, immigrants and immigration, and indigenous life, among many other topics.

Yet, researchers and audiences interested in these various threads of local history have often remained disconnected. This one-day conference seeks to gather those threads together and start new conversations by providing an opportunity to share work on Broome County history across multiple fields, perspectives, and methods. This event will be free and open to the public.

We are seeking a wide range of histories and historians. Submissions from amateur enthusiasts, family historians, K-12 teachers, preservationists, high school and college students, professional historians, storytellers, librarians, and museum employees, are all enthusiastically welcome. Papers on any aspect of Broome County’s history, from any time period, will be considered.  

When I was doing the county history conferences I worked through the county historian. It was disappointing therefore not to see the Broome County Historian as one of the organizers of the conference. Similarly I noticed the Broome County Historical Society was not either. Both were however invited to participate. These omissions are a reminder that every county history community has its own story to tell in its own right and that kumbaya is not necessarily the way of the local history community.

Be that as it may, I was encouraged to see this notice and hope that there are other such endeavors occurring throughout the state. This harkens back to my point on the dissemination of good practices.

In any event, I reached out the conference organizers. A driving force behind it seems to the history department at Binghamton College, another example of how a local college can contribute to the promotion of local history. Even though the conference will not be held at the college, it is an active partner in making it happen. The college has been offering internships in local history.


In the course of offering these internships, the thought occurred at the History Department as to having a venue where the fruits of the scholarship in local history could be displayed. The connection between the college and the Bundy Museum of History and Art lead to the history conference proposal. After responding to the email announcement, a phone call from Andy Pragacz of both the college and the museum followed. My general thoughts expressed to him, which should come as no surprise to many of you, were:

1. invite the county executive to welcome people to the conference
2. tape the conference for showing on cable TV and on the museum website
3. include all the main history groups depending on the response: academic, historical societies, municipal historians, teachers who use local history, and independent scholars
4. invite REDC Southern Tier Director Donna Howell, co-chair Harvey Stenger, and Broome County tourism director Judi Hess to talk about funding for cultural heritage tourism.

Regardless of the specific details, the county history conference is something every county should have in one form or another Let’s hear from those of you who do something like this already.

This post is about local and state history’s importance to the social fabric of the local community, the county, and the state and ultimately the country. If we don’t nurture the bonds that connect us, the fabric will fray and we will not be connected. A people disconnected in space and time is not a healthy situation.  Teaching, meeting, and visiting strengthens the bonds at the grass roots level and permits the polity to flourish. This post reports some examples of the techniques people use to fulfill that vision.

Chappaqua Doesn’t Exist! The Importance of Place

Chappaqua doesn’t exist. So says Ken Jackson of Columbia University, a longtime advocate calling for New York State to promote New York history. This might seem strange to the many people who have heard of Chappaqua, and those who know someone who lives there. It might also seem strange because Jackson himself lives in Chappaqua.

Well, not exactly. Chappaqua is not a municipality. There are no Chappaqua mayor, police, court or any of the other government services we normally associate with a municipality in New York State. Chappaqua doesn’t have a municipal historian because it is not a municipality; it’s a hamlet, located in the Town of New Castle. Continue reading “Chappaqua Doesn’t Exist! The Importance of Place”

The Social Fabric: To Knit or Not to Knit?

The Delaware Company’s president John Conway (Sullivan County Historian), invited me to speak at the newly formed nonprofit’s inaugural fundraising gala this week at the historic Ardmore Mansion/Mountain View Manor, in Glen Spey, the day after the NYSHA annual conference in Cooperstown ended.

The mission of The Delaware Company is to promote and support the history and historic landmarks of the Upper Delaware River Valley through education, outreach, and fundraising. Also speaking were U.S. Representative Chris Gibson and NYS Legislator Aileen Gunther. The audience consisted of various county and local officials, municipal historians, historic organizations, and at least one teacher, a true sampling of the history community in the region. Continue reading “The Social Fabric: To Knit or Not to Knit?”

A Fork In The Path Through History

On January 25, I attended the Mid-Hudson regional meeting of the Path through History project. What follows is my report on the meeting which may, or may not, be the experience and take-away of others who attended (or what is happening in other regions). The Mid-Hudson Valley region includes the Hudson River counties of Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, and Rockland, along with Sullivan County in the Catskills. Continue reading “A Fork In The Path Through History”