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Place Matters Celebrates Ten Years

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MAS and City Lore — sponsors of Place Matters — held a party on June 11 to celebrate its tenth anniversary, salute the people that make these places possible, and honor 10 places that matter selected by a panel of place enthusiasts from the more than 650 places nominated by the public. The ceremony at the Municipal Art Society was a sold-out success, featuring 10 great honorees, music by renowned cuatro player Yomo Toro, a wonderful talk by New York Times reporter David Gonzalez, and, as icing on the cake, a proclamation from City Council member Rosie Mendez declaring June 11, 2008 “Place Matters Appreciation Day.” Mendez commended the project for “work that refreshes our own ideas about our city and ourselves.”

Project Origins – The idea for Place Matters evolved from a MAS taskforce on encouraging protection for places that are important to New York City’s history and traditions, but not necessarily architecturally distinguished. City Lore took part in the taskforce, and teamed up with MAS to hold the History Happened Here conference in 1996. The enthusiasm generated at this event led to the City Lore-MAS collaboration on the Place Matters project, and its focus on a variety of ways to promote and advocate for culturally important places.

In the ten years since then, nominations from New Yorkers and others of their favorite places has resulted in a fascinating information bank of little- and well-known places around New York City that hold memories, anchor traditions, tell the city’s history, and contribute to local distinctiveness. Recently nominated places include the 150-year-old St. Vincent de Paul Church in Chelsea, JCR Percussion in the Bronx, The Federation of Black Cowboys, and the Kissena Velodrome in Queens.

Census of Places That Matter – Places are nominated to the Census for a variety of reasons — because they mark history, host gatherings, foster creativity, contribute beauty, keep traditions alive, make public and open space, symbolize a social movement, enhance a community, host a longstanding establishment, show the layers of time, and represent something unique or distinctive.

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The Census has created a citywide inventory of places that warrant attention and caretaking, and promotes advocacy and action. The book Hidden New York: A Guide to Places that Matter, the historical sign project Your Guide to the Lower East Side, the virtual tour Marking Time on the Bowery, the first labor landmark (marking the Triangle Shirtwaist fire), the first National Register listing associated with Puerto Rican migration (Casa Amadeo), support for numerous preservation campaigns, and scores of people signed up to receive the Place that Matters of the Week e-mail, are just some of the results of the census to date. Initiatives in 2008 include, programs re-envisioning the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area on the Lower East Side, and new web exhibits on urban vernacular architecture.

Places That Matter Elsewhere – In New Orleans, the Cornerstones project is using our survey methodology to identify places that matter; in Banff, Canada, the weekly newspaper is highlighting special places modeled on our biweekly emails; the Great Lakes Urban Exchange is studying our website to foster urbanism, regionalism, and quality storytelling in their area; and in Canton, NY, the Registry of Very Special Places, modeled on Place Matters, is thriving.

As we look to our second decade, we’d like to hear from you. Tell us how you’ve used the Place Matters website, share your suggestions for new initiatives, and enter your places into the Census.

The writer, Marci Reaven, is Director of Place Matters.