photo by Saurabh Dani
To My Ridgewood Neighbors:
I was not initially opposed to the proposed parking structure on Hudson Street in the center of Ridgewood but after seeing the renderings, I am entirely against it because of its enormous size and unfitting design. The residents that are vocally opposed to this structure know that it will destroy the character of Ridgewood. I am personally opposed to it because it will destroy the character of my neighborhood.
I live a couple blocks away with my wife and three children, and walk by this lot at least twice a day. My kids walk by it going to and from school. And my neighbors who have been here even longer than we have pass by it regularly. I have lived on South Broad Street for the past 16 years and have actually been looking forward to development that will improve the area. This will only make it worse.
Good architectural design makes an effort to work with the style of a neighborhood. This does not. If this structure has to be four or five above-grade stories then the right aesthetic approach would be to match the height of the apartments across the street, two-stories high, along South Broad Street and Hudson Street, and then use a set-back of 20 feet so that you could continue up from there without it being an eyesore. That way you get your height and space required but you do not create an ominous structure.
One rule of thumb is to never build something taller than the most attractive buildings. The three-story buildings with spires on the corner of South Broad Street and East Ridgewood Avenue are good examples of our town’s beautiful downtown architecture. To build a massive parking garage just next to them would dominate the center and detract from them. The idea of making a parking garage the most noticeable building in a town’s center is a cultural recipe for disaster.
Ironically the details of the roof on the corner of South Broad Street and Hudson Street, which is the only part of the structure with any kind of actual design sensibility, will not be seen by anyone on the street level because it is too high. And the only time this part of the street and the residences will get daylight is the late afternoon because it is south west of those apartment windows.
I heard that this structure is not supposed to significantly increase the traffic on my street. How is that even plausible? It’s a parking structure! It can only bring more cars…that’s the point. When the New York Sports Club moved in several years ago I was excited that the abandoned car showroom was being turned into something new and bringing life to a fairly run down street.
The problem is that not only did it bring a significant amount more of traffic but it brought a different kind of traffic. The traffic that existed prior to the Sports Club consisted of people who used South Broad Street as a straight shot to Glen Rock. They drove fast and polluted the street as people in cars do but they were also focused on getting in or out of town. The new traffic was a very different scene. People drive faster and a bit more recklessly because they are speeding to or from the gym, while texting on their phones, and they are making turns across busy pedestrian paths without checking.
I anticipate this extra traffic the parking garage will bring will be of this caliber: people hurrying to the structure because it will take extra time to park there than pulling into a spot on the street so they can go shopping and meet someone at a restaurant. On the way there they will be texting that they are arriving or leaving. While the developers are only responsible for the accidents that happen on their property, I worry about the accidents that will happen in the few block radius around their facility, as should the politicians in Ridgewood and the residences of my neighborhood as well as the residents of Ridgewood and people visiting our town.
I think we are at a point where we have to decide (as did the planners of many cities around the United States) whether we want Ridgewood to be a town that favors cars or people.
If I were mandated to build a parking garage in the center, the most natural place to put it would be actually down at the corner of East Ridgewood Avenue and Maple. That area is developed more for higher volume traffic and already has a large surface-level parking lot that could be built up in a way that keep all the stores intact, and already has a large ground-level underpass on Maple Street. But I would actually be in favor of less traffic in general.
The only people clamoring for the parking garage are shop owners who think their profits will magically double once the garage is built. At the town meeting I attended, I heard a senior lady propose an idea that I think would work very well. That is, why not close down some of the streets for cars and make them pedestrian ways. It worked well in Montclair, and it has had an amazing effect on midtown Manhattan. If we leave South Broad Street/North Broad Street open, but closed East Ridgewood Avenue from the Broad Streets to the Post Office and turned that into a pedestrian way and expanded the outdoor seating for restaurants, you would increase the tourist appeal of the center and it would only mean closing down part of one street. If you have been to the tree lighting in Ridgewood and have experienced these car-free nights of East Ridgewood Avenue, then you would see how popular it could be.
Some of my concerns may be a little too close to home but in my nearly fifty years of living in the United States and Europe I have taken note of projects that improve and detract from the character of towns and cities. I have lived in beautiful places including Santa Barbara and Prague. I would include Ridgewood as a beautiful place to live. These are places people want to go to in order to get away from strip malls, busy roads, and generic housing because by being in a unique place, people feel special.
Ridgewood has charm and character but that is in jeopardy with bad planning. The problem with parking garages is that even the best of them have the feeling of an incomplete building, or worse, an abandoned building because of their open structure, which makes them appear gutted. What makes the streets of Ridgewood so pleasant to walk down is that almost all of the buildings have storefront access. The proposed parking lot would just be a lifeless block of concrete. I would not be opposed to a parking garage with special details that would appeal to the public such as a public access green roof and storefront shops/galleries. They would not have to be big spaces, just something to continue the pedestrian window-shopping feel for the streets.
I have also been to and lived in many places that are not nice and one thing they have in common is a corruption of character. Corruption is a good word because it usually starts with individuals who do not have the best interests of the people. That may be a developer who does not have any interest in a region other than profit, or are simply evil people – like a bad government. An example of this is a small city I lived in, in the north of the Czech Republic. It had been bombed out in WWII and unlike cities such as Warsaw in Poland, which restored their historic downtown, the communists built a big concrete structure in their town center, which dominated the historic buildings that were saved. The townspeople had opposed it from the start even though the communist government assured them that they knew best. It was nicknamed “the bathtub” because it looked like the side of an old bathtub. After communism they tore it down.
So, when the style of a town center is lost to a new, ugly building like the proposed parking structure it becomes a symbol of wrongdoing and mistakes and can only be fixed by tearing it down.
Drew Martin
209 South Broad Street