Hello, New York City. May I Help You?

311 call center nycLast week, the MAS Urbanists got a behind-the-scenes look at New York City’s state-of-the-art 311 call facility. Winner of a MAS Annual Award in 2008, 311 was launched five years ago and now receives more than 40,000 calls per day. Executive Director Joe Morrisroe and members of his staff enthusiastically presented the ins and outs of this information hub.

Even though most calls are predictable (noise complaints in the summer, heat/hot water in the winter, parking questions year round) there are always important anomalies. They offer social services, and have provided informational services for over 2,000,000 callers during peak times like during  the NYC transit strike of 2005. Continue Reading>>

MAS Invites Nominations for 2009 MASterwork Awards

Now that 2008 is drawing to a close we are again seeking nominations for our 2009 MASterwork Awards.  Each year, the Municipal Art Society honors the year’s top building projects for their excellence in architecture and urban design, and their contribution to New York’s built environment. This year’s Awards Committee will be considering New York City projects that are completed within the 2008 calendar year.

If you have been responsible for, or know of a recently completed project that you wish to nominate, please download and fill out a nomination form. Nominations are due by January 31, 2009. Continue Reading>>

Kent Barwick Awarded MAS’ Highest Honor

Departing MAS President Kent Barwick was awarded the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal at the MAS Gala Benefit earlier this month in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the city of New York. Held in a clear tent on the plaza of the iconic Seagram Building on Park Avenue and surrounded by some of New York’s most important buildings, a series of guests, including New York Governor David Paterson and a chorus line of former Rockettes, toasted Mr. Barwick and his excellence in leading the Municipal Art Society. Click on the images below to watch a slideshow of the event. [All photos: Steven Tucker]

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For MAS, It’s Never Just Another Black Tie Dinner . . .

midtown east seagram building park ave 52ndFor 58 years now, the Municipal Art Society has honored a New Yorker who has made an outstanding contribution to the city of New York. Starting in 1950, this great honor has been bestowed upon an impressive list of personalities including legendary architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable (1982), Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., (1991), William (father of Wallace and New Yorker writer) Shawn, Philip Johnson (1983), Senator Moynihan in 1992, and for the revival of Tribeca, Robert DeNiro and Margot Gayle in 1997 and (dare we say it?) Robert Moses in 1959.

But the magic of the evening comes in our steadfast and stubborn refusal to hold the event in a hotel ballroom. We pick, every year, a place in New York that is architecturally or historically fascinating. We’ve held the event on an empty floor of the Raymond Hood’s 1931 Art Deco masterpiece, the McGraw Hill building, with candlelight and stunning views. Or, how about our 2001 dinner at Gordon Bunschaft’s late Modernist skyscraper Lever House? Or, in 2006 at the-then partially restored, but still magnificently decorated, Park Avenue Armory.

This year is no exception. This Tuesday evening, MAS supporters will enjoy cocktails at the Four Seasons, then dine under a clear tent on the plaza of the extraordinary Seagram Building which celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year. Continue Reading>>

How Would You Create More Affordable Housing in New York?

manhattan midtown night skyline from greenpointAt the first annual Jane Jacobs Forum last night, an expert panel considered how to house a million more New Yorkers over the next twenty years, and how to do this while retaining neighborhood character and diversity. Panelists also suggested ways of making housing affordable in an increasingly land-poor city, and described the kind of changes in city infrastructure they think are necessary to accommodate all these new New Yorkers.

Panelist Jerilyn Perrine, director, Citizens Housing and Planning Council, said (jokingly) that she would like to see Staten Island swapped for portions of New Jersey that are well-connected to regional mass transit, and (seriously) the extension of the 7 train in both Manhattan and, more importantly, in eastern Queens where affordable housing could be built to serve growing immigrant communities.

But, what would you do to make housing affordable? What improvements to the city’s infrastructure do you think the city and federal governments should focus on? Tell us. Continue Reading>>

From Burning to Blooming: Rave Reviews for South Bronx Tour

Alexie Torres-Fleming, winner of the Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism, led a South Bronx walking tour last Saturday (October 18) — titled From Burning to Blooming: Community-Driven Projects in the South Bronx — that none of the 30 participants will soon forget. Over the last 15 years, the organization she founded, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, has operated on the premise that the community residents can rebuild their neighborhood (the poorest Congressional District in the nation) and that youth can lead that movement. Alexie and staff members Dawn Henning and Stephen Olivera illustrated some of YMPJ’s work on environmental justice, watershed, and greening issues.

Below are comments from participants that evoke their experiences:

“… a fantastic tour!”

“Very interesting tour… it’s only by walking there that one can grasp the (hard!) realities of the neighborhood.”

Continue Reading>>

Join MAS for a Tour of Environmental Success Stories in the South Bronx

mural public art south bronxOn Saturday, October 18, join the winner of this year’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism, Alexie Torres-Fleming, on a walking tour highlighting several community-driven projects undertaken by her organization that have improved the health of the Bronx River watershed. HighOn Saturday, October 18, join the winner of this year’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism, Alexie Torres-Fleming, on a walking tour highlighting several community-driven projects undertaken by her organization that have improved the health of the Bronx River watershed.lights include the restoration of Concrete Plant Park — a once-contaminated property that was converted to parkland designed by local residents, and several storm water best management practices, including rain gardens, green roofs, and rain barrels.

From Burning to Blooming: Community Driven Projects in the Bronx
Saturday, October 18, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Space is limited. $15, $12 MAS members/students. Purchase tickets online or call 212-935-2075. Leader: Alexie Torres-Fleming, founding director of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. Meet outside the office of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, 1384 Stratford Avenue, Bronx, NY 10472, MAP.

For details of upcoming MAS programs, visit

Margot Gayle: In Memoriam

margot gayleMargot Gayle, who died at her home on the Upper East Side on September 28 at the age of 100, was an active member of MAS for 61 years. She never understood inactive. As newsletter editor, trustee, chair of dozens of committees (several, now venerable organizations) and finally recipient of the Society’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis medal, Margot earned the right to relax. But the energy and spirit that saved threatened treasures from the Alice Austen House in Staten Island, to the Old Sun Clock in Lower Manhattan, to the Bogardus Fire Tower in Harlem kept her advocacy going right to the end.

Before we had mayors who cared, she practically swept up City Hall, saved the Art Commission from extinction, and helped the Landmarks Preservation Commission become independent. Perhaps Margot’s most notable achievement is the 1973 creation of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District – earning her the moniker “Queen of Cast-Iron Architecture”. According to former MAS President Brendan Sexton, ‘’Margot Gayle is the only reason we have a SoHo. The only person who comes close or who shares with Margot that honor is Jane Jacobs… Margot turned her eye on the cast-iron district and it appeared like magic.’’ In fact, it is hard to imagine what New York might have become without her. Continue Reading>>

Join Us to Honor Kent Barwick with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal

skyline night midtownAt the Annual Benefit on November 11, with great pride and shared gratitude, MAS will present its highest honor to our President Kent Barwick who, after almost 40 years of service, steps down as president of MAS at year end.

Kent Barwick has been the soul of the Municipal Art Society for almost four decades, leading the charge to save Grand Central, Radio City Music Hall, Lever House, St. Bartholomew’s Church, to name just a few of his accomplishments. In some of his boldest strokes, Kent stopped the plan for a massive tower that would have cast shadows across Central Park, and prevented a potentially disastrous rezoning of Times Square that would have extinguished its celebrated bright lights. He is an outspoken and passionate advocate for a magnificent new Moynihan Station, for a revitalized waterfront and, most importantly, for engaging citizens in the shaping of their city. Continue Reading>>

Sufjan Stevens Awarded the 2008 Brendan Gill Prize for The BQE

Last Saturday, at an award reception at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens received the 2008 Brendan Gill Prize from MAS for his multimedia musical composition The BQE. Mr. Stevens’ “symphonic and cinematic exploration of New York City’s infamous Brooklyn-Queens Expressway” was selected by the Brendan Gill jury for “capturing the energy, vigor, and verve of our incomparable city.”

Beow is a brief slideshow of the evening, attended by MAS members and patrons.

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Jacobs Tour Highlights Environmental Justice Efforts in Harlem

harlem toxic eco justice tourLast Saturday – September 27, a group of New Yorkers joined Peggy Shepard, winner of the 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Achievement, and Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT), on a bus tour exploring issues of environmental justice in Harlem. The tour examined how noxious hazards, such as garbage and bus depots, co-exist with some of the city’s cultural treasures, such as the  museums and art institutions of “El Barrio,” Marcus Garvey Park, and the new Harlem Waterfront Park.

In addition to learning about the practice of situating environmentally harmful facilities in low-income communities of color and receiving a first-hand glimpse of how traffic congestion, noise and air pollution, and toxic odors contribute to high asthma rates among local residents, participants gained greater insight into ongoing struggles and siginficant victories. These include the bold act of civil disobedience that brought citywide attention to health risks posed by the the North River Sewage Treatment Plant. Tour takers also marveled at the remarkable architecture of the Mount Morris and Hamilton Heights historic districts. Continue Reading>>

2008 Jane Jacobs Medal Recipient to Lead Environmental Justice Tour

On Saturday, September 27, Peggy Shepard (at left), winner of this year’s Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Achievement, will lead a bus tour highlighting issues of environmental justice in Harlem. This tour will examine how noxious hazards, such as garbage and bus depots — whose location is determined by the city government — co-exist with some of the city’s cultural treasures, such as the museums and art institutions of “El Barrio,” Marcus Garvey Park, and the new Harlem Waterfront Park.

Toxic Hazards and Cultural Treasures, Saturday, September 27, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.  Space is limited.  $25, $20 MAS members/students. Purchase tickets online or call 212-935-2075. Leader: Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT).  Meeting location will be given upon registration.

For details of upcoming MAS programs, visit

Sufjan Stevens Awarded Brendan Gill Prize, Calatrava’s Vision for New Penn Station

sufjan stevens calatravaMAS is awarding this year’s Brendan Gill prize to Sufjan Stevens for his acclaimed composition BQE (AsthmaticKitty). The Gill prize was created by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in honor of Brendan Gill and is awarded annually to a creator of a work of art, book, sculpture, film, musical composition, or architectural design, accomplished the previous year, that best captures the spirit and energy of New York City.

Santiago Calatrava echoes MAS’ sentiments that a train station should be a grand gateway into the city and a gift from the city for the public good.

In other news, the land and business owners in opposition to the City’s proposed Willets Point rezoning have broken into factions… Continue Reading>>

Rockefeller Foundation Honors Urban Activism with 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal

Tonight the Rockefeller Foundation will award the 2008 Jane Jacobs Medal to Peggy Shepard, executive director and co-founder of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT), and Alexie Torres-Fleming, founder of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) in the South Bronx, at a ceremony at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. The featured speaker will be Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Robert A. Caro, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year for The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. The awards are administered annually by the Municipal Art Society.

Click on the “play” icon above to watch a video featuring the two award winners discussing their work, and click here to read the official press release in full.

Later this month, a series of MAS Jane Jacobs-themed walking tours begins, including Toxic Hazards and Cultural Treasures, a tour highlighting issues of environmental justice in Harlem led by Peggy Shepard. For more information, visit

Save Astroland MAS Urges City, Locals Still Oppose Columbia Expansion

coney island astroland rocketMAS President Kent Barwick released a statement yesterday urging the City to save Astroland; the amusement park announced yesterday that it will close forever this Sunday, unable to negotiate an extension on their lease with Thor Equities (New York Times; New York Post;

The MASterwork award winning Diane von Furstenberg Studio Headquarters boasts one of the most spectacular and technologically advanced skylights in the city (New York Sun)

In other news, the final hearing of the State Economic Development Corporation yesterday on the proposed Columbia University expansion again revealed the opposition between local business owners and the local development corporation (New York Times); one major remaining landowner, Nick Sprayregen of Tuck-it-Away Storage is preparing for a legal battle (New York Observer)

Manhattan Community Board 3 is considering green, alternative transporation links (Villager)