August 2015
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Archive for August, 2015

Improving Public Plazas at Times Square and Beyond

The Times Square Pedestrian Plaza

The Times Square Pedestrian Plaza

Pedestrian plazas have quickly become an integral part of New York’s landscape. Today there are approximately 65 plazas in place or in development across New York, in all five boroughs. These plazas have animated neighborhoods, created opportunities for arts and culture, and provided much needed open space. They are developed through a community-based process to ensure that they meet the needs of specific neighborhoods.

The most famous of these plazas can be found at the “crossroads of the world,” Times Square. Recently, the media has reported at length on the influx of costumed characters and topless women, known as “desnudas.” In response, policymakers have proposed all sorts of solutions from licensing costumed characters, to outlawing topless individuals from Times Square, to even removing the Times Square plaza entirely.

These responses are aimed at solving the symptoms of the underlying problem, not its cause. The underlying issue is the lack of a legal framework for pedestrian plazas in general, and Times Square in particular. We have laws regulating activities on streets, sidewalks, and parks – but not plazas. This lack of a plaza framework creates confusion at best, and dysfunction at worst. Put simply, it is difficult to enforce the rules when it is unclear which rules to enforce.

Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a task force to tackle the issues facing the plaza at Times Square. The task force will include government agencies, local elected officials and external stakeholders from the Times Square community.

MAS supports the convening of this task force, but believes that it must be the first step, not the last, to provide clarity on how the plazas are to be managed, operated, and regulated. The task force should consider the following MAS recommendations:

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Guest Blog: E. L. Doctorow in the Bronx

To kick off our new guest blog series, MAS guide Jean Arrington describes her interest in E. L. Doctorow’s work and the inspiration for her upcoming tour in the Bronx. We invite you to share your own tour adventures with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TripAdvisor!

E. L. Doctorow (January 6, 1931 – July 21, 2015)

E. L. Doctorow (January 6, 1931 – July 21, 2015)

In 2012, in connection with an exhibit about the New York World’s Fairs, the Museum of the City of New York scheduled E. L. Doctorow to give a reading from his book, World’s Fair. Having some years earlier read Ragtime with delight and amazement, I went to hear him read, of course. The scene from the reading that I remember indelibly is when the family learns that nine-year-old Edgar, who unbeknownst to his parents had entered an essay contest on the topic of the all-American boy, finds out he has won Honorable Mention, the prize being a day free at the fair for the whole family. Edgar is doing his homework and his mother washing dishes when his father, in an armchair reading the New York Times, says, “How many boys with your name do you suppose live at 1796 Grand Concourse, The Bronx?” After some moments of consternation Edgar runs to the unchecked-for-days mailbox and there is the letter announcing his prize. Even though it’s 8:30pm on a school night, the family dresses up and walks to Krum’s for ice cream to celebrate. Few people in the audience were dry-eyed. After the reading, Doctorow couldn’t hear people’s questions, but after his wife repeated them to him, his answers were cogent, insightful, funny. He was 84.

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A Message from our Tours Director


As we head into the second half of 2015, our tours program is more robust than ever before and you’ll see some changes that we are pleased to announce along with the new walking tour schedule for September and October. We spent the summer reviewing the last several years of tours schedules to bring you the tours you want to see most, whether those are long-time favorites, Jane’s Walks you missed this past May (indicated by the JW photo icon), or all-new adventures. By popular demand, we’ve also added suggested public transportation directions for each of the fall tours (though of course we urge you to check for any last-minute subway closures), approximate ending locations for tours, and more extensive information on the route you’ll take.

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New Capacity Building Program: Community Engagement Workshops


Free Community Engagement coaching and workshops available to your organization – offered in partnership with the NYC Department of Small Business Services!

The NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is partnering with the Municipal Art Society (MAS) to provide community-based organizations with a series of facilitated workshops designed to provide their neighborhoods with the knowledge and tools needed to advocate for change. MAS has been offering this community engagement-focused training—called the Livable Neighborhoods Program—since 2007, and has trained nearly 1,000 New Yorkers on basic concepts of zoning, city government, and community activism.

This new version of the Livable Neighborhoods Program will focus on commercial revitalization and community engagement strategies in four (4) communities with up to two (2) partner organizations—including local development corporations, merchants associations, business improvement districts, and others—in each community. Resources will be available to community-based organizations for outreach materials, space rental, and interpretation and translation.

Benefits to participating organizations include:

  • Understanding the various planning and development processes in New York City;
  • Becoming active partners in community planning;
  • Researching and analyzing data related to commercial revitalization;
  • Advocating for improvements to local commercial districts.

This program is free, but competitive and available by application only. For complete program guidelines, email SBS at the Neighborhood Development email or APPLY NOW through the online application.

Spring Cleaning our Monuments

Spring cleaning the Rocket Thrower in Flushing Meadows.

Spring cleaning the Rocket Thrower in Flushing Meadows.

Every spring, and continuing through fall, MAS assumes its stewardship role in the crucial ongoing maintenance of our Adopt-A-Monument artworks—sprucing up over a dozen statues per year!

This month, we hired the City Wide Monuments Conservation crew to perform maintenance work on the iconic “Rocket Thrower” monument by Donald de Lue. This 45-foot-high Promethean figure conceived for the 1964 World’s Fair, resides in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, celebrating America’s exploration into space.

The monument, restored in 2013, by Steve Tatti, began to show areas of wax loss (blanching) which merited attention. Overseen by MAS, the conservation workers performed a specialized treatment that will keep the statue in perfect shape. “The kind of treatment performed reinforces the base layer of wax as a protective coating and underscores the need for annual maintenance of such outdoor sculpture”, explained Phyllis Cohen, Director of the Adopt-A-Monument program.

With this monument and two others down, attention now turns to a dozen more artworks that will receive special treatment this year. Stay tuned as we help protect New York’s heritage!