Posts tagged with "MAS":

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The City Club of New York weighs in on dismissal of MAS President Gina Pollara

Just before MAS's Board of Directors recently dismissed of President Gina Pollara, The City Club of New York, which describes its members as "long time members and supporters of MAS," urged the organization to defer any action and consider alternatives. The City Club has just issued a second statement:
Dear Members and Friends, Our advocacy has usually related to actions of the City or State. We detoured briefly, and to a limited extent, at the end of December to address a critical action being taken by the Municipal Art Society. For the fourth time in approximately six years, the MAS is changing leadership. This time, at a meeting called for December 29 on a week’s notice, the MAS board approved hiring a new President to replace Gina Pollara. Gina had assumed that position in early 2016. She brought to the job her professional expertise as an architect, and recent administrative experience as executive director of the Roosevelt Memorial on Roosevelt Island. More than that, she seized upon MAS’s apparently recovered will to engage in its traditional advocacy function. She conducted a series of public policy forums.  She worked to promote better governance of privately owned public spaces.  She spoke out in support of the City Club’s position on Pier 55. She participated in meetings of the City Club’s Urban Design Committee. And we participated with her on MAS projects. In short, she generated a sense of institutional revival and a spirit of cooperation that the City Club warmly welcomed. The day before the MAS acted, the City Club took the unusual step—one we would not regard as a precedent to be followed routinely—of emailing the entire MAS board to express our concern over its impending action to remove Gina. We felt that precipitate and ill-considered action would set back the MAS’s ability to continue the progress that it had recently begun. In an announcement the MAS board published almost immediately after its meeting, the board said that it had hired Elizabeth Goldstein and described Ms. Goldstein‘s estimable credentials especially in the field of park conservation. We certainly wish her well. While we have appreciated Gina personally as a shining light in the MAS’s recent history, our motivation in writing to the MAS board was institutional. The MAS has a long and highly productive history and we, like the public in general, have a big stake in the MAS’s future. Two articles of The Architect’s Newspaper can be found here:
https://archpaper.com/2016/12/pollara-fired-mas/ https://archpaper.com/2016/12/city-club-responds-mas-boards-special-leadership-meeting/These contain verbatim transcripts of our letter to the MAS board, and of the board’s announcement. The New York Times covered the action in an article on January 7 available at http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/arts/design/municipal-art-society-abruptly-ousts-its-president.htmlBest wishes for the new year.
Michael Michael S. Gruen President The City Club of New York 249 West 34th Street, #401-402 New York, NY 10001 mgruen@michaelgruen.net
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City Club responds to MAS board’s special leadership meeting

This is usually a slow week for journalism but the tussle at the The Municipal Art Society of New York over the fate of its President Gina Pollara is heating up. We reported two days ago that the board of directors of the Society were meeting on Thursday, December 29 to discuss relieving Pollara of her position, but now there seems to be push back against the board's move. A call for a meeting of MAS membership to discuss the situation is being organized and today the City Club of New York, another long-time “good government” organization has issued a public letter to the MAS Board. It calls for the board to “defer any action with regard to Gina Pollara at your special board meeting” as it would be an “unhappy step backward and a display of internal governance disarray at MAS.” Here is a full transcript of the City Club letter signed by Michael Gruen: The original letter can be seen here. December 27, 2016 Mr. Frederick Iseman Chairman, Municipal Art Society Mr. Iseman: The City Club of New York is troubled to learn that the Municipal Art Society is considering the dismissal of its president, Gina Pollara. As long time members and supporters of MAS, we have enjoyed the fresh spirit she has brought to the organization’s work. She has displayed a creative, focused, and energetic approach to her position, and has inserted MAS into the public discourse on the crucial issues facing our city. As a result, the organization has resumed its rightful position as a leading voice in issues of design, planning, historic preservation, and the public realm. We urge you to defer any action with regard to President Gina Pollara at your special board meeting scheduled for December 29, 2016. To move forward with this action would be an unhappy step backward and a display of internal governance disarray at MAS. Such a decision would be a disservice to the citizens of New York and to MAS itself. With all due deference, we suggest you consider an independent review of governance and management structure, accepting one of the following alternatives to pursue:      a. Appointment of a balanced committee of emeritus directors.       b. Retention of an outside professional consultant (such as McKinsey).      c. Consultation with an experienced non-profit organization professional. We do understand it is unusual for one organization to involve itself in the internal affairs of another, but we believe the importance of MAS to the city and the negative impact of what is being proposed are of such magnitude as to override the usual organizational niceties. A strong, united, focused, and forceful MAS, exercising its appropriate leadership role in city affairs, is essential. And that public purpose is too important to be subjected to a rushed holiday week telephonic process. Ms. Pollara deserves better. MAS deserves better. The City of New York deserves better. Yours truly, Michael Gruen, President
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Gina Pollara named President of the Municipal Art Society of New York

Architect, author, and urban designer Gina Pollara, has been appointed President of The Municipal Art Society (MAS). Frederick Iseman, Chairman of the MAS Board of Directors announced that the move will take effect immediately. Pollara is best known for overseeing construction of Louis Kahn's memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when she was executive director of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. The project was completed in October 2012, although it lay dormant for decades after Kahn's death in 1974. “We are deeply pleased to name Gina Pollara our next President after a long and thorough hunt for a suitable leader,” said Iseman. “She is dynamic, our issues run through her veins, she is respected throughout the city as a doer, an entrepreneur, and as a force for the improvement of civic life.  She is also known for being effective, exigent, hell-bent on results and a lot of fun to work with.  I look forward to working with her on the many challenges that all five boroughs of this city face.  She will be a fiery spark-plug working with the capable members of our board.” “I’m profoundly honored to join The Municipal Art Society, an organization that continues to be one of the most important civic voices in the city that advocates for design and planning excellence.  I am particularly excited to be leading MAS as it prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2018,” Pollara said. “I look forward to working with our current partners and to developing new alliances as MAS continues to advance so many of the issues that are vital to the city’s future.”
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Speaker Quinn Backs Ten-Year Term Limit for Madison Square Garden

Consensus among the city's political players is growing in favor of the relocation of Madison Square Garden from its home atop Penn Station. Yesterday, City Council held a public hearing to discuss the future of the Garden and the overcrowded train terminal. Filmmaker Spike Lee, surrounded by an entourage of former Knicks players, testified on behalf of the Garden. According to the Wall Street Journal, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn expressed her support of a ten-year term limit for the arena in a letter addressed to the Garden's President and CEO, Hank Ratner, on Wednesday. The owners of the arena have requested a permit in perpetuity, however, several government officials and advocacy groups—including Borough President Scott Stringer, the Municipal Art Society (MAS), and the Regional Plan Association—have called for limiting the permit to 10 years. This comes after the City Planning Commission voted unanimously for a 15-year permit extension.
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Four Firms Radically Re-Envision a New Penn Station and Madison Square Garden

When Madison Square Garden’s 50-year special permit expired last year, it launched a fiery debate over the future of the arena atop Penn Station.  Critics, urban planners, and government officials have called for a 10-year term limit to encourage the relocation of MSG allowing for an overhaul of the crowded station. Today the Municipal Art Society of New York unveiled four different visions for a re-imagined Penn Station and MSG from firms Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Each firm offered up its own rendition—some focused more on expanding infrastructure, while others honed in on opportunities for cultural and educational programming and new amenities within the station. But all the firms decided to relocate the arena, make room for green space, and create a new light-filled and spacious train terminal. And on the more far-reaching side, they envisioned and described this new station as a civic hub that will anchor and reinvigorate the surrounding neighborhood and serve as a “gateway” (a buzz word liberally used at the unveiling) for the city. The presentations were a fantastical exercise in design if all variables—funding, political might, and private interests—miraculously came together. H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture was the first to take the stage. The firm recommends re-locating Madison Square Garden to a 16-acre site on the waterfront by the Javits Center, which would then pave the way for a new Penn Station to be built with an eight-track high-speed rail, a three-acre park, retail space, and a roof garden. The Farley Post Office would then be transformed into a Center for Education and the four corners of the station would be privately developed  “hybrid buildings.” SOM has concentrated on providing a robust infrastructure with a network of high-speed rail lines for the North East Corridor, better commuter rail service, and rail lines linking to the major airports in the area. The station will have a ticketing hall in center of building and then two concourses below with retail spaces. The firm would move Madison Square Garden to an adjacent location and imagines private development will crop up around the station. Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro described their “Penn Station 3.0” as a “grand civic space founded on growth and innovation.” The transit node would become “both a front door and living room” that would be “alive 24/7” and organized by “fast, transit-oriented programs” and “slower” activities including retail, cultural space, and restaurants. MSG would then be moved to the west end of the Farley building. “In closing, we basically would put a wrecking ball to the site,” said Elizabeth Diller. SHoP Architecture’s Vishaan Chakrabarti started off talking about safety as a critical challenge to the current Penn Station aggravated by a “lack of air” and “disorientation”  caused by MSG. The firm envisions an open, light-filled station that would be at the heart of a new district they’ve dubbed “Gotham Gateway.” They would relocate MSG to the Morgan site and create “a link from east to west and north to south” connecting the station, a new park, and the arena. While the other presenters focused on design, SHoP dipped its toe in public policy side of the equation. The firm is calling for the creation of a “Gateway Task Force” consisting of the Vice President, US Transportation Secretary, the governor, and the mayor, which would serve to facilitate a relocation of MSG, spearhead the Gateway Project (including funds for new tunnel, track and station), and provide necessary amenities.
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The Return of Cousin St. Vinny

Back in March, Protect the Village Historic District sued the Landmarks Preservation Commission over its granting of a hardship to St. Vincent's Hospital, so that it might demolish Albert C. Ledner's National Maritime Union Headquarters, now known as the O'Toole building, and replace it with a new hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb and Freed. The focus of PVHD's suit is that the hospital did not explore suitable alternatives, nor did the commission require them, but now, the state Supreme Court appears to be questioning the very nature of the hardship finding—that retaining the O'Toole buildings prevented the hospital from carrying out its charitable mission—or at least that is the finding of a brief filed today by the Municipal Art Society and half-a-dozen preservation groups that directly challenges the LPC on the matter. Filed on behalf of neither the petitioners nor the defendants but at the behest of the court, which is trying to better understand the mechanics of the hardship finding, the MAS' attorneys argue that the LPC erred in finding that a hardship was created by the O'Toole building when in fact it was the neighboring buildings that created the problems for the hospital. The LPC then falsely created a campus that included both the historic buildings east of Seventh Avenue and the Ledner building west of it, and with this campus, extended the hardship from the buildings responsible for it to the one that was not. MAS and company—Historic Districts Council, Greenwich Village Society, the National Trust, the Preservation League, Brooklyn Heights Association, and Friends of the UESHD—argue that in part because the Ledner building remains quite usable, and is not directly infringing on the functioning of the neighboring hospital, it can not be held accountable. And this does not even get into the issues of whether sufficient off-site alternatives were explored and the fact that St. Vincent's knowingly bought a landmark it could not alter, which are at the heart of the original suit. MAS does note that the standards for determining hardship are complex, and it should also be pointed out that, while ostensibly neutral, all seven amici have lobbied on behalf of preserving the Ledner buildings and indeed hold quite a vested interest in the LPC's defeat. Simply consider the conclusion of the brief [PDF], which states, in part, that the commission "has created a dangerous precedent that may have a devastating effect on the preservation of landmark buildings and historic districts throughout New York City." This is personal. We're still waiting to hear back from some real estate attorneys as to the exact role this brief might play in the case, whether or not it will actually sway the judges, but as soon as we know, you'll know.
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Cooper Struts Its Stuff

Last week, the Rockefeller Foundation handed out its Jane Jacobs Medal, now in its third year, at a fête at Thom Mayne’s sumptuous new Cooper Union building. Guests were initially relegated to a basement parlor for drinks before being ushered across the hall into the jaw-dropping Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, which is said to be the little sister of the famed 1858 Great Hall in the main building. Maybe—but only if she were wearing a gauzy, wrinkled sheath dress of aluminum lace. Could there be nicer acoustical baffling? Cooper president George Campbell, Jr., introduced Judith Rodin, president of the foundation. Before beginning her remarks, Rodin gave a shout out to a trio of city commissioners who were equal parts guests of honor and comrades at arms: Planning’s Amanda Burden, Transportation’s Janette Sadik-Khan, and, newest of the pack, HPD’s Rafael Cestero. Rodin noted that exactly 50 years ago this month, the foundation awarded its first two grants, one of which happened to go to a housewife from Manhattan. “It was to support her monograph, that single most import book on the rebuilding of the city,” Rodin said. “That kicked off 50 years of thinking about and working on urban issues.” It is in Jacobs’ honor that the awards were created in 2007, one for Lifetime Leadership, the other for New Ideas and Activism. This year’s honorees were Damaris Reyes, executive director of the Good Old Lower East Side, and Richard Kahan, founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly schools. (You can watch a nice video profile of the two shot by the Municipal Art Society, co-sponsor of the awards, below.) First up after Rodin was New Yorker architecture critic and man about town Paul Goldberger to award Kahan his medal. He had many beautiful things to say, repeatedly comparing the former head of the Urban Development Corporation to Jacobs herself: “Like Jane Jacobs, Richard Kahan loves New York and sees it with a clarity that uncovers its humanism.” “He’s a skeptic, like Jane Jacobs, but like Jane, he’s never let his skepticism spill over into cynicism.” “He was in training to be Robert Moses, not Jane Jacobs, but fortunately for us, that’s not how it worked out.” Kahan thanked Goldberger, and then admitted that while he was honored to be receiving the lifetime achievement, “not to be ungrateful, but I’d rather be getting the award for the up-and-comer.” Circling around to Goldberger’s point, Kahan said that Moses versus Jacobs “presents a false dichotomy.” Indeed, the genius of New York was both its intimate scale and its immense monumentality. He said you have to empower the community so it can be a part of big change. Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School for the Arts at NYU, invoked Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States in her introduction for Reyes, and in many ways echoed Kahan saying that Reyes, too, was at the front ranks spending most of her adult life fighting for the rights of public housing residents and the disappearing culture and community of the Lower East Side. In a stirring speech that at times brought her to tears—“I always cry, even though I told myself I wouldn’t tonight”—Reyes recounted her trials and travails in Manhattan’s most mixed neighborhood. “Today the benches are gone, and the street life with it. Mom and Pop shops are disappearing as people are evicted and rents continue to rise. We fight, and we continue to hold out.” Reyes received a standing ovation. The other ovation goes to 41 Cooper. After the medal presentation, guests made their way to the Alumni Roof for some delectable drinks and treats, including a steak bar and make-your-own mash potatoes. Charlie Rose, accompanying Amanda, was ever so gracious to take a picture with our friend and big fan, Nancy. Meanwhile Commissioner Sadik-Khan was chatting it up for part of the night with Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives, no doubt cooking up new schemes to foil the city’s drivers. At one point, we bumped into Charles Renfro, Giuseppe Lignano and Adda Tolla of LOT-EK, as well as about a dozen other spiffily dressed folks we took for designers but didn’t happen to know. Former MAS president Kent Barwick told us he would shortly be back in action at the advocacy group, "the resident crank in the attic." "Whenever they need to know about the Peloponnesian War, they'll come ask me," he joked. And his successor, Vin Cipolla, confided in us that he has a soft spot for Solange Knowles though not Beyonce. Also, he promised big things from the MAS in the coming months, after some reorganizing and rethinking. Ron Shiffman, the Pratt professor, community planning advocate, and former city planning commissioner, got a shout-out from Kahan during his speech for being an inspiration. On the roof, Shiffman told us that he was sorry they don’t make ‘em like Kahan anymore, who, after a period of butting heads, came around to plan such path-breaking projects as Battery Park City and the Bronx Center. “You can’t do planning like he did,” Shiffman said, a note of disappointment in his voice. “Not anymore.”
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Never Surrender Admirals Row

Having lost its political fight to preserve most of Admiral's Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Municipal Art Society has hit upon a novel idea and is now focusing its energy on the developers who are vying to redevelop the old naval officers’ houses into a grocery store. The RFP was recently released for the project, and through that process, MAS is hoping to persuade prospective builders where the Army National Guard and the city were not. "We hope that our experience and information will be helpful to responders looking to create an exciting new development at Admiral’s Row that combines both new construction and the preservation of the incredibly-significant historic buildings," Melissa Baldock, a preservation fellow at the MAS, recently wrote on the group's blog. The effort seems like fighting a nuclear submarine with cannon balls, but who knows. In these cash-strapped times, a developer might look favorably upon some pro-bono design work and the imprimatur of one of the city's leading civic groups.

TMI Too Late

Earlier today, the Municipal Art Society posted an incredibly informative presentation that the group gave at the recent City Council hearings on the Bloomberg administration's plans for rezoning Coney Island. The presentation, which can be found above, pretty succinctly explains what's wrong with the city's plan, why it won't work, and alternatives--proposed, of course, by MAS--that could be undertaken. So why has this presentation surfaced so late in the process, when it will have little, if any impact on the rezoning? Rumor has it the group didn't want to rock the boat--after all, they got a warning from planning commission chair Amanda Burden--as the presentation was considered too incendiary for public consumption. Still, it make a far more compelling argument than some loopy renderings. And besides, isn't the MAS supposed to rock the boat? Jane Jacobs would be so disappointed.

Prospecting for Landmarks

Last week, Prospect Height's became the city's newest landmark district. At 850-odd buildings, it is the largest district to be created since the Upper West Side Historic District was created in 1990. Clearly, a lot of work went into the three-year effort championed by locals and the Municipal Art Society and driven largely by the nearby Atlantic Yards project and the undue development it spurred on one of Brooklyn's last unprotected brownstone neighborhoods. To highlight just how hard it is, but also what a triumph, MAS put together this thoughtful little video. Hopefully it will inspire you to do something civic minded as well on this patriotic weekend or beyond.
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A MASterwork Outing

We just got our invitation to the Municipal Art Society's annual MASterworks awards. Contained therein are the heretofore unannounced winners, as well. (You can find all four after the jump.) Sadly, the party is invite only, but it's at the new glassy, glamorous Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, so if nothing else, you can wander by Tuesday night and press your face to the glass, making puppy-dog eyes at we revelers therein. It'll be the perfect Oliver Twist/recession moment. If you're lucky/pretty, we might even sneak you in the side door. Best New Building: The Standard Hotel, by Polshek Partnership (Read our feature here.) Best Restoration: The Lion House at the Bronx Zoo, FXFowle Best Renovation/Adaptive Resuse: Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Lyn Rice Architects Neighborhood Catalyst: Times Square TKTS Booth, Perkins Eastman/Choi Ropiha (Read more here.)