Catherine Street


Albany , NY
United States
New York US

The Catherine Street development is located in the South End/Grosbeckville Historic District of Albany, which is composed of modest two- and three-story brick or wood frame rowhouses built primarily between 1830 and 1870 for the city's working class. The Capitol Hill Improvement Corporation, a local, non-profit community design center with experience in design and housing counseling, conducted a detailed survey of prospective buyers' housing preferences: amenities, style, and unit size, and financial capacity: income, savings, and debt. The final program used this survey data as well as extensive discussions with neighborhood residents. Of the 250 people surveyed, the majority indicated a preference for a three-bedroom home for one or two families with traditional styling, gas heat, a private yard, masonry construction, fenced yards, front porches, bay windows, and decks. Most prospective buyers' needs were met by a row house with a two-story duplex or maisonette owner's unit over a garden level two-bedroom flat. This dwelling type fits in well with the surrounding historic housing. The location of the housing in an historic district required detailed review by the Albany historic sites commission and by the state historic preservation officer. This review limited acceptable siding materials to painted wood or brick masonry and required the solution to respond to the rhythm, proportions, and details of existing buildings. Community participation was very important in shaping this development. But the confrontational style and mistrust in public dialogues made the community process challenging. Local residents' skepticism about government-initiated new construction in the area was reflected in their motto, "South End against the world". Neighborhood oversight extended to daily inspection of the construction site. Major savings in the cost of construction were achieved by the developer, who served as construction manager and hired small, local subcontractors. Although this strategy met community objectives of employing local residents and members of minority groups, the use of numerous subcontractors and limited professional services also complicated supervision and the interaction between trades. Despite the success of the Catherine Street housing and subsequent new construction in the neighborhood, many conditions in the community have declined. In the view of architect Kathleen Dorgan, "This development points out again how important it is to have strong continuing redevelopment in the neighborhood. There needs to be an integrated local policy for addressing the continuing needs of the community."

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