President’s Letter: April 2019
Now settled into my home in Jackson Heights, I can say I’ve lived in four of the five boroughs so far in my lifetime. (Perhaps Staten Island is next?) I have been amazed along the way, across the decades, of the unending variety and distinct character that New York’s neighborhoods exude. I am always struck by how identifiably themselves they feel, even as they come together into one coherent city.
Each of New York’s neighborhoods has its own traditions and cultural quirks and institutions. I find this remains the case even as neighborhoods evolve over time. In the 1960s of my youth, I remember Forest Hills, Queens, as a middle-class Jewish neighborhood; now it is home to an influx of largely Shanghainese families and small business owners, relocating from Flushing for better rents and new opportunities. I love the entire urban tapestry–the newcomers, old timers, and visitors alike.
We face a hard challenge ensure that our place still feels like New York. Change gets a bad name but it is not, in fact, change that New Yorkers fear, so much as the loss of character and that patina of the many layers of culture that have gone before. Cities need to be home and they need to have character. They need corners for the community flavor.
So how do we go about protecting and celebrating our city’s sense of place? It takes a willingness to embrace change and resist it at the same time. It means having respect for what is intact but messy. And it requires us all to get out onto the street to see our neighborhoods–and our roles in them–from a new perspective, or discovering a new neighborhood for the first time.
This coming weekend is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s our annual Jane’s Walk festival, in which we bring together thousands of New Yorkers for a festival of walking tours celebrating our city and the woman we call the patron saint of community planning, urbanist Jane Jacobs. Framed as “walking conversations,” these volunteer-led tours are an opportunity to connect with our city and remember that whatever brought us here (be it economics, or political unrest, or ambition, or any other number of human factors) New York captured our hearts.
There is truly something for everyone, from history buffs to cultural aficionados, from activists to foodies, from dog lovers to arborists. Here are just a few of the 275 Jane’s Walks taking place on May 3-5:
- Explore Long Island City’s waterfront, the neighborhood too tough for Jeff Bezos (kids, dogs, and bikes welcome)
- Learn about the 19th century origins of “Manhattan’s Little Syria” on the Lower East Side
- Take a stroll through Black History in Central Brooklyn with From Crow Hill to Crown Heights
- Visit the park that defeated a parkway: Starlight Park helped inspire the plan to demolish the Sheridan Expressway
- Witness the ecological rebirth of Freshkills Park, the former landfill that is soon to become the second largest park in the five boroughs
Start planning your weekend today!
The Municipal Art Society of New York