We asked graduate students from Columbia University‘s architecture and urban design program to reflect on their studio in Newburgh, NY, and what makes work in legacy cities distinct from other American cities. The first post comes to us from Katherine Flores. Thanks to all the teams who submitted posts!

Each city or town in New York’s Hudson River Valley has some degree of positive or negative aspects relative to one another. These nuances are what create the tension between defining regional systems and negotiating multiple urban design scales. At the scale of the city, each legacy city can carry its own identity. Newburgh and other cities such as Poughkeepsie or Beacon have similar situations from the stress, or even trauma, of going through urban renewal.

But in the case of Newburgh, when one first researches the city online it is likely you will get a crime alert. If you research Poughkeepsie, that is not the case. Can you force these cities to have a friendly, or at least cooperative, regional relationship? The fall studio challenge was in bundling, comparing, and creating supportive systems at a regional scale, while simultaneously carrying through the argument and framework for a regional approach at the city scale.

In the case of my group, Agri-Shed, we found opportunity in farms across the Hudson Valley Region and developed a way to have niche food- and transportation-related economy in Newburgh. The daily challenge was actually to rationalize why Newburgh made sense, not Kingston or Albany.

As urban designers, we grappled with questions that we continue asking of places like Newburgh and others in the Hudson Valley: how and why is it important for legacy cities to be able to pinpoint where they need improvement? How do cities walk away from an identity that distinguishes them by their loss of population and jobs and toward a more positive future? How do we create innovative practices for legacy cities that will last long enough to help them move into a successful future?

Although most legacy cities have a similar track record to Newburgh’s, it is important to note that their issues cannot all be addressed in the same way. I believe our studio produced a broad range of ideas for Newburgh because although in the process we tackled several issues in the city at the same time, every group focused on specific improvements defined for each proposal.

A special thank you to Justin G. Moore for inviting your students to participate. Justin is a senior urban designer for the City of New York, professor at Columbia University GSAPP, and co-founder of UrbanPatch.Org.

To learn more about the students’ work, click here.

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