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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


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.

Read more

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.

Read more

MAS Comments Regarding the Greater East Midtown Proposal, ULURP No. 170186 ZRM Manhattan, NY

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 including recommendations that by and large frame the current Greater East Midtown Proposal.

MAS recognizes that the primary goal of the current proposal is to incentivize significant expansion of commercial office space to maintain the area’s viability as New York’s premier business district and retain its tax base. We also acknowledge the complexity of the project, as well as the effort by the city to foster and incorporate stakeholder input.

The 3D web map provides relevant property information for buildings within the proposed rezoning boundaries. Projected and potential development sites are highlighted in red and blue (sites show existing bulk under current zoning regulations – not proposed).

Supertalls are highlighted in orange (most are being constructed as-of-right and are independent to the rezoning process).

Read more

Monument of the Month: Die Lorelei

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. This program, and the subsequent Adopt-A-Mural Program (begun in 1991), preserve the extraordinary legacy of public art that MAS helped initiate at the turn of the 20th century.

The Heinrich Heine Fountain ("Die Lorelei") by Ernest Herter, 1899, Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx

The Heinrich Heine Fountain (“Die Lorelei”) by Ernest Herter was constructed in 1899 in Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx. It was restored in 1999 through MAS’ Adopt-A-Monument program.

Read more

Action Alert: 175th Street Loew’s Wonder Theatre

We Need Your Help to Save a Treasure of Washington Heights!

Last month, the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre – the last of New York’s five gilded age Wonder Theaters – received approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, putting it one step closer to landmark designation after more than 45 years in limbo.

But we have just learned from our colleagues at the Historic Districts Council that the local Council Member for the 10th district, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, plans to rescind his support for designating the theater. Without his vote, the designation will almost surely fail to pass the City Council.

interior of the ornate 145th Street Loews Wonder Theatre

The 145th Street Loews Wonder Theatre

Please call Council Member Rodriguez this week and tell him that the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre must be protected as a New York City landmark.

MAS supported the designation of the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre when the Landmarks Preservation Commission first reviewed it in 1970, and again in 2015 (see “Testimony” below). A “delirious masterpiece” in words of the New York Times, the theater’s exuberant, eclectic style incorporates both Hindu and Islamic design in a free interpretation iconic to this period of theater design.

Read more

Brownsville Matters

Yesterday, MAS celebrated the installation of the Brownsville Matters art exhibition with more than 50 project partners, artist and local residents at the Langston Hughes Senior Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn. 

MAS is pleased to have partnered with ArtBridge and the Brownsville Community Justice Center on the exhibition, which will be on display on the fences around the cul-de-sac at Thatford and Belmont Avenues until January of 2018. 

Brownsville Matters features interpretations of East Brooklyn’s cultural identity by eleven local artists: Cheryl Bowers, Christine Stoddard, Dominique Davenport, Ebony Bolt, Jazmine Hayes, Kisha Johnson, Laurent Chevalier, Malcolm Williams, Maria Belford, Sophia Dawson, and Tristan Lamour. 

Included pieces were selected via an open call for art, narrowed down to 43 submissions by curators Rujeko Hockley (Brooklyn Museum) and Farrah Lafontant (Brooklyn Arts Council) and then voted on by residents.

The project was made possible by the collaboration of the New York City Housing Authority and support from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Safeguarding Free Expression in NYC’s Public Plazas

In December, MAS joined planning colleagues around the city in issuing a joint letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on the need to foster freedom of expression in public plazas and other public areas.

We invite you to read the letter, which details seven steps the Administration can take to make demonstrations and other gatherings of free expression, “safer, more effective, and even welcoming to all New Yorkers who want to participate in civic action.”