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Safeguarding Free Expression in NYC’s Public Plazas

In December, MAS joined planning colleagues around the city in issuing a joint letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on the need to foster freedom of expression in public plazas and other public areas.

We invite you to read the letter, which details seven steps the Administration can take to make demonstrations and other gatherings of free expression, “safer, more effective, and even welcoming to all New Yorkers who want to participate in civic action.”

Re: Governor Cuomo’s State of the State

In yesterday’s State of the State, Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated that he would announce new infrastructure investments later this month. MAS hopes that further improvements at Penn Station will among those announcements. We applaud the Governor for spearheading the current plan to address some of Penn’s most visible deficiencies, but the more difficult track-level improvements are also urgently needed. We look forward to the Governor’s continued leadership on this and other infrastructure priorities across New York.

To learn more about MAS’s advocacy on Penn Station, read our joint statement with Regional Plan Association.

A Message from the Board

Dear Members,

Thank you for your ongoing support of The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) and our work fighting for responsible growth in our city. As we begin 2017 and prepare for our upcoming 125th anniversary, we would like to recap some of the best work of the last year and offer a preview of our year ahead.

In February, MAS will welcome its new president, Elizabeth Goldstein. She is nationally-known as a tenacious and remarkably effective advocate for parks, open spaces, and historic preservation. If you have not yet been introduced to Elizabeth and her incredible track record of leadership in New York and as president of the California State Parks Foundation, we encourage you to read our special announcement of her appointment.

Elizabeth joins MAS on the heels of much activity in the last calendar year.

MAS continues to be a key force in shaping the discussion over the future of Penn Station and the West Midtown neighborhood. The Governor’s plan to address some of the most visible deficiencies at the station – low-slung ceilings, rundown public spaces, poor signage, limited amenities, and cramped corridors – is laudable, but we urge all parties to address the more difficult track-level improvements that are urgently needed. MAS submitted comments in December regarding the preservation of the landmark Farley Post Office as it is redeveloped into the new Moynihan Station. Later this month, we will advocate in support of the proposed closure of 32nd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues for pedestrian use at the Community Board 5 Transportation Committee meeting.

In November, we released Public Assets: City Owned and Leased Properties, a report and online mapping tool that found that the City controls a total of 14,000 properties around the five boroughs. Incredibly, 22% of them – an area double the size of Central Park – are classified as having no use. MAS will advocate for the City to make use of these spaces in 2017, maximizing their public benefit and equitable potential.

Our Accidental Skyline project has new releases planned for later this year, which will build on our last three years of analysis, mapping, and renderings that have helped shape the debate on supertalls and as-of-right development. We continue to fight for transparency and public review in large-scale development projects across the five boroughs.

The new rezoning of East Midtown, informed by the East Midtown Steering Committee’s work over the last two years, enters the City’s Unified Land Use Review Process this week. MAS served as a key stakeholder in the steering committee and will review the Final Scope of Work for comment later this month. During 2016, the advocacy of MAS and our preservation colleagues helped preserve 12 individual landmarks in East Midtown through Landmarks Preservation Commission designation.

In the fall, we updated the curriculum, materials, neighborhood selection criteria, and outreach strategies for MAS’s Livable Neighborhoods Program (LNP.) LNP workshops train community stakeholders and advocates on the fundamentals of New York City’s development process. Later this month, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, we will select neighborhood partners for a creative and cultural asset mapping workshop series. We are also developing a neighborhood-based series in Manhattan Community District 5 to launch later this year.

In October, MAS partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to present the first-ever global Jane Jacobs Medal to Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, and PK Das, a Mumbai-based architect and urban activist, at the United Nations Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador. On May 5-7, we will host our annual Jane’s Walk festival, honoring Jane Jacobs’ legacy and leading thousands of New Yorkers on neighborhood walks celebrating the art, architecture, history, and culture of our great city.

MAS’s Adopt-A-Monument program has conserved 51 works of public art since 1987. In October, the elaborate marble Heinrich Heine Fountain by Ernest Herter in the South Bronx was cleaned and repaired thanks to a grant from the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation, long-time supporters of the fountain. Last summer, we restored one of the greatest statues in the American Renaissance style, Brooklyn’s famed Henry Ward Beecher Monument by John Quincy Adams Ward. This project was made possible by a generous grant from the Paul and Klara Porzelt Foundation. In 2017, the Porzelt Foundation’s support will also allow MAS to take on the conservation of the Grand Central Stones in Van Courtland Park. The “Stones” are thirteen pillars placed along the Putnam Trail before 1903 to test durability for the construction of Grand Central Terminal.

Finally, we will soon announce our events for the first half of 2017, including the Annual Members Meeting and the presentation of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal.

This is an incredibly exciting time for MAS. Thank you for being part of it.

With warm regards,

Board of Directors
The Municipal Art Society of New York

Please meet Elizabeth Goldstein

Dear Friends of MAS,

We want to share some important information about the future of this extraordinary organization and its essential role fighting for the responsible growth of New York City. The Board believes it is fundamentally important that we continue to strengthen MAS’ position as a central player in shaping this city’s future. MAS will continue to be an advocate for all those who love New York and understand that the pursuit of great design, preservation and livability requires both vigilance and action.

Elizabeth Goldstein, nationally-known as a tenacious and remarkably effective advocate for parks, open spaces and historic preservation with deep roots here in New York, will become the next president of MAS.

Elizabeth will assume her new role in February, following a brief transition period that will be overseen by our CFO, Bob Libbey. Elizabeth’s appointment was approved at a meeting of current board members and emeriti yesterday.

Elizabeth grew up in the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx and was a central player in New York’s parks, recreation and historic preservation sector for more than a decade. She served as director of planning for the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and later as New York City regional director of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, where she oversaw the start-up of Riverbank State Park and served on the panel that developed the public-private land use plan for Hudson River Park.

Following a move to the West Coast, for the last 12 years Elizabeth has been the president of the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF), an independent organization dedicated to protecting, enhancing and advocating for California’s 279 state parks. The Foundation is tasked with building awareness about the parks system and its needs—with special focus on legislative and policy advocacy—and raising private funds for state parks projects in partnership with non-profit organizations that support the system. Elizabeth raised nearly $20 million for key capital projects, lobbied the California legislature to secure $90 million in deferred maintenance funding, and built and led coalitions that prevented closures of state parks and turned back incursions like energy lines and toll roads into state parks. Under her leadership, the Foundation dramatically increased its membership and doubled its operating budget.

Prior to her role at CSPF, Elizabeth managed San Francisco’s 5,400-acre recreation and park system and initiated and executed a $400 million capital plan. That followed a tenure as the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Western Regional Office, where she managed National Trust programs in California, in addition to eight other states and two U.S. territories.

The Board believes Elizabeth’s extensive experience as a passionate and forceful advocate, as well as a results-oriented executive and successful fund-raiser, make her an exceptional choice to lead MAS forward.

We are very proud of the work the MAS staff has done over the past year to position MAS for success in its upcoming 125th anniversary year and beyond.

As we look ahead to the future, we want to take the opportunity on behalf of the Board to thank you for your ongoing support of MAS and its advocacy on behalf of all New Yorkers, working to ensure a vital future for this great city.

We could not do this important work without you.

All the best in the New Year.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of The Municipal Art Society of New York,

Frederick Iseman, Chairman of the Board
Christy MacLear, Chair, Executive Committee of the Board

Just In: 10 New Landmarks Designated

The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) Backlog Initiative continued Tuesday with the designation of ten new properties. Thirteen sites located across the five boroughs were on the agenda. However, the LPC chose to postpone one decision and removed another two from the calendar entirely.

Brooklyn

  • 183-195 Broadway Building*
  • St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church (138 Bleecker Street)*

Bronx

  • Immaculate Conception Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary (375-395 E 150th Street)
    • Removed from calendar, designation faced owner opposition

Queens

  • Protestant Reformed Dutch Church of Flushing (143-11 Roosevelt Avenue)*

Staten Island

  • Lakeman House (2286 Richmond Road)*
  • Brougham Cottage (4746 Amboy Road)*

Manhattan

  • Excelsior Power Company Building (33-43 Gold Street)
  • 412 E 85th Street House*
  • YMCA Building, Harlem Branch (181 W 135th Street)*
  • Loew’s 175th Street Theater (4140 Broadway)*
  • Bergdorf Goodman (754 5th Avenue)
  • Interborough Rapid Transit Powerhouse (850 12th Avenue)*
    • Postponed due to “regulatory framework” discussions with owner Consolidated Edison
  • Edgar J. Kaufmann Conference Rooms, Lecture Hall, & Elevator Lobby (809 United Nations Plaza)*
    • Removed from calendar, designation faced owner opposition

The Immaculate Conception Church and Edgar J. Kaufmann rooms are now vulnerable to unchecked alteration and demolition. But Tuesday’s decisions (combined with the designated sites in April and June) bring the total to 27 landmarks listed since the start of the initiative last year.

*MAS delivered testimony in support.

MAS Testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Economic Development regarding Transparency & Reform of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Intros. 1316 and 1337

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) supports Intros 1316 and 1337 with our recommendations included herein. The proposed legislations by the City Council would amend the City Charter and Administrative Code to improve transparency and accountability for actions undertaken by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) under contract with the New York Department of Small Business Services (SBS).

Background

Intro 1316 would require EDC to include the City Comptroller or the Comptroller’s appointee on its board, share project data on the City’s open data portal, publicly release reports on the fiscal, social, and environmental impacts of projects, and hold public hearings in the communities affected by projects it undertakes.

Intro 1337 would require EDC to submit a project description and budget to the local Community Boards, Council Members, Borough Presidents for review before project agreements can be executed or projects can be approved by the Mayor.

In addition to its primary function of stimulating economic development in New York City, EDC plays a significant role in many of the city’s land use and planning projects and initiatives. Similar to the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the City Planning Commission (CPC), which are authorized under the City Charter to make discretionary planning decisions, EDC often serves as lead agency for actions subject to environmental review, coordinates with other city agencies, issues RFPs, selects consultants, facilitates public participation efforts, and represents the Mayor’s Office in negotiations for actions subject to ULURP.

In terms of its land holdings, according to the City-Owned and Leased Properties dataset maintained by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), EDC manages a total of 160 properties, encompassing over 17 million square feet of land. Fifty-five of these holdings are categorized as properties with “no current use” and 97 are committed for sale or long-term lease. The full list of these holdings is provided as an attachment to this testimony.

However, according to its asset management online map, EDC manages over 20 million square feet of property and a total of 108 sites. Based on these informational discrepancies, we feel the improvements proposed under 1316 with regard to EDC’s datasets are well warranted.

Position

Although MAS believes that amendments proposed under Intro 1316 and 1337 will improve transparency and accountability for certain actions undertaken by EDC, we feel they do not go far enough. Therefore, we propose the following recommendations.

  • Based on EDC’s involvement in major city planning efforts and the extent of its land holdings, MAS strongly recommends that the City Charter should be further amended to define EDC’s role with regard to planning and ULURP.
  • The proposed amendments should apply to EDC contracts with all city agencies, and not be limited to only those with SBS.
  • Intro 1337 should include specific steps and mechanisms by which comments and feedback from Community Boards, Council Members, and Borough Presidents would be incorporated into the planning process for projects undertaken by EDC.
  • Similar to Intro 1132 (introduced by the Council in August), which would establish a tracking database for all city commitments for any city-sponsored applications subject to ULURP, MAS recommends that Intro 1316 and 1337 should define tracking procedures for commitments made by EDC, including, but not limited to, Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) and Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs).
  • MAS recommends that the proposed legislation specifically address the disclosure of financial analysis and lease terms undertaken by EDC for each site within their purview.

MAS is currently monitoring several ongoing EDC initiatives including the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX), neighborhood planning studies in Inwood and Downtown Far Rockaway, and transactions/leases for developments in the South Street Seaport.

We are hopeful that the Council will include our recommendations so that necessary regulatory changes would apply to these projects.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on this important matter.

MAS Testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation regarding Parks Department properties currently inaccessible to the public

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) supports opening and improving public access to city-owned properties. As residents and taxpayers of New York City, we depend on the effective management, protection, and enhancement of what is collectively ours–parks, open space, monuments, streetscapes, infrastructure, views, and other intangible resources.

This week MAS released a first-of-its-kind interactive tool to map the more than 14,000 city-owned and leased properties, amounting to a land area the size of Brooklyn. This online tool uses two datasets provided by New York City: MapPLUTO and City Owned and Leased Properties (COLP). MAS encourages the members of this committee and the public at large to examine these holdings with our new tool and identify opportunities for improving, protecting, and utilizing city-owned property. (Visit mas.org/colp)

MAS commends the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) for successfully managing a vast inventory of holdings. According to the COLP dataset, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services oversees 1,679 properties “with no current use,” the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has 1,050, and DPR has just one! However, opportunities for improvement remain substantial.

According to the use codes provided by the COLP dataset, there are 90 city-owned park properties characterized as “undeveloped open space,” accounting for approximately 191 acres of land (see attachment). Seventy-four of these sites are located within the boundaries of the Community Parks Initiative, a program led by DPR aimed at redeveloping parks in underserved communities. This presents an opportunity to maximize each of these holdings for the communities that need them most.

Meanwhile, thirty-two properties classified as undeveloped open space are located along Southern Boulevard and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. Both of these areas are undergoing neighborhood planning studies under the Department of City Planning (DCP) PLACES initiative. Another thirty-one properties labeled as undeveloped open space are in the Edgemere Urban Renewal Area in the Rockaways. Similarly, Edgemere is undergoing a planning initiative for redevelopment, an effort lead by HPD. MAS urges the city to closely examine underutilized city-owned park properties within the boundaries of these planning initiatives and explore possibilities for developing recreational facilities, cultural amenities, coastal protection, and other appropriate uses.

MAS is also concerned about incompatible or competing uses within park space. Specifically, storage facilities (both indoor and outdoor), extensive parking lots, and maintenance facilities often hamper user experience and limit accessibility. Improved interagency coordination among DPR, the Department of Sanitation (DOS), Department of Environmental Protection, and other city agencies can help mitigate the undesirable repercussions of sharing these uses within designated parkland.

All New Yorkers deserve a chance to experience and explore our city. MAS encourages the city to examine park properties on a case-by-case basis considering environmental concerns, landmark designations, economic feasibility, and other factors in order to determine “the highest and best use” of our shared open space.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

Advocacy Alert: State Bill to Protect NYC Zoning

We need your help today to stop a veritable land grab. This afternoon, MAS delivered a memorandum of support to Governor Cuomo in response to proposed legislation that would prevent unfettered development on property owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

By our count, the MTA owns at least 656 sites encompassing more than 41 million square feet of land across all five boroughs. 221 of those parcels are zoned for residential use. Without this bill, the MTA would have no requirement to adhere to the New York City zoning resolution. Quite literally, the sky is the limit for development of these sites.

This legislation will block the MTA from embarking upon virtually unrestricted development in your neighborhood. The Governor has until Monday, November 28 at midnight to sign this bill into law.

Here’s What You Can Do:

Call Governor Cuomo: Urge him to sign Senate Bill 8037 and Assembly Bill 10421. Call him at 1-518-474-8390.

Spread the Word: Use social media, email, and good old conversation to tell your neighbors, friends, family, and colleagues that this is happening. It’s not too late to have our voices heard.

Continue Reading>>

Joint MAS-RPA Statement on Penn Station-Farley Complex

Statement by The Municipal Art Society of New York and Regional Plan Association on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement on Penn, Moynihan Station

We congratulate Governor Cuomo for his leadership in taking an important first step toward a new Penn Station. The plan announced last week addresses some of Penn’s most visible deficiencies: low-slung ceilings, rundown public spaces, poor signage, limited amenities and cramped corridors. Governor Cuomo’s initiative will ensure that Moynihan Station is built — and soon.

These upgrades will certainly improve the experience at the transit hub, but by themselves, they won’t go far enough. In order to provide capacity for future growth and unlock the economic development potential of our region, much more needs to be done by all the partners with a stake in our future. We call on all interest groups and decision makers — both public and private — to advance ideas that address long-term concerns while these new measures are being implemented.

Specifically, MAS and RPA ask our federal, state and local elected leaders; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Amtrak; the U.S. Department of Transportation; NJ Transit; MTA, LIRR, NYCTA, and Metro-North; and business leaders and property owners to commit to the following:

  • Build Gateway, a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New York to New Jersey and linking the entire Northeast. This is the single most important infrastructure investment in the nation, and needs to move ahead immediately. As part of the Gateway project, Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey must examine operations at Penn Station and study alternatives – such as through-running trains from New Jersey to Long Island and Connecticut and integrating routes, scheduling and frequency – that could improve efficiency at the station and provide greater regional connectivity.
  • Develop a long-term vision and strategy for the complete redevelopment of Penn Station, including Moynihan Station, that focuses on critical track and platform improvements. That vision also should incorporate the eventual relocation of Madison Square Garden so that Penn Station and the surrounding area can be transformed into a welcoming, modern destination that meets the mobility needs of our growing region.
  • Develop a comprehensive planning framework for West Midtown, examining options for future development, land use, value capture potential and historic preservation. With just seven years remaining on Madison Square Garden’s operating permit, we urgently need a robust plan for the district.
  • The improvements contemplated as part of the Penn-Farley Complex address very real and urgent needs of the present, and they should move forward. As Governor Cuomo said at his announcement on Tuesday, “New York’s tomorrow depends on what we do today.” To that end, it is imperative that we not simply address immediate needs at Penn Station, but holistically and intentionally plan for the long-term future of our city and region.

Established in 1893, The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) advocates for excellence in urban design, planning, historic preservation, and community engagement. From saving Grand Central Terminal to fostering the establishment of innovative land-use laws, MAS is at the forefront of New York’s most important campaigns to improve and re-imagine our city’s built environment by promoting economic vitality, cultural vibrancy, ecological sustainability, and social diversity.

Regional Plan Association is an independent, not-for-profit civic organization that develops and promotes ideas to improve the economic health, environmental resiliency and quality of life of the New York metropolitan area. We conduct research on transportation, land use, housing, good governance and the environment. We advise cities, communities and public agencies. And we advocate for change that will contribute to the prosperity of all residents of the region. Since the 1920s, RPA has produced three landmark plans for the region and is working on a fourth plan due out in 2017. For more information, please visit www.rpa.org.

The Rockefeller Foundation Honors Dr. Joan Clos and Mr. PK Das with 2016 Jane Jacobs Medal

First-Ever Global Recipients – Medals to be Presented at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador

The Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Judith Rodin announced the first-ever global recipients of the 2016 Jane Jacobs Medal – Dr. Joan Clos and PK Das. The Medal is awarded to individuals whose work creates new ways of seeing and understanding cities, challenges traditional assumptions about urban life, creatively uses the built environment to make cities places of hope and expectation, and influences global understanding and application of Jane Jacobs’ principles. The 2016 Jane Jacobs Medal was open to international nominees for the first time, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Jacobs’ birth and the impact of her ideas on cities around the world.

Dr. Clos is the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), which promotes sustainable urban development around the world. Mr. Das is a Mumbai-based architect and activist, who has worked to revitalize open spaces, rehabilitate slums, and bring the voice of Mumbai residents into a participatory planning process.

The recipients will be honored at a ceremony on October 17 in Quito, Ecuador, during the United Nations Habitat III Conference. Along with the medal, the recipients will receive a cash award.

The Rockefeller Foundation Jane Jacobs Medal was created in 2007 to honor the author and activist who died in April 2006 at the age of 89. The Rockefeller Foundation’s relationship with Jane Jacobs dates back to the 1950s, when the Foundation made a grant to the then-obscure writer from Greenwich Village, for the research and writing of the book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Now more than fifty years later, Jane Jacobs’ work remains one of the most influential books ever written on urban design. In previous years the Medal has been awarded to honorees who have been undertaking work that advances the spirit of Jane Jacobs within New York City.

“It is a great honor to award The Rockefeller Foundation Jane Jacobs’ Medal to our first-ever global winners, Dr. Joan Clos and PK Das,” said Dr. Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation. “It is fitting that during the week of Habitat III, the effort spearheaded by Mr. Clos, we honor and recognize his tireless efforts to elevate the global discussion on resilience through smart urban development. And this is the perfect moment to honor Mr. Das, as we look ahead to implementing the New Urban Agenda, his vision for Mumbai and reimagining its citizens’ access to open space and improved affordable housing in one of the most densely populated cities on the planet serves as a model for all.”

“I am delighted to be nominated for this distinguished award. It is deeply gratifying to witness a developing worldwide consensus over the recognition of the power of urbanization as a driver for wealth, employment and human progress. The New Urban Agenda is an opportunity for achieving inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities for all,” said Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

“With the expansion of cities public spaces are sharply declining, both in physical and democratic terms. Cities are increasingly being divided. We are producing more backyards of discrimination, neglect and abuse of people and places, even  natural areas are not spared. Our challenge is to integrate these fragmented and disparate backyards into unified, just and equal cities. For the achievement of this objective, planning and architecture are incredible democratic tools of socio-environmental change, that I actively pursue through collective endeavor. I am deeply motivated and honored by this prestigious first international Jane Jacobs Award being conferred on me,” said PK Das, Architect, Activist, Mumbai.

Throughout his distinguished career in public service and diplomacy, Dr. Clos has been leader in the global discussion of sustainable urban development. As Executive Director of the UN-Habitat since 2010, he has spearheaded UN-Habitat’s global conference in Quito, which will set the New Urban Agenda. Prior to this role, Dr. Clos served the Spanish Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan, the Minister of Industry, Tourism, and Trade of Spain, and the Mayor of Barcelona. As Mayor of Barcelona, he spurred ambitious investment in Barcelona’s industrial zones. For his commitment to a better urban future, Dr. Clos is a 2016 recipient of the Jane Jacobs Medal.

Mr. Das works to democratize open spaces and urban planning in Mumbai. In addition to his architectural practice, he serves as the chairperson of the Mumbai Waterfronts Centre. Mr. Das and the Mumbai Waterfronts Centre organized the Open Mumbai Plan and exhibitions, which mapped, analyzed, and re-envisioned the city’s open spaces from coastline to parks and gardens and the vast extent of the natural areas. Mr. Das along with Nivara Hakk- a housing rights movement, of which he is the joint convener, has also advocated for the rights of slum dwellers and improved affordable housing. His primary concern has been to integrate the backyards of exclusion and abuse and integrate these disparate fragments for the achievement of just and equal cities. For his work to transform Mumbai and its open spaces, Mr. Das is a 2016 recipient of the Jane Jacobs Medal.

The selection of the Jane Jacobs Medalists and allocation of the prize money was determined by an internationally renowned judging panel chaired by Dr. Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. The 2016 Jane Jacobs Medal is administered by The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS).