Over the course of his long career, Barry Benepe has had a beneficial impact on the quality of life in our cities and towns. His greatest contribution so far is perhaps, in 1976 with colleague Bob Lewis, founding the “Greenmarket”, the network of New York City out-of-doors farmers’ markets that continue to provide city dwellers with “locally” grown fresh produce. Some locations, such as Union Square, have two or more markets a week – and the trend has spread to cities and towns all over America!
Barry Benepe earned degrees from Williams College and MIT, with a stint at Cooper Union in between. He is a licensed architect who worked at several architectural and planning firms starting in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, he was a planner in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, designing and overseeing the engineering of a series of pedestrian walkways and public squares; it was a radical departure from the job he was hired to do – design new highways and malls – but won the support of the municipality.
Back in America, he did design and planning work for New York City’s urban renewal agency, creating plans for the Upper West Side. By then, planning had evolved from Robert Moses’ brutal slum clearance, and the projects that Benepe worked on sought to rehabilitate existing buildings for low-income housing and preserve others, as well as tear down some tenement buildings on the basis of their poor design. He created a design that would integrate the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions into the neighborhood and streetscape, made renderings of multifunctional street amenities and benches and designed ways to improve that area’s walkability.
In 1968, Benepe brought his planning expertise to Newburgh, when he was hired as the city’s first planner. He discovered that the Newburgh Urban Renewal Agency was tearing down chunks of the early-19th-century streets that had attracted him to the city in the first place. He fought for plans that would harmonize with the existing neighborhood and save rather than destroy the historic buildings. He was successful in proposing a mixed-income housing project and spearheaded the creation of the East End Historic District, which stopped the bulldozers and saved many buildings of historic significance, such as the Dutch Reformed Church, the County Courthouse and several homes along Grand and Montgomery Streets.
Benepe’s passion for historic preservation manifested in two books: Early Architecture in Ulster County, commissioned by the Junior League of Kingston, and Newburgh Revealed, a survey of outstanding Victorian architecture, including buildings that had been torn down by urban renewal, with photographs by John Bayley and Benepe and text by Arthur Channing Downs, Jr. and Benepe.
In the late 1970s, he started spending time in Woodstock and had a hand in creating its first zoning map, which incorporated contour lines, floodplains and water bodies. It was at this time that he hired Bob Lewis to work at his planning firm. The two men began talking about how to save the farmland that was vanishing around them: a conversation that ultimately led to the founding of Greenmarket in New York City.
Today, Benepe divides his time between his home in Greenwich Village, which he has had for decades, and his Saugerties farmhouse, bought in 1983. A widow, he is the father of five. Benepe remains active in local planning efforts, serving as vice-chair of Saugerties’ Comprehensive Planning Committee and a member of its Historic Preservation Commission. He is also a founder and active organizer of the Saugerties Farmers’ Market.