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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
President
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

Background

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 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.

Position

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.

Public Realm Improvement Concept Plan

The current plan proposes over 300,000 square feet (sf) of ROW improvements under the Public Realm Improvement Plan, including, but not limited to, pedestrian plazas near GCT (i.e., Pershing Square, Park Ave West, East 43rd Street), pedestrian improvements along the Park Avenue median, and the inclusion of shared streets within the district. However, at present, unlike the proposed transit infrastructure improvements, these measures are not codified into the text amendment. Without including these improvements in the zoning text, there is little assurance that they will be implemented.

Public Realm Improvement Fund

Central to the proposed amendment is the Public Realm Improvement Fund, into which contributions would be made from a portion of each transferred landmark development right or when developments on qualifying sites seek to exceed the proposed maximum floor area ratio. The public realm improvement fund floor price has been set at 20 percent of each TDR sale, or a minimum contribution of $78.60 per square foot. The floor price will be evaluated by qualified professionals and will be reviewed and adjusted by CPC at least once every three years.

MAS strongly urges the city to work with the Steering Committee to establish firm criteria for a floor price that is sufficiently flexible to adjust to potential fluctuations in the real estate market and ensures the availability of funds for the necessary public realm improvements under the proposal.

Additional Funding Sources

MAS questions whether the Public Realm Improvement Fund, which draws from contributions from the additional floor area for the reconstruction of overbuilt buildings and a portion of transferred development rights from landmarks, is sufficient to address the transit infrastructure improvements identified by the MTA. MAS suggests exploring additional funding sources beyond the improvement fund, including the MTA capital budget, tax increment financing, PILOT financing (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), equitable road pricing, and Transit Assessment District benefits.

Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group

Under the current proposal, the Public Realm Improvement Fund will be managed by a nine-member governing group, five of whom will be selected by the Mayor. We understand the City is amenable to adding a member from a civic organization, while keeping a majority of mayoral appointees. The group has the responsibility of prioritizing improvements to be funded under the Concept Plan and would address the future public realm needs of the Subdistrict. MAS asks the City to provide the precedent by which the group framework was conceived, particularly with regard to efficacy in executing and allocating funding, which is critical to the success of the proposal.

Privately Owned Public Space (POPS)

POPS account for 50 percent of the area’s approximately 39 acres of public open space. Although they serve as important retreats for area workers and visitors, POPS have not been considered in the current proposal. MAS remains steadfast in our view that POPS are a viable option for increasing and improving open space in the project area. We ask the city to study the following recommendations:

  • Reevaluate the 1.0 FAR bonus under current zoning
  • Reconsider requiring developers to exhaust all other options for increasing commercial density before the FAR bonus for POPS can be utilized
  • Explore offsite bonus opportunities
  • Establish guidelines for improving existing and future indoor and outdoor POPS
  • Provide incentives for renewing POPS

Additional Public Realm Recommendations

MAS urges the city to explore mechanism for improving the public realm through temporary and permanent art installations in existing and new public spaces in the district, including POPS.

While we recognize that current proposal relaxes certain stacking rules which will permit non-residential uses such as restaurants and observation decks in new buildings, we also urge the city to explore ways of utilizing floor area on second and third levels of existing and proposed buildings for public space, gardens, and art displays.

Sustainability

One of the city’s stated primary goals for the proposal is to incentivize state of the art development and “to facilitate modern and sustainable buildings.” Under the current proposal, qualifying sites would be required to either utilize the area’s steam network or exceed the Core and Shell 2016 Energy Code Standards by three percent. Seeing that the build year for proposed development under the plan is 2036, MAS questions whether the sustainability and energy efficiency goals of the project go far enough.

As outlined in the Steering Committee recommendations, new developments should achieve LEED Gold™ standard for the core and shell of the buildings. Alternatively, developments should achieve more than three percent energy efficiency-MAS recommends 15 percent-above the City’s Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC) standard.

In addition, since the proposal would likely result in wholescale demolition of pre-1961 buildings, we recommend that the city explore sustainable practices, guided by LEED or equivalent standards, regarding the reuse of demolition and construction materials.

Promoting Mix of Uses

MAS recommended a variety of retail uses throughout the 78-block project area. However, the proposal calls for an incremental increase of only 139,000 gross square feet (gsf) of retail space, in comparison to 6.6 million gsf for commercial office space. As such, MAS recommends that the text amendment include provisions for a mix of retail, restaurants, and entertainment venues to increase the vibrancy of the area.

Residential Conversion

Map depicting buildings eligible for residential conversion in the Midtown East area of Manhattan

Figure 1: Buildings eligible for residential conversion in the project area. The list of these properties and additional information can also be seen by visiting our online CARTO map.

Since 1981, the Zoning Resolution has allowed commercial buildings to be converted to residential without regard to generally applicable bulk regulations if certain criteria are met (e.g., built in 1961 or earlier, exceed 12 FAR, and have zero residential floor area). Based on this criteria, over a hundred buildings, representing millions of square feet, would be eligible for residential conversion in the project area (see Figure 1). Because this would be contrary to the stated goals of the proposal, MAS urges the city to explore mechanisms that would restrict residential conversions.

Historic Preservation

Although Landmarks Preservation Commission designated 16 buildings prior to the project’s certification for ULURP, eight additional buildings recommended by MAS remain unprotected.

MAS also urges the city to develop bulk controls to protect important view corridors to historic buildings within the rezoning area. As shown in the photosimulations in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) “Chapter 7: Urban Design and Visual Resources”, certain proposed new development would result in adverse impacts on many view corridors, particularly those of the Chrysler Building, Chanin Building, and Waldorf Astoria Hotel, despite the conclusions to the contrary in the document.

Daylight Evaluation

MAS believes that the modifications to the daylight evaluation methodology proposed under Section 81-663 of the text amendment that lower the scoring standards for qualifying sites and would allow more encroachment from larger and taller buildings would be highly detrimental to the preservation of light and air on the public realm. The daylight evaluation methodology embedded in the Special Midtown District zoning height and setback regulations in 1982 draws from decades of combined effects of as-of-right building bulk regulations. We find that the current proposal ignores rules that were based on a reliable record of community expectations about the sunlight that reaches our public realm and potential impacts from developments in Midtown to allow taller buildings 1.

(1Michael Kwartler and Raymon Masters, Daylight as a Zoning Device for Midtown, (New York City, 1984).)

Therefore, MAS concurs with the recommendations in the 2015 East Midtown Steering Committee Report that the existing height and setback regulations should generally remain in place. Furthermore, if a project cannot be completed in conformance with these regulations, a Special Permit should be required.

MAS urges the city work with the Steering Committee to reexamine potential height and setback modifications and study proposed changes to the daylighting methodology.

East Midtown Subdistrict Boundary Recommendation

Map depicting properties with less than 50 percent lot area within proposed East Midtown subdistrict

Figure 2: Properties With Less Than 50 Percent Lot Area Within Proposed East Midtown Subdistrict. The list of these properties and additional information can also be seen by visiting our online CARTO map.

Third Avenue is a transition in both land use and between the high-rise business district to the west and the low-scale residential communities of Turtle Bay and Tudor City to the east. MAS has identified 13 properties with less than 50 percent of their lot surface within the proposed East Midtown Subdistrict, eight of which are on the eastern boundary, adjacent to lower density development in Community Board 6 (see Figure 2).

Under the current bulk regulations, these properties hold approximately 214,000 sf of unused development rights. If they remain in the proposed East Midtown Subdistrict, the amount of potential transferable development rights could increase significantly.

In order to protect this important transition area, MAS believes that the rules for the proposed Subdistrict should not apply to these 13 sites, and that the proposed East Midtown Subdistrict boundary and text amendment should be revised to exclude them.

Environmental Review

Our comments below pertain to key areas in the DEIS that MAS finds deficient and require additional analysis:

  • The DEIS does not include a list of projects for the No-Build Development Scenario. This is particularly important for the shadow analysis, since it is not clear which buildings have been included in the baseline condition used for the analysis.
  • Shadows – The DEIS evaluated shadow impacts of proposed and projected developments on open space and historic resources in the project area. Although the evaluations show new incremental shadows they do not indicate from which sites they would come from, nor does it include the height of the buildings used in the analysis. Therefore, we expect that the FEIS will be revised to include these two important components of the analysis.

    The DEIS evaluated shadow impacts of proposed and projected developments on open space and historic resources in the project area. MAS is greatly concerned about the shadow impacts on Greenacre Park, one of only three vest pocket parks in the city. Despite the DEIS’ conclusion in the DEIS that the incremental shadows from developments under the proposal would not affect vegetation or the public’s enjoyment of the park, MAS believes substantive mitigation measures, including, but not limited to, height and bulk limitations, should be implemented to reduce shadow impacts on Greenacre Park from projected and potential development sites: 7, 10, 11, 7, J, C, D, and JD.

    In addition, the DEIS identified adverse shadows on St. Bartholomew’s Church and Community House and recommended as potential mitigation the installation of artificial lighting on the exterior of the building. MAS questions the validity of this approach and strongly urges that the EIS include an evaluation of potential bulk regulation changes that would reduce shadow impacts on this historic resource, as indicated in Chapter 22: Unavoidable Adverse Impacts.
  • Open Space – The DEIS concludes that because the CEQR threshold for evaluating open space impacts has been exceeded based on existing conditions (ratio of daily worker population to available passive open space), no quantitative analysis would be conducted since the project would not be able to achieve the city’s goals of 0.15 acres of passive open space per 1,000 non-residential users.

    Although MAS understands that CEQR regulations hold that if thresholds are exceeded under existing conditions, no further quantitative analysis is required, we are duly mindful of the incremental 28,000 new workers anticipated under the proposal and the additional open space these numbers would demand. We argue that this condition further underscores the need for POPS to be explored thoroughly as part of the overall proposal as a way to increase and improve open space in the project area.
  • Transportation – The DEIS identifies significant impacts at pedestrian access ways at three subway stations (GCT, 42-Bryant Park and Lex-53rd), two of which would be unmitigated under the proposal. MAS contends that the pre-identified transit improvements under the proposal should have anticipated and addressed potential adverse impacts to pedestrian circulation at transit stations in the project area.
  • Urban Design and Visual Resources – We find the evaluation of the proposal’s impacts on critical view corridors to be highly flawed. Although many of the photosimulations contained in the DEIS clearly show that development under the proposed action would obscure critical views of historic buildings, in particular, the Chrysler Building, the Chanin Building, and the Waldorf Astoria New York Hotel, the DEIS concludes that no adverse visual resource impacts would occur. Therefore, we expect the FEIS to include an accurate analysis of the proposal’s impact on view corridors, particularly those that would be affected by the rezoning and subsequent redevelopment of the Pfizer World Headquarters site (235 42nd Street) and substantive mitigation measures (e.g., bulk regulation changes) that would reduce impacts on visual resources.
  • Alternative and Alternatives Conceptual Analyses – For a project of this magnitude, we find the DEIS Alternative and Alternatives Conceptual analysis Analyses to be greatly deficient. We strongly urge the FEIS to include a robust analysis of the shadow impacts of the Proposed and Projected Development Sites that would use the Special Permit option to allow additional floor area. The DEIS discusses which qualifying development sites could increase density by a 3.0 FAR by utilizing special permits to construct a public concourse, make transit improvements, permit a hotel, and modify the Subdistrict’s bulk and qualifying site regulations, but it does not include an actual analysis of this or other alternatives to the proposal. At a minimum, we expect the FEIS to include an evaluation of shadow impacts on open space and historic resources from the sites that could utilize the special permit option to increase FAR and building height.

Summary

As a member of the Steering Committee with a long history of involvement in the rezoning of East Midtown, MAS generally supports this proposal. However, we remain extremely concerned about a number of critical issues and urge the city to incorporate our recommendations regarding proposed public realm improvements, further scrutiny of the Public Realm Improvement Fund Governing Group, codification of identified public realm improvements, exploration of POPS as a viable option for enhancing and increasing open space, regulations to prevent housing conversions, the inclusion of art in public spaces, and utilizing upper floors of buildings for additional public space and gardens.

We also strongly recommend that the city revise the eastern boundary of the proposed Subdistrict to protect the critical transition area between the business district and smaller scale residential areas. We respectfully ask that the city work with the East Midtown Steering Committee to arrive at a daylighting evaluation methodology that truly protects our public realm from further impacts on light and air.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this critical project.


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.


2017 Brendan Gill Prize Winners: Nonstop Metropolis and Subway Therapy

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has named Subway Therapy and Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas as the winners of the 2017 Brendan Gill Prize. Artists from both projects will be honored by MAS during the organization’s Celebrating the City awards ceremony on Monday, May 15, at El Museo del Barrio.

“We are delighted to honor these two works of art, which illuminate what Brendan Gill loved about urban life,” said MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein. “Together these projects reflect the constellation of perspectives and experiences that give New York its sense of variety and wonder – what Gill called ‘the energy coming up out of the sidewalks.'”

About Subway Therapy

On November 9, the day after the 2016 election, Matthew “Levee” Chavez invited commuters to express their personal feelings on sticky notes on the walls of the 14th Street Sixth Avenue and Union Square subway stations. Over the next five weeks, messages of hope, confusion, anxiety, fear, and solidarity greeted the station’s nearly 100,000 daily riders, and photographs of the installation spread across the city. The simplicity of this crowdsourced eruption of expression was provocative and moving, and spoke perfectly to a particular moment in time. Part of the collection will be preserved and displayed at the New-York Historical Society for future generations to witness.

About Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas

Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro’s Nonstop Metropolis presents thought-provoking essays and instantly iconic local maps that bring into focus the social history, cultural identity, and neighborhood landmarks that form the tapestry of New York’s five boroughs. By giving voice to a diverse host of collaborators across the five boroughs, the book reflects the resilience of our communities and creates a beautifully varied portrait of our urban archipelago.

About the Gill Prize

The Brendan Gill prize was established in 1987 by fellow MAS board members Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Helen Tucker, and Margot Wellington to honor the creator of a building, book, essay, musical composition, play, film, painting, sculpture, choreographic work or landscape design, accomplished in the previous year that best captures, “the energy, vigor and verve of our incomparable city.” Past recipients include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kara Walker, Michael Kimmelman, Hugh Hardy, and Sarah Jones. (For a full listing or previous recipients.)

This annual cash award is administered by MAS and named for longtime New Yorker theater and architecture critic, champion preservationist, and civic booster Brendan Gill. The recipient is chosen by the Brendan Gill Jury from nominations submitted to MAS by the general public. The esteemed 2017 Jury included Chair John Haworth, Laurie Beckelman, Randall Bourscheidt, Patricia Cruz, Gail Gregg, Suketu Mehta, Cassim Shepard, and Helen Tucker.

About Celebrating the City Awards

The 2017 Brendan Gill Prize will be presented at The Municipal Art Society’s Celebrating the City – an evening of awards and conversation honoring arts, architecture, and activism.


President’s Letter, March 2017

President of The Municipal Art Society of New York Elizabeth Goldstein

Elizabeth Goldstein

Like sliding into a comfortable coat, I have returned to the city that I grew up in and lived a considerable amount of my adult life. Despite the admonition of friends that I should never refer to the fact that I had forsaken New York for another city – wait for it, San Francisco – I am confident I bring refreshed eyes back to this metropolis I love.

There is so much that is familiar and gives me an odd déjà vu feeling that my life in California was a dream. And then I am brought up short by places that are so transformed that I do not recognize them. (My old neighborhood of Fort Greene has places like that.)

This is a city that is constantly changing but one that remains timeless in its vitality, and its structure. I have spent much of my professional life thinking and working on parks and historic preservation. Returning to New York City has reminded me of the press of architecture and the demands of concrete. As I write I look down on the top of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a view I never imagined seeing. It is wondrous in its changing colors and moods, responding as it does every day to the sky and the weather.

But returning to New York City has also reminded me of the press of the small things… the garbage piled up in black plastic bags in the center of the business district and my temporary home (Sugar Hill) alike. The crowded sidewalks and subway platforms teeming with people just trying to get to work on time – or home again. (The city has grown by a million people since I last lived here, and it shows.)

As I have immersed myself in the work of MAS, I have begun to hear themes of frustration. The powerlessness to affect planning, the sense that neighborhoods have no control over their fate, the assumption that we have to stand by while the light in our neighborhoods is lost to the next new building because that is just the way it is done.

MAS must be the voice of the city calling out the obvious and the obscure. I am excited to take up the challenge. Thank you for welcoming me back to this city we all love.

Elizabeth's signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
President
The Municipal Art Society of New York


MAS Comments on the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in Downtown Far Rockaway

Full Testimony Title: MAS Comments on the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) Nos. 170243 ZMQ, N170244 ZRQ, 170245 HGQ, 170246 HUQ, 170247 HDQ, and 170248 PPQ, and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Downtown Far Rockaway Redevelopment Project, CEQR No. 16DME010Q, Queens, NY

Background

The City of New York, in collaboration with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and several city agencies, is proposing a series of land use actions, referred to as the Proposed Actions, including zoning map amendments, zoning text amendments, disposition and acquisition of property, and the designation and approval of an Urban Renewal Area (URA) and Plan (URP) as part of an effort to redevelop and revitalize an approximately 22-block area of the Downtown Far Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, Community District 14.

According to the project Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), the Proposed Actions would result in a net increase of 3,027 dwelling units, of which 1,638 would be market-rate and 1,389 would be affordable; 152,935 square feet (sf) of retail space; and 86,947 sf of community facility space. The project also would provide a new publicly accessible open space area.

Downtown Far Rockaway has been in need of revitalization for generations. Over forty years ago, the Department of City Planning (DCP) reported the problem of disinvestment leading to decline in business conditions and vacancies. The area has been long plagued by underperforming retail corridors, deteriorated buildings, and underutilized lots. At the same time, residents of Far Rockaway have faced a chronic lack of community services, amenities, affordable housing options, and quality open space.

While the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) commends Council Member Richards, community stakeholders, the Downtown Far Rockaway Working Group, and the City for their efforts thus far to bring vibrancy back to Far Rockaway, we are well aware of the significant challenges that lay ahead in seeing the revitalization plan to fruition.

Despite the intentions of the proposal and the investments the City has made, we believe there are a number of critical deficiencies that need to be properly addressed to ensure that the reinvigoration of Downtown Far Rockaway is truly equitable and successful over the long term.

Position

Before we can support the Proposed Actions, MAS urges the City to consider the following recommendations.

Urban Renewal Area (DFRURA)

The proposed Urban Renewal Area (URA) is the centerpiece of the revitalization plan. It is the mechanism by which the city will acquire vacant and underutilized sites and ultimately sell properties to create a vibrant mixeduse downtown area. The Downtown Far Rockaway Working Group’s Roadmap for Action recommended that the City activate long-vacant sites in the downtown as a primary step in the process. While MAS agrees with this approach, we believe there are number of unaddressed issues.

Public Plaza

The lack of quality public space is one of the major problems affecting Downtown Far Rockaway. The planned public plaza in the DFRURA only partially solves the problem. The plaza is intended to provide a central open space area. However, to create a truly vibrant and desirable place we recommend that the plaza be subject to special design guidelines regarding accessibility, pedestrian circulation, seating space, and orientation tailored to the community. A similar mechanism is found in zoning regulations for privately owned public spaces and plazas throughout the city. 1

We also urge the City to remove the exemptions for seating requirements and occupation of open-air cafes under the proposed plan. Without the implementation of these recommendations, we believe the City will miss an opportunity to create a welcoming public area that should be the focal point of the downtown area.

Connectivity and URA Boundaries

To better integrate the DFRURA into the existing neighborhood, we recommend a new east-west cross street intersecting Redfern Avenue and Central Avenue. To accomplish this, we recommend including Lot 147 from Block 15537 to create a connection between Foam Place and Dix Avenue.

Funding and Feasibility

Given the importance of the URA to the plan, it is crucial that the City demonstrate that sufficient funding is available to provide the greatest opportunity for long-term success. Despite the best intentions, urban renewal projects too often end up as large swaths of vacant land. For example, the nearby Arverne East Renewal Area was cleared for development in the late 1960s, and 81 acres remain vacant today. 2 Therefore, it is critical for the City to avoid the same mistake by ensuring the feasibility and implementation of the proposed URA.

Socioeconomic Conditions

Residential Displacement

Mindful of the potential of the proposal to displace area residents, MAS urges the City to define a specific Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) option that reflects the actual income of the community’s residents. The median household income of the rezoning area ranges from $20,865 to $48,875, which is well below the median household income of Queens ($60,422) and New York City ($55,752). 3

The DEIS evaluation assumes all affordable units would be available to households at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), which is currently $72,480 for a family of four. While the DEIS concludes that no indirect displacement of residents would occur, MAS asserts that the affordable housing proposed under the plan would not be affordable to a significant portion of the Far Rockaway community.

Business Displacement

According to the DEIS, the proposed rezoning would result in the displacement of 29 businesses and 283 workers in the area. While the collective displacement may not exceed thresholds deemed significantly adverse under CEQR guidelines, MAS contends that these businesses play an important role in the local economy. They provide needed goods, services, and jobs. Given Downtown Far Rockaway’s relative geographical isolation, distance from other working centers in the city, and income levels, we urge the City to reach out to the local business community and area stakeholders to find equitable solutions to reduce potential business displacement.

Open Space

The proposal fails to adequately provide the community with quality passive and active public space. According to the DEIS, Far Rockaway has about half of the citywide average of 2.5 acres of open space per 1,000 residents. With the addition of new residents under the rezoning, the community would need 11 acres of open space to achieve the citywide average. To make matters worse, the DEIS concludes that the lack of open space is an unavoidable significant adverse impact than cannot be mitigated and asserts that residents would have access to the public beaches more than one-half mile south of the project area.

MAS recommends that the City conduct proper outreach to determine the type of open space that is desired by the community and find ways to create additional quality open space such as purchasing vacant/underutilized properties.

Community Facilities

The rezoning would overburden publicly funded childcare facilities by almost 50 percent in an already vulnerable area. According to the DEIS, the rezoning would leave the community with a deficit of 181 childcare facility slots.

Therefore, we urge the City and Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) to work with the community to define a cohesive plan to address this critical need. Under the proposal, the DFRURA would include approximately 87,000 sf of community facility space. Perhaps some of this area could be dedicated to new childcare facilities.

Commitments

The Downtown Far Rockaways redevelopment proposal is different than other citywide rezoning studies in that it is led by EDC and is the only proposal to incorporate an urban renewal area. As a quasi-governmental agency, EDC is not defined under the City’s charter. Therefore, its role in the planning and ULURP processes can be ambiguous.

To clarify EDC’s role, MAS points to the importance and the applicability of NYC Commitments Law 175, which is intended to promote transparency and accountability regarding City commitments, such as the rezoning. The law requires the documentation of allocated funding and completion dates for every commitment by the City. Given the importance of the project and the level of investment, MAS believes commitments under the proposal for affordable housing, public space, community facilities and infrastructure should be subject to oversight protocols mandated by the local law.

Conclusion

MAS believes the time is ripe for the revitalization of Downtown Far Rockaway. While we recognize the intentions and efforts by the City and the involved agencies thus far, MAS believes the project does not adequately address critical issues that have stymied progress in the area for years and in many ways fails to keep the needs of the Far Rockaway community in mind.

We urge the City to address our recommendations regarding an equitable approach to providing affordable housing that meets the needs of the community; reducing the displacement of local businesses and jobs; exploring ways to create quality open space; establishing design guidelines to insure that the proposed public plaza in the downtown will be the inviting focal point of the area and a gathering place for the community; improving connections from the proposed URA to the adjoining neighborhoods; identifying opportunities for new childcare facility space; demonstrating that sufficient funding will be provided for the DFRURA to ensure long-term investment in the downtown; and conforming with oversight and transparency protocols for City commitments under NYC Commitments Law 175.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this critical project.


  • 1 New York City Zoning Resolution, Article III Chapter 7 Section 70.
  • 2 Urban Reviewer Arverne (link).
  • 3 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Household income in the past 12 months for: Block Group 1, Census Tract 1008.02. Block Group 1, Census Tract 1010.01. Block Group 1, Census Tract 1032.02. Block Group 2, Census Tract 1032.01. Block Group 3, Census Tract 1032.01. Block Group 4, Census Tract 1010.01. Block Group 4, Census Tract 1032.02.

Monument of the Month: Female Sculptors

The works saved by the Municipal Art Society’s Adopt-A-Monument represent a Who’s Who of American sculptors and architects of the 19th to 21st century. Three of these artists – Anna Hyatt Huntington, Sally Jane Farnham, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney – are among the handful of prominent female sculptors of the first few decades of the 20st century.

We proudly celebrated these remarkable artists this March, the month that honors Women’s History.

Sally Jane Farnham’s Simón Bolívar

Simon Bolivar statue by Sally Jane Farnham

In 1916, Sally Jane Farnham was chosen from a pool of 20 other sculptors for the chance to depict Latin American military hero Simón Bolívar.

At the time, she was 30 years old, self-taught, and virtually unknown. Read more about Farnham’s incredible career and the celebrated Bolívar monument that now presides over Central Park South at Aristos.

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Saved! CM Rodriguez Will Support Loew’s 175th Street Theatre as Landmark

interior of the ornate 145th Street Loews Wonder Theatre

The 145th Street Loews Wonder Theatre

On March 22, 2017, MAS was delighted to join Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez for a press conference announcing his support for designating the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre. We are grateful to all the MAS members who called and emailed to express their support for this treasured soon-to-be landmark.

Statement from MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein:

“MAS applauds Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez for committing to support the designation of the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre, also known as the United Palace. One of New York’s five gilded age Wonder Theatres, The Loew’s Theatre is a jewel of Washington Heights that has waited 45 long years for landmark status. We hope its designation draws attention to the many other cultural and historic assets of Northern Manhattan that should be preserved for future generations.”

Read more about MAS’s support for the theater in our February 2017 Action Alert.


MAS Remembers Emeritus Director Hugh Hardy

Please read MAS’s tribute to Hugh Hardy in this weekend’s New York Times.

The board and staff of The Municipal Art Society mourn the passing of our director emeritus and former chair of the planning committee, Hugh Hardy, a giant of architecture and tireless advocate for New York City.

His passing is a profound loss to New York, but he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy. His impact on our city will resonate in civic spaces across the five boroughs – from Lincoln Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music, to Radio City Music Hall and the New York Botanical Garden. He had a once-in-a-generation gift for mixing historic and modern design in a way that elevated both.

Hugh’s boundless talent made him a legend but it was his generosity of spirit that made him such a treasure to know. Our thoughts are with Tiziana Hardy, their children, and the entire Hardy family.


Letter Regarding Greenacre Park Shadow Impacts, Greater East Midtown Rezoning

Richard Eggers, Chair
Community Board Six Manhattan
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 326A
New York, New York, 10017

Sandro Sherrod
Chair, Land Use & Waterfront Committee
Community Board Six Manhattan
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 326A
New York, New York, 10017

Re: Greenacre Park Shadow Impacts, Greater East Midtown Rezoning

Dear Mr. Eggers and Mr. Sherrod,

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has serious concerns about potential shadow impacts on Greenacre Park resulting from the Greater East Midtown Rezoning (Rezoning).

Greenacre Park is one of only three vest-pocket parks in New York City. Located midblock on East 51st Street (217 East 51st Street) between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, this special space features an array of honey locust trees, lush plantings, a waterfall, and sunny seating areas that have changed very little since the park opened in 1971. It provides a unique and valuable escape for area residents, workers, and visitors.

The public benefits of Greenacre Park bring to light the pronounced lack of public open space in East Midtown. For example, the Rezoning project area contains only 39 acres of passive open space, 50 percent of which consists of Privately Owned Public Space (POPS). The development expected under the Rezoning would further reduce the amount of public passive open space in the area to below half the city average1. As such, it is paramount that Greenacre Park is protected from encroaching shadows.

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