President’s Letter: February 2021
Monthly observations and insights from MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein
Normally, I love winter and snow. I am delighted to snuggle up at home and watch the city slip under a white blanket. One of my colleagues likened it to watching New York City turn into a snow globe. Isn’t that a lovely thought? I am pleased to feel the pull to bake or make stews. Cozy is good, right?
This year feels different, as we approach the anniversary of COVID restrictions. I have been admiring my neighbors who have been out every morning or evening for their constitutional, but I haven’t found a routine myself. I am restless for the stimulations of a more normal life—a long walk, a chance to explore a new place.
I remember my mother sitting on a bench in the New York Botanical Garden, heavy coat pulled tight, sometimes a scarf, but always with her face toward the bright sky, eyes closed, absorbing it all. Last weekend’s sun felt like a gift. I couldn’t help but get out to enjoy that precious light, as it bounced off the now-scruffy snow that remains. I wasn’t alone in this. Suddenly, people seemed to pour out of buildings and onto the street, not just for weekend errands but to be out and enjoying that same mid-winter sun that my mother cherished.
At MAS, we have spent a significant chunk of the last few weeks responding to 960 Franklin Avenue, the proposed development that will have a devastating impact on the sunlight that shines on Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Jackie Robinson Playground, and the Medgar Evers College campus. In the face of enormous push back, even from the City itself, the developer has already begun to propose alternatives and to double down on the “trade” between access to sunlight and affordable housing.
The need for affordable housing is without debate. The question is how it will be sensitively integrated into our neighborhoods across the city, especially where there is displacement risk. I know it seems ironic to talk about displacement risk and affordable housing in same the breath. However, much of the push back against the rezonings of New York’s lower income communities has been because the new affordable housing is, more often than not, unaffordable for those that already live in there.
In the end we need to find a way to accommodate all the city’s needs in a balanced way. Given how visceral the gift of sunlight in the midst of winter is, it needs to be a part of this very important equation.
As I write this, the sun has emerged again. I am going to take a walk during my lunch break today. Care to join me?
President, Municipal Art Society of New York