Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pedestrian Perspective: A Walk to the New York State Museum

...not in a hurricane, though.  That I don't recommend.  However, if you're sitting inside bored and still have power, let's look at some pictures of a stroll on a sunny day to one of Albany's nicest places, the New York State Museum.

Lark Street, looking toward Madison Avenue.  The Belgian block intersection at Lancaster Street.
Lancaster and Lark.
Looking down Lancaster Street.  I used to live about six houses down.
Back toward Washington Avenue. The Trinity Church is on the left.
The bus going by in the picture above is a very common sight on Lark Street.  When I went to the Center Square Neighborhood Association meeting at which citizen input was solicited for the CDTA Route Restructuring project, one complaint that was mentioned was that there were too many buses on Lark.  I chalk this up to the fact that Center Square has quite a few residents who are suburbanites with a better aesthetic appreciation.  When the new system arrives there will be one fewer bus route on Lark Street, but one of the current routes becomes a "trunk" with much greater frequency and Sunday service.  Overall, Center Square is the most well-connected neighborhood to transit in the entire city, outside of downtown.

Looking at Lancaster Street again, this time toward Washington Park.
The Trinity Methodist Church.
To get to the museum from my apartment, I can take either Lancaster Street, Jay Street, Hudson Avenue, Hamilton Street or Madison Avenue.  I can take any two of them by adding Dove Street to the mix.  All of these streets are similar, but there is still a nice amount of variety among them.  That's what living in this type of environment offers: choice in your surroundings.  Really, in just two paragraphs we've seen choice in both transportation mode and favored route.  That already beats a place like Colonie, where to have your choice of route, you often sacrifice choice in transportation mode, and vice versa. 

On this trip I went with Jay Street to Dove Street to Madison Avenue.  The next time we go down this way, we'll go down to Jay below Dove, and visit the sites down there.  It's a wonderful area, and one that was almost lost to the highway.

Looking toward Lark on Jay Street.  There is a corner store here with an art gallery above.
Looking in the other direction down Jay Street.  A blurry picture but the buildings are nice at least.
Jay Street.
Concrete, brick and Belgian blocks make this a very interesting visual, just in the street itself.
You really can have off-street parking and not make it obnoxious.  It's just that most people choose not to do so.
A close-up of non-obnoxious parking.
New construction.
Jay Street is the location of one of the few infill projects in Albany.  It's a set of five townhomes that include off-street parking (underneath the buildings) and get rid of a vacant lot.  They were listed in the low $300,000's.  All of them have sold.

The building to the right of these is the Knickbocker Apartments.  Originally a brewery, the building was converted to residential in 1912 (I think).   While the last owner had a pretty poor reputation (I think they just didn't have the funds for upkeep of the building and responding adequately to tenant's they were a bit crazy), it is now under the management of a large property management company with many properties in Albany and Troy, which seems to be doing a better job.

They had to remove much of the Belgian blocks from the street in front of the infill project.  But they put them back.
Center Square's historically surfaced street.  The right half of this would have been town down for the South Mall Arterial, according to the original design for Albany's highway system.

Private pocket park.
Looking down Jay toward Swan Street and Empire State Plaza.
I know I've taken a picture of this before, but it is just so cute that I had to take another.
Interesting stairs.  Dove Street.
Sweet!  Dove Street again.
Zooming in down Hamilton Street so we can see the superabundant parking.  Pretty sad stretch, especially considering the places that are down here:  El Mariachi, Cheesecake Machismo, the Treasure Chest thrift shop.  It really deserves to be an intimate two-sided street.
This is still Dove Street I think...
The last leg of the journey takes us down Madison Avenue, through another block on which I used to live.  Maybe I need to stop moving so often.

Madison Avenue at Dove Street, looking east toward downtown.
The tall building has a vacant storefront.  Not many businesses do well on Madison Avenue between Lark and Swan Streets. 

An empty lot.  It's not as horrible as most, but it's not great, either.
This is part of a stretch of houses with small front yards, a rarity in this, primarily brownstone, neighborhood.
Nice buildings!

Another shot of the stretch of houses with front yards.

The canopy of street trees is wonderful here.  I hope they all lasted through the storm.
I love how this building looks cocooned in bushes and trees.
Nice staircase!
I love the brownstone basement apartment entrances, under the stoops.  But this one is particularly neat.
A front yard and a front porch! Cute!
It's usually a pleasant, shady walk down here.  You can see the Cultural Education Center, where the museum is, in the background.
Another house, off to the side, with a small yard and a porch.
This cute addition to the back of this house had a bunch of UAlbany bros living there when I lived on this block.

The stretch of houses in which I used to live.
This one.
The Madison Grille.  We never actually went here, except on the day we were moving out, even though it was right next door.
The bar being right next door turned this alley into a public restroom.

The Cultural Education Center.
The New York State Museum, along with the New York State Archives and the New York State Library, are housed in the Cultural Education Center building at Empire State Plaza.  What that sentence lacks in simplicity is made up for in the design of the Plaza itself, which is modeled after a complex in Brasília, the capital of Brazil. We'll go into that in more detail when the Pedestrian Perspective of the Plaza happens.  Simplicity is not a bonus in streetscapes, but it can be in government.  Albany has gotten this backwards.

Swan Street toward Hudson/Park.
Swan Sweet toward Washington Avenue.
The street in the picture above simply is not appropriate for the City of Albany.  I used to have to walk down there to get the bus and in the winter, it becomes a wind tunnel vortex of cold.  There's nothing rewarding about the walk itself either, despite the impressive visual that this intersection provides.  It would be a perfect place for a light rail line, however, with a  connection to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station, a proposed (or maybe planned, I'm not sure) high-speed rail line, the Empire Corridor.  The line to Amtrak could go underneath the plaza, in the two unused tunnels, and another line could go up Central, Washington, Western or all of the above along this big long, stupid building.   That would be a great way to save this street and make it useful again.

Green space.  Note that it does absolutely nothing to make walking down this stretch any better.  Also doesn't it look like that vacant lot from earlier in the post?
Huge towers, surrounded by green space, placed on a podium high above the city.

Despite the raised podium, the towers-surrounded-by-green space model of Empire State Plaza is identical to inner-city public housing high rises.  In other words, it's basically the projects for state workers.  (However, the Harriman State Office Complex is no different, nor are the office parks in the suburbs.)    

Green space.
Some of the sites I listed in my Links Post #1  were by people who claim, correctly I feel, that green space like this provides no benefit whatsoever to the city.   Nobody is going to go here and play baseball, or walk their dog, or sit and read a book.  It's just a buffer between the over-scaled buildings and the street.  A buffer that wouldn't be needed if the thing wasn't built so poorly in the first place.  But enough about that rant, let's get back to walking to the museum.

Big wide street, surface parking and more green space.  However, this green space is a park, so that's better.

The entrance to the .... green space at the Plaza.  What we needed right here was some green space, that's right.
Green space with modern art.
Blank wall.  And not one of those blank walls like the one we saw on Dove Street, that added charm to the city.
The walkway to the Cultural Education Center.  It doubles as an amphitheater.  A streetcar would look a lot better here, too.
The stairway to the Plaza.
The entrance to the New York State Museum.
Finally, mercifully, we arrive at the museum.  It's not a pleasant trip past Empire State Plaza itself, a statement that holds true on almost every side of the complex, especially in winter, when they all become wind tunnels.  The Plaza itself, of course, is a barren wasteland that was built for a warmer climate, like in Brazil perhaps.

The museum itself is a gem of Albany.  I cannot take pictures from inside, of course, but the exhibits are wonderful and the atmosphere is dark and quiet.

That's all for our trip to the museum.  The bus to Troy leaves from here, so after the museum closed, I caught the next #22 and walked all around Troy.  I took probably 100 or more pictures in that city, so we'll be visiting there, soon.

I hope you enjoyed visiting a sunny day and I hope you're all safe in the storm today. 

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