A decade in the making, the process of transforming Hudson Square into a neighborhood has wrapped up its final master-plan stage. As with many neighborhoods, and especially those that are being redefined on a larger scale, definitions of Hudson Square’s boundaries differ depending on whom you ask. Historically, this area was known as the Printing District in the early and mid-20th century. By the 1970s and 1980s, the companies had left, but the shells of their buildings, characterized by both large footprints and floor plates, remained. Hudson Square was upzoned in 2013, signifying a major turning point in the area’s future. Commercial and high-end residential space has quickly filled in the neighborhood, including the Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill–designed Disney New York building currently under construction.
Three years prior to the official change in zoning, landscape architecture firm MNLA began work on a master plan with the Hudson Square Business Improvement District (HSBID). The plan included four component projects: Freeman Plaza East and West, completed in 2013 and 2014 with subsequent renovations; Spring Street Park, completed in 2018; the Hudson Street Reconstruction, completed in 2022; and the Hudson Square Streetscape Standard, also completed this year. While the Freeman Plazas brought much-needed park space to the neighborhood, and Spring Street Park continued this greening, it was not until the Hudson Street Reconstruction that the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare was addressed.
As MNLA founding principal Signe Nielsen told AN, about 3,000 people lived in Hudson Square when the firm began working on the master plan. Following rezoning, the master plan was designed for an additional 2,000 to 3,000 residents, 5,000 students, and an employment base projected to triple from 20,000 workers to 60,000. Nielsen said, “Hudson Street had all the characteristics to become a place, not just a street.”
MNLA’s reconstruction of Hudson Street narrowed the street by four feet, and placed bike lanes between the sidewalk and medians, shielding cyclists from car traffic. The wide sidewalks allowed MNLA to add a second row of trees and inset benches—170 in total—within the planted beds.
Given the neighborhood’s low elevation and the city’s increasingly common flooding events, proper drainage design was crucial for MNLA when reconstructing Hudson Street and establishing the Hudson Square Streetscape Standard. As Nielsen described it, the standard that MNLA developed is “a minimum 30-foot-long tree ‘pit’ … comprised of an open tree pit 10 feet long (per Department of Parks and Recreation standard) with an additional 10 feet on either side of the pit, which is filled with structural soil and covered with permeable pavers.” The space of the tree bed allows for ample root space—a luxury in some urban areas—and increases permeable surface and stormwater storage capacity.
Nielsen shared that Hudson Square is now home to over 500 trees from 23 species, which will capture 5.6 million gallons of water and 90,000 pounds of carbon annually. The planted beds include evergreens, which will hopefully give the neighborhood year-round greenery with four-season interest, and multiple layers of shrubs and trees, which Nielsen hopes will block the view of cars as they grow.
Nielsen emphasized the importance of design-build in delivering the project, which she noted was relatively new for New York City. In the realization of the master plan, subsurface electricity lines posed risks, as their precise locations were unknown in some cases. The related risk was assumed by the utility company, rather than public entities or the HSBID, allowing the master plan to proceed while avoiding delay costs and change orders.
The project was delivered on time despite the pandemic, but its eventual success depends upon the neighborhood’s continued growth. Though Hudson Square is ideally located, filling office space post-COVID remains a challenge in the city. Still, local chains like Westville and Maman have set up shop here, and the shielded bike lanes and shaded sidewalks provide optimism for better street design citywide.
Landscape architect: MNLA
Location: New York
Hudson Square Streetscape Master Plan Client: Hudson Square Business Improvement District
Zoning analysis: Rogers Marvel Architects
Traffic and pedestrian analysis: Arup
Lighting analysis: Arup Lighting
Industrial design: Billings Jackson
Signage and graphics: OPEN
Hudson Street Reconstruction Client: Hudson Square Business Improvement District, NYC Department of Transportation, NYC Economic Development Corporation
Civil Engineering: Sam Schwartz Engineering
Contractor: Prima Paving