by Jim Lewis
February 28, 2013
Troy has beautiful and historic architecture, vibrant arts communities, cultural and educational opportunities, great parks. However, many people in and around Troy either don’t know about these things or see them as separate, small moments.
A linear park— a necklace of developed sites, strung together on a pathway for non- motorized transportation. Equal parts Bike Path, Parks, Cultural Sites, Sculpture Gardens, Architecture, Shops & Restaurants, Gathering Places and Physical Connections between communities. My working name for this is The Collar City Ramble.
Antoni Gaudí created a famous sculpture garden at Parc Guëll, Barcelona. It was begun as an apartment complex in the coastal foothills in 1900, but the death of the developer in 1914 left it unfinished. Barcelona took it over as a public park, and it currently attracts over 5.1 million visitors a year, spending an average of 100 Euros a day. Barcelona draws 7.3 million visitors a year, and 3 million of them also visit Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral. It is safe to say that Gaudí eclipses the Mediterranean as Barcelona’s biggest attraction, making it a uniquely art-architecture based economy.
Perhaps inspired by Parc Guëll, Robert Hugman proposed renovating the San Antonio River just five years out of architecture school. In 1938 the WPA took on the project to control floods and improve what was considered a hotbed of crime and a river little better than an open sewer. What started as 2.5 miles of commercial development was expanded for HemisFair ’68, with water taxis giving viable alternative transportation. It now receives 3.1 million visitors a year, compared with the Alamo’s 2.5 million. It is home to hundreds of shops, restaurants and bars and features significant art and architecture. It has a huge economic impact on San Antonio, drawing visitors from far and wide. Significantly, it draws on Spanish architecture, and avoids “Disneyfication,” or cheapening of the experience by commercialism.
In 1999 in NYC, Friends of The High Line was founded to salvage a defunct elevated railroad. In 2009 it opened as The High Line, a 1 1/2 mile long linear park. Featuring plantings, art and sculpture, plus fantastic views of Manhattan, it is an alternate to the cityscape below, an escape into greenery. While in its infancy and still uncompleted, it is already drawing over 3 million visitors a year. In a city known for real estate investment, it has drawn over $2 billion in investments to the property around it, doubling market rents.
These projects differ in culture, climate, shape, intent, and user experience. What do they share?
- Visionary ideas of what could be
- Unpopular long shots when first proposed.
- Long term development
- Public-Private partnerships
- Massively popular Economic engines, driving tourism and their communities
Most importantly, all are places where people and nature come together, freed from the bustle of the city around them. All have taken a hard look at the possibilities of the site and the city and responded well and appropriately. Each is a unique solution, done with taste and finesse. The quality of design and execution is world class. Generations of citizens and tourists will reap the benefits.
Take a quick look at what we have in Troy. The list is not by any means inclusive, but still surprisingly powerful.
- Troy is fifteen minutes from the busiest interchange on the New York State Thruway
- Drive time to Albany Airport is 20 minutes
- Drive time to Rensselaer Train Station is 10 minutes
- Rensselaer Train Station is about 1 1/2 miles from the Albany Bike Trail, which is 5 miles from Troy
- Population of the Greater Metropolitan Area of the Capital District is over 800,000
- NYS Capital is 6 miles from Troy
- The Chip Fab in Luther Forest, 20 miles away, is a large new employer in a growth industry
- RPI and SUNYA are growing technological campuses spinning off new businesses and inspiring local investment.
- The Menands Bridge connects to a bike path leading to the Corning Preserve, Sculpture Park, Exercise Trail and downtown Albany
- Watervliet’s Bike Trail is just over the Green Island Bridge
- The North Troy Bike Trail starts at 112th Street and continues to the northern tip of Troy
- The City of Troy has easements or otherwise controls most of the land needed for a bike trail between the two
- Waterford’s Canal Cultural Park is just over the 125th Street Bridge
- Peebles Island Nature Trails are just over the 112th Street Bridge in Cohoes
- Town of Colonie Park connects to Cohoes on the Colonie Bike Path
This is a short and incomplete list of geographic locations, already almost linked through most of Troy.
- Burden Iron Works— The historic site, on Mill Street (Rte 4)
- Burden Pond Nature Preserve— Campbell’s Highway and Vandenburg Ave
- Hudson Valley CC Campus— Vandenburg Ave (Rte 4) south of Troy
- Burden Iron Works Office— Headquarters of the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway
- Proposed Estuary Project (defunded)— Madison Street & the Poestenkill Creek, by the Hudson
- Prospect Park— Between the Poestenkill and Congress St, East of 7th Ave.
- Poestenkill Gorge Park— South of the Poestenkill along Linden Ave.
- RPI Campus— Between College and Peoples Aves to Hoosick, from 8th St to 25th St.
- Community Gardens Demo Site— 8th Ave adjacent to RPI • Russell Sage Campus— Along the Hudson, between the Poestenkill and Congress Sts.
- Riverfront Park— From Broadway to the Green Island Bridge along the Hudson
- The Arts Center— Adjoining Riverfront Park
- Troy City Center— Adjoining Riverfront Park
- Troy Farmer’s Market— Adjoining Riverfront Park
- Troy Bike Rescue— Douw and 6th Ave.
- Sanctuary for Independant Media— 101st and 6th Ave
- etc, etc.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the status of funds allocated for previous versions of this plan. Some may be out of date:
- Complete Riverfront Trail, Menands Bridge to Northern Drive, $1.6M with $400K match, awarded 2001
- Architectural and Engineering for part of South Troy Industrial Riverfront Greenway Trail, $10K awarded, appraisal and documents complete
- Construct trail from Polk to Van Buren Streets, $66,400 awarded & $66,400 match identified
- Industrial Road, $297,170. Main to Polk constructed, Polk to Adams to be built. It is hoped that some of these funds will be used to complete the trail.
- Construct trail from Jacob to Middleburgh, $480K with $120K match, reclaimed but may be able to be reinstated
Others are working on related projects which should be incorporated into this project. Ideally, The Collar City Ramble is a platform to focus long term development of cultural and recreational assets into a cohesive, connected plan for Troy. Here are a few human and organizational resources:
- Michael Barrett, Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway— Promotes cultural tourism through the Capital District
- Joe Fama, TAP— Public interest architecture and development
- Andrew Lynn, Troy Bike Rescue— Bike path
- EJ Krans, Community Gardens— Complete Streets Grant administrators
- Gary Nelson— Advocate for Troy Rail Station, to be located near Adams and the Hudson River
- Barb Nelson (no relation)— Head of the Planning Board and City of Troy representative to the Citizens Working Group on Alternative Transportation
It is important to develop the plans sustainably. At the same time, we can and should dream. How can we build a jewel of a park, like Gaudí built for Esebo Guëll? Yes, it’s expensive, and much of Troy is firmly in the low rent district, but look at the transformation achieved by Riverwalk. Once servicemen were warned to stay away, now it draws visitors from great distances.
Note particularly that the two most successful examples, Parc Guëll and Riverwalk, are extraordinarily beautiful and well conceived. We should not be afraid to come up with the best plan we can, incorporating the finest public and private art and architecture we can wrangle. The plan must remain practical while preparing for opportunities to leverage the concept into much, much more. Success will drive success, and a strong plan will inspire confidence and funding. As the Collar City Ramble becomes a reality, people will believe in it.
Twenty Years From Now: Imagine a sunny Saturday in May. Bike riders in Albany head downhill to the Corning Preserve, and from there take the Bike Trail north. The Troy Farmer’s Market is open and they want to hook up with friends for coffee and gossip.
A student in South Troy wants exercise. He hops on his bike and pedals up through the Burden Iron site to HVCC for that one dreaded Saturday class. Afterwards, he heads uptown by way of The East Side to see what’s happening.
The annual Sculpture Exhibit is setting up. Quality is up since it started attracting sponsorships. Two are cooperative ventures with local manufacturers. Three came from out of state for the good publicity and exposure. Volunteer engineers from RPI helped Parks & Rec design and pour concrete for the bases, which were set up last month.
A young family in Brunswick drives to Prospect Park, and rollerblades The Ramble down graded paths along the hillside to picnic at one of several overlooks by the Troy sign. There are plenty of good spots, well maintained because they are so well used.
An elderly couple in North Troy walks the Bike Trail to Diamond Rock, up the hill near the development. They haven’t been here in years, and remember when it was a farm.
A businessman from Ohio plans his New England sales conference in Troy. He remembers the Collar City Ramble fondly from his days at RPI and thinks his team will enjoy it. Plenty of jogging paths to keep everyone in shape.
From every end of Troy, the Explorer’s Club tears off on their bikes. Average age is ten. They plan to meet up at the old Cemetery behind Prospect Park, then race around on some of the paths. There are some jugglers performing on old Seventh Ave, and a couple of musicians busking, who will most likely distract them.
Tourists start a Walking Tour of Washington Park. The more athletic ones start from the Gateway headquarters for the extra session, talking about 19th century factories in South Troy and looking at worker’s housing. They stop for a break at the Madison Avenue Recreation Center by the Poestenkill, eating ice cream sandwiches while they watch children play on the extensive playgrounds.
Towards evening, people from Green Island, Watervliet, and Troy head to Riverfront Park for a concert. It’s easy to get there without a car, since bike paths connect in all directions. Some have stopped to eat in restaurants along the way. The bikers pass the walkers while the rollerbladers drive everyone crazy. Just another day in the city.
Get The Ball Rolling:
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time? Actually, you start with a cookbook. Draw an interested crowd together, and invite people who have built similar projects to speak here. Use these speakers to start conversations, reaching out to artists, architects, community builders, developers, and officials with a personal or organizational interest in a unified plan to develop recreational and artistic resources in our area. And let’s not stop here: if Albany, Watervliet, Cohoes and Waterford buy in, we could quickly have 20+ miles of interconnected recreational areas, with the support of hundreds of thousands of citizens.
While we do not have the deep financial resources of New York City, the environmental mandate of San Antonio, or the wealthy developer of Barcelona, we still have good resources. We are intimately tied to the State Capital in Albany. Troy has a good track record with grant writing and public funding. Several organizations already have agendas parallel to this project. We have funding on the table for the beginnings of a bike path.
By organizing support, we can muster the political will to solve the issues standing in the way of developing these recreational resources. We need a strong, diverse Friends Of The Collar City Ramble to keep the idea alive and on track through this and future administrations.
By its nature, The Collar City Ramble is suited for incremental development. Every time a park is renovated, a seawall rebuilt, a critical highway repaired, we polish individual sites and build the links. When we get a windfall, like development money for a particular site, we can make it a jewel, integrated into the larger picture of recreation in Troy.
If we plan it, we can build it. When we build it, they will come.