New Paltz: The village hires a planner

Less sure of what the planner will do after reading the article about him in the Fidelpaltz Smileyface-Brownnoser* than I was before I read it.

But I’m going to help Mr. Gilmour out because he sounds like an unpretentious sort of man and around here that will make him an easy target for the anxieties of the ever-lapping wave of busybodies. I’ll assume in advance that he won’t deserve that treatment.

First, Mr. Gilmour, you should ask yourself “Who planned Plattekill Avenue?” Why? Because in its snake-like climb from Main Street to the South Manheim plateau, along a stretch of the perimeter of the SUNY beast and past the terminus points of several side streets, it’s unlikely that anyone actually did plan it. Someone said “let’s build a road from here to there,” no doubt. But it happened, probably, without a great deal of headscratching or civic nobility or pretense. It got a job done. You gotta love that enormous near half-circle it cuts around the village hall as it bends up to its unlikely encounter with Hasbrouck as that straightforward drive rises up to meet it. That’s a core element of the village. I can remember when the “movers and shakers” wanted to disfigure that ramping combo with their “one-way loop.”

Second, if you want to “plan” something so obviously in need of “planning,” plan the resuscitation of Hasbrouck Park. That little ballfield there needs a game played on it most summer days. Maybe I’ve been missing those games, just not going by there when they are being played, but the field appears to me to be unused and unloved. Not even sure whether it’s a little league or a softball field, but it needs to be something. Most days the field looks like an orphan, the playground at the back end of it notwithstanding. (Later: I just inspected Hasbrouck Park and the field was far less forlorn and forgotten than I last remembered. The all-dirt infield even appeared to have been recently raked or dragged. Everything looked tidy. The backstop appeared to be in good repair. The grass was mowed. But there was no one there. I’ll assume that, because the field had a home plate in place and looked ready for a game, games have been getting played there. I’ll check back.)

Third, when someone starts telling you about making Main Street or DuBois Drive “bicycle and walker friendly,” you might want to point out that these drags are both major uphill climbs. Maybe nice to glide down, but glide down after what kind of effort to get up them? If the rail trail is a “linear park” and a largely horizontal one, a ride up Main is a steep enough diagonal climb and likely of interest largely to the Men in Spandex, if even to them. And there is no way to put a bicycle path in Main at the Toscani Narrows, unless you pull out the parking spaces there and you do not want to pull out those parking spaces. Resist the anti-car types who will encourage you to “plan” such a thing.

Fourth, the Trailways bus station at Main and Prospect is not broken and does not need to be fixed. Don’t be conned by the County transportation bull now taking aim at the downtown New Paltz china shop. Aside from being fishy and unnecessary, the “expanded” bus station will be instantly out of proportion with its surroundings. We already have SUNY for that kind of aesthetic bullying and the downtown is actually a defense against it. I’ve written elsewhere here, in greater detail, about the bus station, back down the queue if you’re interested.

Fifth, (and here I depart into something that is more distinctly my aesthetic preference than just ordinary good sense, though it’s that too), if you really like that little splotch called Peace Park, try to gently persuade the local grandees to get that ghastly ugly sculpture out of there. It has had its run, don’t you think? Time to put it away in the corner of some building somewhere. I wouldn’t inflict it on the DPW team, as I once suggested, so maybe the college would take it. They adore ugly up there, and its partisans would still be able to visit it.

Sixth, “the Pit” is the hole in the downtown donut. It gives the downtown universe its three-dimensionality and its illusion of size, and developing it would be to two-dimensionalize the downtown. Like time, the Pit is what keeps everything from happening at once. I think the only thing that should be allowed down there is an archeological dig, and even there you might find Lovecraftian horrors you don’t want to know about. (Did you know that Lovecraft had an interest in New Paltz?)

Seventh, and this is crucial, when the destroyers insisted that the village must have the one-way loop, one of their fantasy island architect’s drawing dreams was to have a “pedestrian mall” between North Front/Plattekill and North/South Chestnut. In other words, they longed for a “tragedy of the commons” effect. The truth is that the downtown social space is interior space, and there’s lots of it. Lots and lots of it. Lots of tables and lots of chairs. Pay attention to that.

I’ll leave my recommendations at a lucky seven. They’re focused on the core of the village. The village of New Paltz is a very important physical place, and here’s hoping that it will survive the heavy breathing busybodies of this generation and cast its spell on many generations to come.

* It calls itself the “New Paltz Times,” but we know what it really is.

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