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Archive for June, 2017

President’s Letter, June 2017

President of The Municipal Art Society of New York Elizabeth Goldstein

Elizabeth Goldstein

My husband and I decided to travel by bus across Brooklyn neighborhoods last Sunday. It was either that or brave closed subway stations and a long walk to go “faster,” well maybe. We departed from Sunset Park on the B11 and switched to the B16, transferring in the heart of Borough Park with our final destination being Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

It was NYC Pride Week, but you wouldn’t have known it until we got to Prospect Park where celebrants were out in force on a stunning summer evening. The trip was a study in contrasts and reinforced my long-held belief that, although New York is ONE political entity, it is really a city of cities – small, and sometimes large, enclaves of very different worlds butted up against each other in ways that might have swarms of sociologists agog for years.

We traveled from a Mexican, pan-Latin neighborhood through the third-largest Chinatown in NYC, from Borough Park to Little India to West Indian neighborhoods. And literally the distance of an avenue block can mean the difference between Chinese noodles and Glatt Kosher and curried goat, and back again. It is the glory of New York, that rapid-fire contrast of ethnicities and cultures.

But I also noticed as I traveled through these vibrant neighborhoods how beautiful they are. Even the dense or low income neighborhoods are home to lovely old trees and streets brimming with interesting architecture. Many of these neighborhoods have been down-zoned during the last two mayoral administrations, but still have space in the zoning envelope to grow. It made me wonder how these neighborhoods may evolve as new immigrants arrive and find their niche. One of our city’s greatest assets has been the fact that “new” New Yorkers have always been able to find a place here, sometimes moving into neighborhoods that were left by generations who came before them, often of very different origin. Think of the layers of inhabitants of the Lower East Side, for instance.

Is this moment of growth any different? The answer is yes, because this growth is happening outside Manhattan. The Bronx is not only the fast growing borough, it is the fasting growing county in the state. Queens and Brooklyn follow it in that order. And if you look at the top neighborhoods across the country that have had the greatest number of large apartment complexes built, NYC has eight in the top 50. Long Island City is building 66 percent more units than the next neighborhood down the list – Downtown Los Angeles!

It is a symbol of our humanity that we both welcome and worry about this increasing density. But if New York is going to remain a place for the world to call home, we need to continue to encourage and enable exciting, vibrant, affordable places for people to live. If not, we risk losing the very thing that makes New York so effervescent. So as we celebrate this Fourth of July weekend, let’s remember that although our founders could never have imagined a city (or country) as vast and diverse as the one I saw out my bus window last week, the foundation they built is what made all of this possible.

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
The Municipal Art Society of New York

Monument of the Month: Henry Ward Beecher Monument

The Henry Ward Beecher Monument after its restoration

The Henry Ward Beecher Monument after its restoration

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.

This summer a masterpiece in the American Renaissance style by the esteemed sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910) was restored through the Adopt program. The Henry Ward Beecher Monument, unveiled in 1891 at Borough Hall (relocated to Columbus Park in 1959), commemorates Beecher (1813-1887), an advocate of women’s suffrage, an agitator for the abolitionist movement, staunch supporter of the Union , and Senior Minister of Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church for forty years. He overcame a childhood fear of public speaking to become one of this country’s most celebrated and accomplished preachers. Beecher’s father was the prominent Presbyterian minister Lyman Beecher. One of his ten siblings was Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the persuasive classic anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Social reform was at the heart of the Beecher family. The Independent, of which Beecher was contributing editor, took strong anti-slavery and women’s suffrage stances. In addition, Beecher’s popularity and ministry at Plymouth Church contributed much to Brooklyn’s growth, and his sermons and writings served as a barometer of social change in the second half of the nineteenth century. Plymouth Church continues as a vibrant, worshipping community committed to anti-human trafficking efforts.

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Brooklyn Landmark Endangered by School Construction Authority Proposal

Full title: MAS Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed PS 557 by the New York City School Construction Authority, Community School District No. 15, Brooklyn, New York


The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) is deeply disappointed that these important historic structures have been allowed to deteriorate to their current state and restoration has been deemed infeasible by the School Construction Authority (SCA).

As we stated in our response to the June 1, 2016 Notice of Filing (NOF), MAS strongly opposed any plan that would involve the demolition of the 18th Police Precinct Station House and Stable, which are both listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and are designated individual New York City landmarks. At the time, we urged the SCA to either pursue an alternate site for the school or preserve the two buildings and incorporate them into the new school design. We maintain this position today.

Comments and Recommendations

In addition, several critical concerns expressed by MAS remain unanswered and we have several comments and recommendations that we urge the SCA to consider and incorporate into a revised DEIS before the project moves to a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and further review by the City Council.

According to the NOF, SCA was required to conduct an alternative sites analysis for eight other potential sites for a school facility in Community School District No. 15. At the time of the issuance of the NOF, two sites (250-266 46th Street and 291-301 24th Street) remained under consideration by SCA and were undergoing “various studies” to determine if they were appropriate and could accommodate a small public school facility. SCA never provided a response to MAS’s inquiries regarding these sites. And neither the DEIS nor any supporting documentation addresses their status. Furthermore, neither the DEIS nor supporting documentation includes information about other sites in the area that were under consideration for a school site. Therefore, MAS urges that the revised DEIS include an appendix providing the full evaluation of these two sites and details on other potential school sites selected in Community School District No. 15 that were eliminated from consideration for the construction of a new school.

In addition, consideration of preserving or reuse of the stable has largely been ignored under the plan, the DEIS, and supporting documentation. The DEIS needs to be revised to include an evaluation of options for preserving the landmark stable.

We also find the DEIS Urban Design and Visual Resources section to be deficient in fully evaluating how the proposed project will incorporate the historic façade into the new building.

  • The DEIS should be revised to include interior and exterior conceptual renderings of the proposed school showing details how the existing historic structure will be incorporated into the design.
  • With consideration of the important role the 18th Police Precinct Station House and Stable has played in defining the character of the Sunset Park neighborhood, the DEIS Urban Design and Visual Resources and Neighborhood Character sections need to be revised to include a more detailed and rigorous evaluation of how the new building would be consistent with the design and character of the neighborhood.
  • The DEIS must be revised to include more detailed drawings of the massing of the new building. Figure 8-2 in the Urban Design and Visual Resources section of the DEIS is not sufficiently detailed.

As we stated in our comments on the NOF, we urge the SCA to enter into consultation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission regarding this project and disclose the correspondence in the revised DEIS.

We look forward to SCA’s responses to our concerns expressed herein.

Recommendations for East Midtown’s Privately Owned Public Spaces

Honorable David G. Greenfield
Chair, New York City Council Committee on Land Use
250 Broadway, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10007

Dear Council Member Greenfield,

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) welcomes the opportunity to offer recommendations for improving Privately Owned Public Space (POPS) in East Midtown. These recommendations are provided in response to the April 26 City Planning Commission hearing on the Greater East Midtown Rezoning proposal. We believe that POPS are an integral part of the public realm in East Midtown and we urge the Council to take our recommendations under careful consideration.

MAS has been actively involved with the rezoning of East Midtown and POPS advocacy for many years. MAS was a member of the East Midtown Steering Committee. We maintain the Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS) website, which is the most comprehensive online resource for information on all 500-plus POPS, and we published the foremost book on POPS, Privately Owned Public Space: The New York Experience (2000), written by Jerold S. Kayden. MAS also co-owns the official POPS database with Mr. Kayden and the Department of City Planning.

East Midtown Open Space

One of the city’s densest areas, East Midtown sees 600,000 people each day. Yet the neighborhood is grossly underserved by open space, with a mere third of the City benchmark for open space based on the number of residents and workers.1 Meanwhile, the 99 POPS in the area account for half of the 39 acres of open space in East Midtown. Demand for open space will undoubtedly become more urgent with the introduction of 28,000 workers under the rezoning proposal.

MAS believes that the City needs to examine existing and future POPS as valuable elements of the urban landscape. POPS provide a respite for area workers and visitors. They also offer opportunities to improve and activate the public realm and reduce potential public health risks, such as urban heat island effect. However, we find that POPS have been largely ignored in the East Midtown rezoning Public Realm Improvement Plan.

With current and future conditions in mind, MAS has the following recommendations for improving POPS in East Midtown:

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East Midtown Rezoning Ignores the Public Realm

Full Title: MAS Comments for New York City Council Subcommittee of Zoning and Franchises on the Greater East Midtown Proposal, ULURP No. 170186 ZRM Manhattan, NY


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 Bill 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 frame the current Greater East Midtown Proposal – with a few critical exceptions.

MAS recognizes that the primary goal of the current proposal is to incentivize significant expansion of commercial office space to improve the area’s viability as New York’s premier business district. We also acknowledge the effort made by the City to foster and incorporate stakeholder input.


MAS remains steadfast that a number of critical issues need to be addressed before we can fully support the proposal. Therefore, we urge the City to incorporate our recommendations in the following areas:

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