Posts tagged with "Municipal Art Society":

The Architecture of Literacy in the Bronx

Join the Municipal Art Society for an exploration of literacy-related architecture in the Fordham and University Heights sections of the Bronx. We’ll look at public schools designed by Charles B. J. Snyder, and the campus designed for New York University in the 1890s by Stanford White (now Bronx Community College), with the early-20th-century tourist attraction, the Hall of Fame. Modern buildings include ones by Marcel Breuer and Robert A. M. Stern.
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Preservationists fight to block East Harlem tower with parkland label

A 68-story, mixed-use tower set to rise in East Harlem between 96th and 97th Streets on Second Avenue is facing renewed pushback from community groups, even as the New York City government seem to be in unanimous agreement over its development. While the massive, 1.3 million-square foot complex would replace the existing Marx Brothers Playground, developer AvalonBay has promised to rebuild it “piece by piece” nearby; a compromise that preservationists have found unacceptable. As the New York Times reports, the battle over 321 East 96th Street hinges on whether the Marx Brothers Playground is, as the name suggests, a playground or a park. While the distinction might seem small, developing on parkland requires approval from governor and State Legislature. Despite the name, the playground has been maintained by the city parks department since 1947 and bears a plaque on the gates stating the same. Once completed, the new development at the site would yield 1,100 residential units, with 330 of them affordable, 20,000 square feet of retail space, and 270,000 square feet for three schools. One space will be for the School of Cooperative Technical Education, a vocational school, and the other two will be extension spaces for the nearby Heritage School and Park East High School. The educational component is integral to the project, as the New York City Educational Construction Fund (ECF) is a development partner. Pushing back on what they see as the city ceding public land for a private tower, the Municipal Arts Society, along with several preservation groups and the backing of the Trust for Public Land, have filed a lawsuit on December 22nd meant to block the development. Replacing the 1.5-acre playground has the backing of the local community board, City Council, Parks Department, borough president, and former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, all of whom have argued that the additional housing and education facilities are sorely needed. “That is not your typical set of approvals,” said Alyssa Cobb Konon, one assistant commissioner at the parks department. “And I think it speaks to broader support for the project.” Still, Governor Andrew Cuomo has agreed to look into whether the Marx Brothers project would be replacing parkland, and will appoint the commissioner of the state parks department, Rose Harvey, to determine the legal status of the playground. However, as the Times notes, Governor Cuomo has preemptively given his go-ahead to the development, having signed a bill granting AvalonBay the right to begin construction if the site’s legal challenges are found to be without merit. The lawsuit comes at a contentious time for East Harlem, as the recently passed rezoning has already begun changing the neighborhood and creating more parkland.

Miracles on 34th Street

Join MAS Director of Tours Ted Mineau for a special nighttime tour of the 34th Street corridor. You may think you know 34th Street, but you will be surprised. This area of midtown Manhattan has played an important role in so many industries: retail, transportation, hotels, journalism, and entertainment, to name a few. And with plans for a new Penn Station, and the huge development of Hudson Yards, the one thing constant about this neighborhood is change. It's the perfect time of year to explore here as the holiday lights illuminate the nighttime so festively. Advance tickets and registration required.
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Municipal Art Society’s Jane Jacobs tour to be protested

[UPDATE 5/5/17, MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein issued this response to UPROSE, but as one Brooklynite put it, "Jane herself must have intervened by arranging the weather to rain out today's walking tour."]

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) will host its annual tribute to Jane Jacobs with a series of free guided tours around the city from May 5 to 7.

One of these tours, referred to by the society as "Jane's Walk," will explore the proposed Brooklyn–Queens Connector (BQX) waterfront light rail link. However, that tour is now coming under attack by local residents due to be served by the proposed rail service.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of Uprose, Brooklyn's oldest Puerto Rican community–based organization, has written an open letter protesting the walk. In the letter, Yeampierre asks: "What would Jane Jacobs do if she were alive today and learned that real estate developers had appropriated the Municipal Arts Society’s 2017 Jane’s Walk to promote a $2.5 billion streetcar that will deliberately gentrify communities for their own benefit?"

Yempierre’s letter is addressed to MAS’s new president, Elizabeth Goldstein, and asks that they rethink this particular tour. Furthermore, Yeampierre asks, "are your board members invested in these developments along this corridor? We hope there is no conflict of interest."

The light rail plan is not a simple one and MAS may be innocent, but its leadership and board has just been through a bruising battle with its own membership, a process that saw the firing of its last president. One wonders who is running the Society. They should not be sponsoring tours like this without first reaching out to the residents of the community in which the take place or pass through.

On MAS's website, a description of the event reads: "All of the MAS-sponsored walks combine the simple act of exploring neighborhoods with personal observations, local history, and civic engagement. A typical walk is 90 minutes and is free and open to the public."

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MAS members in revolt

The membership of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) is clearly in revolt against their elected Board of Directors. The board, however, seems determined to avoid this unhappy group or confront members' allegations of mismanagement. A contentious meeting last night, called by the members and held at Manhattan's Scandinavia House, brought out all the tensions brewing inside the 123-year-old-organization. Board member Christy MacLear claimed she expects people to act up “as we are an advocacy organization” but she was not aware until yesterday of the level of membership unhappiness and was surprised there was an attempted coup. The Architect's Newspaper has reported on the ongoing problems in the society and in an editorial last month we wrote that “[we] agree with the City Club that it is time for the MAS board of directors to be more transparent about its actions, change how it views its fiduciary responsibilities, and rethink its board structure and decision-making process.” MacLear’s "coup" reference comes from a letter read at the meeting by Anthony Wood, on behalf of a core group of many active members (AN received a copy of this letter in an email.):
"To help ensure the success of our new president and help her avoid the fate that befell her predecessors, I move the following: Be it resolved, that because of the handling of the recent change in leadership and other actions by the Officers and Executive Committee of the Municipal Art Society, the members of the Society cast a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the Executive Committee and the officers (with the exception of the new President who is technically an officer) and respectfully request their resignation from the Board.”
The motion was seconded but ultimately the MAS Board member running the meeting would not let it come to a vote. They correctly claimed “there are not enough members as per the bylaws which states there must have 10 percent of the membership or 100 people in attendance so they could entertain the motion.” The organization claims it has 836 members, but for at least the last two weeks the MAS website membership page has been down so prospective members were unable to join and older members who had not paid their dues were turned away from the meeting at the door last night. In addition to Christy MacLear, the only other board members in attendance were Carl L. Reisner and Earl D. Weiner, the legal counsel. The Board, however, organized the meeting and had weeks to prepare for it but only had four of its 20 board members in attendance. Board Chairman Frederick Iseman and treasurer Vincent Cippola were not at the meeting and this outraged many members. In fact, Maclear seemed left out to dry by the board members and she was left to confront the angry membership in attendance. She could also not answer many members’ questions: How many board members are actually dues-paying members of the society? Why is the once-heralded Menapace Fellowship is no longer active? Why did the board vote to dismiss former president Gina Pollara less than a year into her tenure. Many of those in attendance were dismayed by MacLear’s frequent references to “the market"—her words for the civic community. So what happens next with MAS? There will be the annual meeting in May, but this future-focused event is traditionally not the appropriate venue to highlight problems. Let’s hope the board begins to take its membership concerns seriously. It may be time, as many members are asking, for the New York State Attorney General to investigate malpractice within the nonprofit and in the Board of Directors.
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MAS to hold “Special Members Meeting” on the organization’s leadership

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has announced that it will hold a "Special Members Meeting" on March 7 at the Scandinavia House "for the sole purpose of discussing our recent change in leadership." The meeting is being called because of demand by at least 25 of its members; as per its bylaws it must hold the meeting. But, according to our sources, this announcement is a 'Hail Mary pass' to deflect the real reason for the meeting, which is the unhappiness among MAS members regarding the actions of the board in firing its director, Gina Pollara. The members are apparently hoping that at the March meeting they can pass a resolution of “no confidence” in the existing MAS officers and Executive Committee. These sources tell The Architects Newspaper (AN) that they are not hoping to reinstate Pollara but to increase the chance that new president of the MAS can succeed in rebooting the organization. The meeting can only be attended by dues paying members of the society, so watch the AN website on March 8.
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Can the Municipal Art Society save itself?

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has a proud history but today is a broken organization. It was founded in 1893 to modernize and professionalize city government, and in the 20th century it led the charge for better planning and historic preservation in the city. In the society’s “glory days” of the 1960s and 70s it helped save Grand Central Terminal, Radio City Music Hall, and the Jefferson Market Courthouse in Greenwich Village. It also helped win passage of the city’s landmark law. But its own website stops listing its achievements or milestones in 2012 with the convening of a planning group studying East Midtown. Since that time, the organization has sputtered to remain relevant, making controversial decisions and reinventing itself in a changing city. In a 2015 editorial, we wrote, “What was once one of the fiercest and most devoted New York City organizations that would litigate when it thought the best interests of the city were threatened, has now become a defanged real estate and developer-led organization that serves as a cheerleader for major development.”

In retrospect, the beginning of this period of uncertainty started when it moved out of the Urban Center in the Madison Avenue Villard Houses and received a multi-million dollar settlement for leaving before its lease expired. It then moved into the Steinway building on 57th Street until it was paid again to leave that building early and received yet another financial settlement. While any nonprofit would be thrilled to receive huge financial gifts like this, the MAS board relied too heavily on these on windfalls and did not continue to raise the money needed to keep the organization strong. Then, in 2014, it moved into another larger (but much needed) space in the Look Building on Madison Avenue, where the rent is a reported $600,000 a year. The board, while it has had several generous members, stopped raising the funds needed to keep the organization healthy and robust. Furthermore, it did not continue to develop a board of directors with the appropriate mix of well-connected advocates and wealthy contributors.

But financial issues are not the only problem for the MAS and its board of directors. Over the last month, we have been reporting on the board’s decision to fire its third director—President Gina Pollara—and hire yet another leader: Elizabeth Goldstein from the California State Parks Foundation. We reported on an open letter from the City Club, another civic organization (with many former MAS leaders in its leadership) that asked the board to “to defer any action with regard to President Gina Pollara,” because, it continued, to “move forward with this action would be an unhappy step backward and a display of internal governance disarray at MAS.” But the letter also asked the MAS board to “consider an independent review of governance and management structure accepting one of the following alternatives to pursue: appointment of a balanced committee of emeritus directors; retention of an outside professional consultant (such as McKinsey); or consultation with an experienced non-profit organization professional.” We agree with the City Club that it is time for the MAS board of directors to be more transparent about its actions, change how it views its fiduciary responsibilities, and rethink its board structure and decision-making process.

Finally, the MAS board has not only mismanaged its mandate to stand up for New York but should explain its management of the Gina Pollara presidency.

According to sources, Pollara asked the board when she began her term to give her a year to re-engage with the community that they depended on for funding and memberships. In the year of her presidency, she reportedly brought in nearly $1 million to the society. Pollara seemed be on track to making this happen after she canceled “The MAS Summit,” its largely irrelevant two-day non-event of tweets and advertorials for MAS board members and their friends. Instead, Pollara created a successful (and less expensive to convene) one-day summit that engaged with and discussed important and controversial issues in New York in 2016. The board has been mysterious about why it fired Pollara, and while it doesn’t have to explain all of its decisions, hiring yet another president makes one wonder if the members are serious about continuing to be a civic organization worthy of respect—and financial support. We hope Goldstein can make the society respected and relevant again, but she has serious bridges to build in the New York preservation and planning communities. And she has to have the ability to work with its board.

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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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Gina Pollara out at the MAS

The Board of Directors of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has apparently ignored the pleas of many of its members and fired its president Gina Pollara. The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) reported on the board’s decision to call a special meeting over this holiday week to consider replacing Pollara. AN also reported on a parallel campaign organized by the MAS's dues-paying members that sought to convene a special meeting in order to discuss these possible actions. Furthermore, a letter issued by The City Club of New York directed at the Board President Frederick Iseman asked MAS to “defer any action with regard to president Gina Pollara [as] such a decision would be a disservice to the citizens of New York and to MAS itself.”   With its decision today, the MAS board has ignored these pleas. Instead, the MAS board issued a statement on its website announcing that Elizabeth Goldstein will become its new president in February. The City Club’s letter further asked that the board consider “an independent review of [its] governance and management structure, accepting one of the following alternatives to pursue: an appointment of a balanced committee of emeritus directors, retention of an outside professional consultant (such as McKinsey), and consultation with an experienced non-profit organization professional. Today's press release by the MAS board makes no mention of any of these requests by the City Club or Pollara and focuses only on the naming of a new president. Here is a full transcript of today’s MAS statement:
Dear Friends of MAS, We want to share some important information about the future of this extraordinary organization and its essential role fighting for the responsible growth of New York City. The Board believes it is fundamentally important that we continue to strengthen MAS’ position as a central player in shaping this city’s future. MAS will continue to be an advocate for all those who love New York and understand that the pursuit of great design, preservation and livability requires both vigilance and action. Elizabeth Goldstein, nationally-known as a tenacious and remarkably effective advocate for parks, open spaces and historic preservation with deep roots here in New York, will become the next president of MAS. Elizabeth will assume her new role in February, following a brief transition period that will be overseen by our CFO, Bob Libbey. Elizabeth’s appointment was approved at a meeting of current board members and emeriti yesterday. Elizabeth grew up in the Soundview neighborhood in the Bronx and was a central player in New York’s parks, recreation and historic preservation sector for more than a decade. She served as director of planning for the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and later as New York City regional director of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, where she oversaw the start-up of Riverbank State Park and served on the panel that developed the public-private land use plan for Hudson River Park. Following a move to the West Coast, for the last 12 years Elizabeth has been the president of the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF), an independent organization dedicated to protecting, enhancing and advocating for California’s 279 state parks. The Foundation is tasked with building awareness about the parks system and its needs—with special focus on legislative and policy advocacy—and raising private funds for state parks projects in partnership with non-profit organizations that support the system. Elizabeth raised nearly $20 million for key capital projects, lobbied the California legislature to secure $90 million in deferred maintenance funding, and built and led coalitions that prevented closures of state parks and turned back incursions like energy lines and toll roads into state parks. Under her leadership, the Foundation dramatically increased its membership and doubled its operating budget. Prior to her role at CSPF, Elizabeth managed San Francisco’s 5,400-acre recreation and park system and initiated and executed a $400 million capital plan. That followed a tenure as the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Western Regional Office, where she managed National Trust programs in California, in addition to eight other states and two U.S. territories. The Board believes Elizabeth’s extensive experience as a passionate and forceful advocate, as well as a results-oriented executive and successful fund-raiser, make her an exceptional choice to lead MAS forward. We are very proud of the work the MAS staff has done over the past year to position MAS for success in its upcoming 125th anniversary year and beyond. As we look ahead to the future, we want to take the opportunity on behalf of the Board to thank you for your ongoing support of MAS and its advocacy on behalf of all New Yorkers, working to ensure a vital future for this great city. We could not do this important work without you. All the best in the New Year. On behalf of the Board of Trustees of The Municipal Art Society of New York, Frederick Iseman, Chairman of the Board Christy MacLear, Chair, Executive Committee of the Board
 
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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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New online map reveals wealth of underused land in NYC

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has debuted an interactive mapping tool that uses public information to display thousands of city-owned and -leased parcels. Viewed as a whole, the maps reveal a hidden geography of underutilized assets that comprise a land area the size of Brooklyn. The MAS Public Assets: City‐Owned and Leased Properties (Public Assets) report subdivides 14,000 properties (43,000 acres) citywide by key land use issues: infrastructure, landmarks, the environment, rezonings, and population. Remarkably, the city classifies an area roughly double the size of Central Park as having "no current use." The full report can be accessed here. "City-owned means citizen-owned; New Yorkers deserve to know that we collectively carry the cost, but also potential profit, on land holdings as large as Brooklyn," said Gina Pollara, president of MAS, in a statement. “These findings raise serious questions about whether our city's available property is being appropriately leveraged for civic benefit. True equity in the city’s planning and land use decisions can only be achieved through an informed and engaged public.” 64 percent of the properties are within the 100-year floodplain, and 247 are state targets of environmental remediation. Consequently, MAS is asking the city to implement flood-protection measures for the properties, take care of the landmarks, and make better use of its assets in low-income, low-density, rezoned areas, and areas eligible for rezoning. Using information from the New York City: MapPLUTOTM V15.1. and City Owned and Leased Properties 2014 (COLP dataset), MAS charted agency control; property for lease or sale; zoning regulations and development potential; and current uses of the city's land (subdivided into current use and underutilized). MapPLUTOTM has information on land use and at a tax lot level, while the COLP dataset draws from the Integrated Property Information System (IPIS), a real estate database run by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). More information on the maps can be found here.
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Municipal Art Society’s “Public Assets” summit explores who truly owns public space

This year's Municipal Art Society Public Assets summit (taking place November 15) focuses on the most important issue facing New York City in 2016: Who owns and controls public space? But unlike past MAS summits, which were little more than sound bites on the glory of the city and pay-to-play advertorials, this one begins with a provocative and on-point statement:
A healthy, dynamic, and inclusive city depends on the protection and promotion of what is collectively ours—parks, open space, libraries, museums, streetscapes, infrastructure, views, and other intangible resources—upon which our quality of life depends. We will be asking the questions: “What are public assets? Why do they matter? Who decides?”
The day-long event, which is open to all MAS members, features several of the city’s most important urban thinkers including Adam Gopnik, Michael Sorkin, Fran Lebowitz, architecture professor Diane Lewis, and many more. This the first major initiative of the Society’s new director Gina Pollara and as she strives to make it once again a relevant public voice for the city.