April 2017
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Archive for April, 2017

Neighborhood Activists in Queens and the Bronx Will Train as Land Use Advocates

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) will partner with Queens Community Board 4 and the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO) to host four capacity-building workshops for residents of Corona/Elmhurst and Mott Haven to better understand and influence City land use planning. Community-based partners were selected from a pool of more than 40 applications.

The workshops are presented as part of MAS’s Livable Neighborhoods Program, with support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts. The 2017 sessions will include special emphasis on creating vibrant, inspiring public spaces as the City rolls out its first-ever comprehensive cultural plan, CreateNYC.

MAS will cover workshop expenses and support the neighborhood advocates in developing workshop agendas. Along with program partner Leonardo Vazquez, Executive Director of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, MAS will also provide workshop content and help facilitate the sessions.

The Saturday workshops (scheduled for April 29 and May 20 in Queens and June 3 and 10 in the Bronx) will be free and open to the public. Anyone interested in learning more about creative placemaking and cultural planning is encouraged to attend. More information about each session will be posted here.

“With the help of more than 25 partner organizations, MAS’s Livable Neighborhoods Program has trained thousands of local stakeholders to advocate for their own communities,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, President of MAS. “The launch of CreateNYC gives New Yorkers an opportunity to invest in our public spaces as venues for creative expression, community engagement, and economic development. We are delighted to put creative placemaking at the center of our 2017 training program.”

About the Livable Neighborhoods Program

Founded on the principle that community involvement is essential to successful city planning, The Municipal Art Society’s Livable Neighborhoods Program (LNP) trains New Yorkers to better understand and influence land-use decisions affecting their neighborhoods.

Through community visioning, educational workshops, leadership development, and online resources, LNP helps participants become better prepared to work with developers, elected and appointed officials, and New York City agencies to advocate for the types of land use regulations and community benefits they want and need.

For more information, please visit https://www.mas.org/ourwork/livable-neighborhoodsprogram/ or contact Joanna Crispe, Director of Community Engagement and Education at jcrispe@mas.org or (212) 935-3960 x1226.

About Queens Community Board 4

Community Board #4Q encompasses the communities of Corona (south of Roosevelt Avenue), Corona Heights, and Elmhurst. The boundaries of CB #4Q are Roosevelt Avenue to the North, Flushing Meadow Corona Park to the East, Horace Harding Expressway to the South, and New York Connecting Railroad (CSX) to the West. The communities of Corona, Corona Heights, and Elmhurst are experiencing dramatic growth and change. CB #4Q is hard at work to ensure that any growth benefits local residents and workers and improves the quality of life in our community. CB #4Q is home to many vibrant shopping areas such as the Queens Center Mall, Queens Place, Corona Plaza, and 82nd Street. Elmhurst Hospital is located within CB #4Q. We also take pride and a special interest in Flushing Meadow Corona Park, our neighbor and Queens largest park.

About SoBRO

The South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation’s mission is to enhance the quality of life in the South Bronx by strengthening businesses and creating and implementing innovative economic, housing, educational, and career development programs for youth and adults. SoBRO was established in 1972 to reverse the flight of businesses and jobs from the South Bronx. Recognizing that rebuilding a community had to be a multifaceted effort – which required replacing vacant lots with businesses and housing, addressing poverty by creating jobs and training people for those jobs, and insuring a brighter future for the community’s young people – over the years SoBRO has expanded to meet the needs of the Bronx.

President’s Letter, April 2017

Who are we, New York City?

President of The Municipal Art Society of New York Elizabeth Goldstein

Elizabeth Goldstein

I had the pleasure of seeing Citizen Jane, the new documentary about Jane Jacobs. The film focuses on the epic battle between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses over alternative visions of the city. I was moved, as I have been many times before, by the intuitive brilliance of Jacobs’ insights into what makes a city, New York in particular, great.

I grew up in a “tower in a park” in the Bronx, in this case, a Mitchell-Lama tower. In some ways, the film made me sympathetic to Robert Moses’ early idealized-and in retrospect naïve-vision that better housing would solve society’s ills. But, my adult life pulled me to the historic, messier, more neighborhood-y parts of the city. In my heart, it is the vibrant, colorful city that draws me most strongly.

Indeed, most New Yorkers have great pride in our variety and character. Homogenous we are not. However, as the city’s economic engine continues to tick along at a good rate, we are faced with a number of challenges to that diversity and spirit we love. New York must not give up on the idea that our future is one of multiplicity and dynamism, messy though that may be.

So I have been especially disturbed by the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s proposal to incentivize the relocation of the garment industry to Sunset Park in Brooklyn. The City is making it abundantly clear that manufacturing is not a part of that variety or character in Manhattan. They are proposing to remove a zoning text overlay that was intended to protect the Garment District. However, almost one million square feet of garment manufacturing remains there, surrounded by associated businesses from pattern-makers, wholesale showrooms, and notions purveyors, to name but a few.

The upshot is that if you are a skilled garment worker commuting from Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, or New Jersey, someone wants you to make your place of business a great deal farther away. Meanwhile, the City will legalize non-conforming office uses-rewarding those who have not complied with the law, who have warehoused their properties waiting for just this moment, who have undermined the health and stability of the garment industry in Manhattan. This is not okay.

It feels as though the City wants to find a more idealized future for the fashion industry than it, itself, wants. It is just the characteristics of the fast moving variety of the businesses in Garment District that gives it a unique place in the broader, city-wide fashion industry. MAS stands with all of the voices that have been raised to protest the removal of the zoning text overlay. There has to be a better, fairer way to resolve the future of the Garment District than an ill-conceived and suspiciously timed removal of the one protection that is left.

Let us learn from the lesson of Robert Moses: vibrant, dynamic communities cannot be engineered into existence.

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
The Municipal Art Society of New York

Monument of the Month: Robert Burns Monument

Thirty years ago, The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) launched the Adopt-A-Monument program in collaboration with the NYC Public Design Commission and the NYC Parks Department, to secure private funding for the rescue of public art in danger of deterioration. To date, MAS’s Adopt programs have raised nearly $4 million dollars to conserve fifty-one works of art in all five boroughs. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the program, we are highlighting one restoration per month in 2017.

On the crisp morning of October 15, 1993, the monuments to two great Scottish bards were rededicated in Central Park. The charming event within the nave of elms on Literary Walk, enhanced with the music of bagpipers, had a magic that will be remembered by all who were there – and that includes not just the hundreds of invited guests, but all the bicyclists and joggers who happened to be passing by. Together they shared in the recreation of 19th century tradition and Scottish history and marveled at what grand monuments evoke.

In honor of Poetry Month, we revisit the restoration of one of those masterpieces of public art: the Robert Burns Monument.

In 1989, the Saint Andrew’s Society, aware of the deteriorating condition of the Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott Monuments, approached the Municipal Art Society to rescue these masterful artworks under the Adopt-A-Monument program. The resolve of two great Caledonians, J. Sinclair Armstrong and Chauncey G. Olinger, led to a campaign to restore the famed Scottish writers who grace Central Park.

Chauncey G. Olinger and J. Sinclair Armstrong of the Saint Andrew's Society at the Robert Burns Monument.

Chauncey G. Olinger (left) and J. Sinclair Armstrong (right) of the Saint Andrew’s Society at the Robert Burns Monument.

Before MAS’s restoration in 1993, streaks marred the statue’s once polished surface disfiguring the face, arms, and hand. Its fine details appeared flat and opaque. The quill originally held in Burns’ right hand was missing, muting the significance of the gesture, and the statue tilted backwards on an uneven Aberdeen granite base.

During the summer of 1993, the Robert Burns Monument was conserved by Daedalus, Inc., under the management of the Adopt-A- Monument program. The sculpture was rigged with nylon straps and lifted from its base by crane and placed on wooden blocks near the base during treatment. The bronze was cleaned with fine grade crushed walnut shells and washed with water and a mild liquid detergent using medium nylon bristles and sponges. His missing quill was modeled from photographs, recast, and reattached with a threaded bronze rod. Holes in the scroll and plow were filled. The sculpture was chemically repatinated to its historic statuary brown color, rinsed and dried, and then brush-coated with warm Incrlac, an acrylic resin lacquer and corrosion inhibiter. Finally the bronze was coated with Butcher’s wax and buffed to a soft luster with brushes and soft cloths, and a new pedestal was set.

The MAS is responsible for maintaining all of the works of art conserved under the Adopt program, In the case of the Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott Monuments, we are grateful to the Central Park Conservancy monuments crew for cleaning these works annually. Enter mid-park near East 66th Street to access the Literary Walk and enjoy the statues in person.

The Robert Burns Monument before and after the restoration

The Monument before (left) and after (right) the restoration.

And learn more about the statues in this excerpt from a 1992 keepsake publication, “Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott Monument Project,” written by MAS and produced with The Saint Andrew’s Society to raise funds for the conservation:

The monument to Robert Burns (1759-1796) was commissioned mostly by New York residents of Scottish descent on the 121st anniversary of the Peasant Bard’s birth. A companion piece to the Walter Scott Memorial, already on the south end of the Central Park Mall, Scott was cast in Edinburgh by the same sculptor, Sir John Steell, and placed opposite Scott on Literary Walk in 1880 uniting two great Scottish literary figures.

Born in Alloway, son of working gardener, Burns was encouraged to read whatever books were available, Shakespeare, the bible, biography. At an early age, he was proficient in writing, arithmetic and theology. But as an unsuccessful farmer, Burns led a hard life. His poems and essays never generated sufficient income to support his family and numerous illegitimate children. For a brief season, with the publication of the Kilmarnock Poems (1786) he was lionized by Edinburgh society, but this definitely independent man rebuffed the patronizing and chafed at class distinctions. Burns championed the causes of American independence, upheld African-American freedom, and had contempt for the “unco guid” “rigidly righteous “of any kind.

Close of Robert Burn's face before and after the restoration of the Robert Burns Monument

Mr. Burn’s face before (left) and after (right) the restoration.

Despite hardship, Burns wrote hundreds of poems. He is credited with reconstructing the Scottish folk song and ballad, rescuing these genres from obscurity. He also composed some of the most lyrical poems in the English language: “The Cotter’s Saturday Night,” “Twa Dogs, A Tale,” and “To a Mouse On turning her up in her Nest, with the Plough, November, 1785.”

Much of Burns’ writing is in lowland Scots dialect, making it inaccessible to most of the English-speaking world. Nonetheless, his work is widely translated and his talent recognized around the world in celebrations at Burns Suppers. The poet’s appeal lies in his understanding of the common man. Phrases from his poems have become part of everyday English speech: “the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men aft agley”; “auld lang syne”; to see oursels as others see us!”

When the statue of Robert Burns was dedicated on October 3, 1880, in Central Park, crowds gathered to hear Grafulla’s Band perform Scottish airs. By three o’clock, an audience of five thousand had assembled in front of the monument which was veiled in an American flag. The New Yok Caledonian Clubs attended in Highland dress. On the grandstand invited guests convened, among them Alexander Hamilton, Jr.

Poem area of the Robert Burns Monument before and after the restoration

Poem area of the Robert Burns Monument before (left) and after (right) the restoration.

George William Curtis – author, editor and supporter of woman’s suffrage and civil service reform, and chancellor of the State University of New York – was the guest orator. Curtis equated Burns’s poetry with Raphael’s paintings and Mozart’s music; and the compassion that Burns had for the peasant farmer was likened to Abraham Lincoln’s empathy for “plain people.”

“When Burns died there was not a Scotsman who was not proud of being a Scotsman. A Scotch plowman singing of his fellow peasants and their lives had given them in their own eyes a dignity they had never know. “A man’s a man for a’that.” New York times, 3 Oc. 188

The colossal bronze figure of Burns rests on a tree stump. The poet is depicted with his head turned upward to the skies at the spot where he bid farewell to his love, Mary Campbell, on an early October morning. A cape is thrown about him and a plowshare underfoot suggests his humble origins. The tablet that lies at his feet is engraved with the first verses of the song, “To Mary in Heaven.”

MAS Testifies on East Midtown Rezoning at NYC Planning Commission


The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has played an active role in the rezoning of East Midtown. In 2012, MAS engaged planning, preservation, and development practitioners to explore ways to maintain East Midtown as not only the city’s premier business district, but as a vital, working neighborhood. This effort culminated in the report, East Midtown: A Bold Vision for the Future, issued by MAS in February 2013, which laid out a framework for reinvigorating the area’s public realm, improving transit infrastructure, encouraging a vibrant mix of uses, protecting the area’s valuable historic resources, and fostering forward thinking sustainable design.

MAS and many other stakeholders found the 2013 East Midtown rezoning proposal to be deficient in achieving critical goals, and it was later withdrawn. Mayor de Blasio then formed the East Midtown Steering Committee, including MAS, to spearhead a stakeholder-driven effort. In October 2015, the Steering Committee issued its Final Report which included recommendations that, with a few critical exceptions, by and large frame the current Greater East Midtown Proposal with a few critical exceptions.


MAS generally supports this proposal. However, we remain steadfast that a number of critical issues need to be addressed and urge the city to incorporate our recommendations in the following areas:

Public Realm Improvements

Mindful of the congestion in the area’s public transit stations and sidewalks, the limited open space in the area, and the incremental 28,000 workers expected under the plan, we find the proposed improvements under the Public Realm Improvement Concept Plan to be fundamentally deficient. MAS is also concerned about the role the Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group will play and that Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) have largely been ignored under the plan.

Continue Reading>>

MAS Statement on Comptroller’s POPS Audit

On April 19, 2017, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released an audit report that found rampant violations in the city’s privately owned public space. MAS joined Comptroller Stringer, as well as Council Members Ben Kallos and David Greenfield, for a press conference urging the passage of the Council Members’ legislation to improve POPS monitoring and enforcement.

MAS Statement on Audit Report on City Oversight of Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS)

The Comptroller’s audit proves that “passive monitoring” of POPS is simply not working. Between 1961 and 2000, the City granted developers 16 million extra square feet of floor area in exchange for creating 80 acres of public space. The City has a responsibility to the public to protect the terms of those agreements. Instead, it has been content to ignore POPS altogether (as in the case of the East Midtown Rezoning proposal) or hand them over to private development (as in the giveaway of public arcades along Water Street last June).

For the last decade, The Municipal Art Society and Advocates for POPS have partnered to promote and monitor POPS (apops.mas.org). But this constellation of civic assets is a vital part of New York’s public realm; that monitoring should be the responsibility of the City.

The findings of this audit lend even more urgency to the situation. We must immediately pass the two pieces of POPS legislation sponsored by Council Members Ben Kallos, David G. Greenfield, Daniel R. Garodnick earlier this year, which will set meaningful fines for violations and strict signage requirements for POPS. And crucially, we must create a pro-active monitoring mandate for the Department of Buildings.

It is time for the City to hold up its end of the deal.