Posts tagged with "Municipal Art Society":

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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.
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A panel discussion will explore controversial legislation that would lift NYC’s FAR cap on residential development

The Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has just announced A Closer LOOK, a new series of in-depth conversations focusing on important issues facing New York City. The first public initiative of MAS's new President Gina Pollara, A Closer LOOK's first session will focus on the recent proposed amendment to New York State's Multiple Dwelling Law that would remove the FAR cap on residential development in New York City. The amendment is intended to increase density and expand opportunities for affordable housing. However, this legislation created an uproar in neighborhoods all over the city; the proposal was tabled in favor of greater public review. However, the meaning of this proposal and its deferral have significant implications for the city's future and its pressing need for more affordable housing. This—and other important questions—will be the focus of A Closer LOOK's first session. The invited guests include: Moses Gates, AICP, Director, Community Planning and Design, Regional Planning Association George Janes, Founding Principal, George M. Janes & Associates Senator Liz Krueger, New York State Senate, 28th District Michael Kwartler, President, Environmental Simulation Center Gina Pollara, President, The Municipal Art Society Carl Weisbrod, Chairman, New York City Planning Commission A Closer LOOK will take place at The Look Building, 488 Madison Avenue, Suite 1900 on September 19th. The schedule will be: 6:30 PM Doors Open 6:45 PM Keynote by Senator Liz Krueger 7:00 PM Panel Discussion 8:00 PM Q & A 8:30 PM Event Ends For more details on how to attend, contact: info@mas.org.
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Letters to the Editor> Readers respond to AN’s Municipal Art Society editorial

Editor's Note: In The Architect’s Newspaper’s December issue, editor-in-chief William Menking published the editorial, “What Happened to the Municipal Art Society?” In it, he questioned MAS’s commitment to architecture and New York City, saying: “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 de-fanged developer and real estate–led organization that serves as a cheerleader for major development projects…” Many of you responded and we are sharing a few letters below. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email editor@archpaper.com. I was the executive director of the Municipal Art Society (1975 to 1984) when the idea of locating a space where we could have our offices and also be able to have public programs was suggested by board member Fred Papert in 1976. The MAS Board at that time was chaired by Brendan Gill with Doris Freedman as president and, immediately seeing the possibilities of bringing our urban design and preservation concerns to a broader public, they got behind the idea enthusiastically. The MAS was founded in 1893 and had always been a group of enthusiasts inspired by the City Beautiful movement. For decades it didn’t have a full-time staff, and its projects were led by board members who were architects, lawyers, philanthropists, civic activists, and people who had influence with government agencies. At the time, our offices were located on the remote 45th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. We were looking for a new home that would be as different as possible. There was a real estate depression in Manhattan, so there were endless possibilities available. I looked at about 50 East Side locations from 35th to 65th streets. We could even have bought a whole—semi-decayed—building in Midtown for $650,000. Then we learned that the North Wing of the Villard Houses might be available and were excited by its possibilities. At 51st and Madison the location was at the crossroads of the city. We approached the Helmsley Organization, which owned the buildings (on land owned by the Archdiocese of New York). What emerged after a period of negotiation was an initial lease for approximately 25 years, with relatively small escalations, starting at about $2.00 a square foot, and another 25 years of optional extensions with periodic escalations to market rents. I signed the lease for the space in 1977 with Harry Helmsley, who evidently didn’t think it had much potential. While searching for the real estate, I did a survey of all of the citywide land-use organizations to determine which ones would be compatible with MAS in housing their offices in the building and sharing the public spaces for gallery exhibitions and public meetings. There were more than ten such nonprofit organizations, but some were far too large to fit, while others did not want to leave where they were. We finally ended up with the Architectural League, the Parks Council, and the New York AIA, which acted as an umbrella for the planning and landscape organizations. Then, as a way to keep the relationships open with all of these organizations, Doris Freedman suggested that MAS create an informal breakfast club to which only the top official of each of them was invited to meet monthly and share intelligence on development proposals before various city agencies. When the Urban Center project started, the MAS was raising its funding month by month. It had no endowment and almost no cash on hand. On the strength of the concept of an Urban Center (totally original at the time) we raised the funds (nearly a million dollars) for the renovation for programming. We finished the work in the fall of 1979 for the offices, the public spaces, and Urban Center Books (which was funded entirely by Joan Davidson and the J.M. Kaplan Fund.) We and our nonprofit sub-tenants were all subsidized by our commercial tenants. The National Trust for Historic Preservation held its annual meeting in New York in late 1979, and we were able to open the doors of The Urban Center in time to welcome them. It is interesting that MAS, an organization with a passionate, involved board, a tiny staff and no financial strength at the start, could carry off such a grand plan. It was the only organization that perceived the vacuum in unified civic leadership and undertook to fill it. The pioneering donors like CBS, Brooke Astor, Mobil Oil, and the National Endowment for the Humanities took a big leap of faith to back the effort at the beginning. In its time, The Urban Center did much to balance the combined strength of the real estate community and the public agencies with the concerns and desires of local citizens and enlightened professionals. The MAS organized and managed The Urban Center in its thirty years of existence with a lively program of exhibitions, presentations, bookstore, and celebrations, as it became a destination and meeting place for design professionals and students from all over the world. It is still missed by many. Margot Wellington, Urbanist I did not recognize the Municipal Art Society described in the December 11th Editorial. As a partner for the past three years in improving the safety, health, and prosperity of Brownsville, Brooklyn, MAS has brought attention to preservation, livability, and resilience concerns that it and other outer borough neighborhoods, particularly those with the highest rates of poverty, have long needed. In its work with residents and organizations in Brownsville, MAS has combined the best of its advocacy tradition with emergent tools and smart urban strategies aimed at helping local residents thrive. It’s an impressive evolution for an organization that continues to stand fundamentally for a more inclusive city. Rosanne Haggerty, president of the Community Solutions/Brownsville Partnership I worked up there. I learned about “social loafing,” which I teach in my management courses. Val Ginter, former MAS Tour Guide I worked, consulted, and partnered with the MAS for many decades and think you may have underestimated the value of the work it has been doing over the past years. For credibility, I was the professional advisor to the legendary MAS Time Square Competition recently revisited at the Skyscraper Museum. More recently, during my term as president of the AIA New York Chapter, I partnered with the MAS and the Architectural League on a public forum addressing the then immediate and contentious future of the American Folk Art Museum. But the most important work the MAS has been doing is related to the future of the city, the region, and the globe starting with its immediate and intimate involvement with the post-Sandy activities. The MAS was present at the 20 agency meeting at the AIA NY Chapter and was central to the HUD/RBD activities and runs right up to the recent Urban Thinkers Campus and organizing of programs like the critical multi-agency, multi-institutional one held recently at the National Museum of the American Indian dealing with the ever more critical issues of Climate Change. Not to recognize the importance of these activities is not giving credit where credit is due. Yes, we all look forward to a new home for the MAS and to robust new leadership, but this should not eclipse the contributions MAS is making while these new opportunities are being addressed. Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, Architect Your article is on target. The MAS is currently a sad situation given its long and distinguished history. For more than a century, MAS acted as advocate for zoning, planning, and historic preservation. It has since the 1950s provided first-rate public programs and tours to help the public reach a greater understanding of both planning and preservation issues. The Historic Districts Council has filled the preservation advocacy vacuum for the entire city and is more in touch with the issues and concerns all residents than MAS, which is generally perceived as “Midtown Manhattan- centric” and a “blueblood” organization. The HDC is responsible for so much fine work, but lacks the high profile of MAS. However on other issues such as planning and zoning, there is still is an important gap to be filled by MAS which was able to make the transition over the decades from a “City Beautiful Movement” organization of the 19th century concerned with “Municipal Art” to a dynamic advocate for rational zoning, planning, and preservation and the education of the citizenry in these issues through the 20th Century. I truly hope MAS can continue and find their way in the 21st. John Kriskiewicz, Architectural Historian Points well taken. We need a watchdog and you remind of us of the former and important role played by the MAS. Anthony Alofsin, Architect I joined MAS in the past year, and was asked to serve as chair of the preservation committee in the last six months. I feel the responsibility to respond to your article. This committee’s focus is the basis for the formation of MAS nearly 125 years ago, so the weight of the position was not lost on me. In taking stock of our preservation activities I came away with an external view, which was consistent with what you are saying. However, the internal evaluation yielded a different result. From an outside perspective, MAS had stepped away from the active preservation forum. We were not walking the halls nor shouting out loudly or early enough. We had lost direct touch with our constituents when the Urban Center was closed. However, in my internal research I learned that MAS became spread thin, overcommitted financially, and carried hefty legal bills to fight these fights. The outgoing director dedicated much of his tenure to streamlining programs, reducing costs and creating a fiscally viable organization. He focused on organizational health and moved us from reactive battles to proactive planning. If there was a loss of voice, I do stand by a leader who created focus and organizational health. My recommendations were to increase our financial commitment toward staff in preservation; to get into the fight earlier; to use new tools to engage a broader audience; and to support the broad array of smaller preservation organizations. Those recommendations were supported by the Board. And so, this fall we hired an experienced, highly respected preservation professional to support our efforts. We have formalized our areas of focus—Penn Station, supertalls, East Midtown, landmarks, and loss of character in neighborhoods across our five boroughs. Considerable planning has gone on in these core areas for the past three years. As we appoint a new president, MAS has a huge opportunity to be owned by all who care about its work. Many of the most frustrated voices are also those who have been a part of our history and care deeply about the Society. The sweep of a century has moved from no preservation to our first preservation policy, to tools that allow us to merge preservation with design planning. Through the leadership of a new President, the Board, our staff, and members, MAS is committed to an ambitious future for the city, which includes the fundamental importance of preservation. MAS has a huge opportunity to become owned by all who care about its work and thus drive the agenda. It is a membership organization and ownership should grow to encompass ALL New Yorkers. Christy MacLear, executive director at Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Has MAS lost its fight? An important question, but we could equally ask: “Have we lost our fight?” William Menking’s editorial poses a question that the media, advocacy organizations, and the profession itself should be asking. As an example, AN itself used to be known for publishing the latest gossip from the upper boardrooms of design and architecture, aiming to break down walls. But controversy is hard to sustain. For both not-for-profit and for-profit concerns, the fight seems to be for relevance. The many organizations that are committed to what makes New York New York, struggle with how to inspire New Yorkers to fight the continuing loss of variety in our city and its places. The struggle plays out through individual fights for buildings and larger fights for policy change, but what remains lacking is investment in and support of a platform to coordinate, combine, and focus these efforts, large and small. In our own experience, MAS sponsored The Next 100 initiative to communicate what was at stake for Grand Central. Since the teams presented these architectural visions in 2013, there has been almost no reaction and certainly no sign of a larger movement galvanizing interest around campaigning for any of the elements of the visions proposed for Grand Central and its district. Is this because we don’t see projecting a vision and building excitement about the future as a critical part of the preservation battle? Or maybe it is too hard to accept, that we need to work on the battles you cite, as civic issues that bring together organizations and their resources. Claire Weisz, FAIA, principal, W X Y architecture + urban design
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Governor Cuomo unveils ambitious plans to overhaul New York’s Penn Station

The lead-up to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address feels like a government-backed encore of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Instead of lords a-leaping and swans a-swimming, Cuomo brings infrastructure upgrades a-plenty in his 2016 Agenda. The governor promised funds to the Gateway and East Side Access tunnels, the Javits Center, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, the MTA (wi-fi a-comin'!), and an airport on Long Island. Arguably the biggest proposal is the Empire State Complex, a $3 billion redevelopment of New York City's Penn Station and its surroundings. The plan seeks to make Penn Station, which sits beneath Madison Square Garden, less of a hellhole—nice, even. Built to accommodate 200,000 daily riders, the station now serves 650,000 people per day. Channeling public sentiment, the governor ripped on Penn Station in his announcement. "Penn station is un-New York. It is dark, constrained, ugly, a lost opportunity, a bleak warren of corridors. [It's] a miserable experience and a terrible first impression." The governor's plan calls for enhancing connectivity between the station and the street; providing wi-fi; and reducing congestion by widening existing corridors, creating better wayfinding, and improving ticketing areas. As hinted at in previous proposals, the massive, neoclassical James A. Farley Post Office, at Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, could be converted into the "Moynihan Train Hall," a sun-drenched waiting area for Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and MTA passengers. A pedestrian tunnel underneath Eighth Avenue will connect the train hall with the main station. With this 210,000-square-foot addition, the size of the station will increase by 50 percent. The governor reviewed possible redesign scenarios. In one, Madison Square Garden Theater would be demolished to make way for a block-long entrance to Penn Station, facing the post office. In another, a glassy entrance, with skylights, would be constructed on 33rd Street. The street would be closed and converted into a pedestrian plaza. A third, more minimal scenario would add entrances at street corners and mid-block. In 2013, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) hosted a competition to rethink Penn Station. MAS highlighted designs four firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—for an improved Penn Station. In addition to improved passenger flow, each proposal imagined the station as a civic hub and neighborhood anchor. The governor said that this would phase of the project would be completed first. The rest of the overhaul could be complete by 2019, an amazing feat in a city where infrastructure improvements can drag on for decades. The Empire State Development Corporation, the MTA, Amtrak and the LIRR will parter with private developers to spearhead the project. $2 billion will go towards the Empire State Complex, while $1 billion will go towards "retail development" on 7th and 9th avenues. $325 million is expected to come from state and federal governments. The rest of the project will be privately funded, in exchange of revenue generated by commercial and retail rents. Cuomo will be issuing invitations to private developers, with an April 2016 due date. Currently, Vornado Realty Trust manages land around Penn Station, though it's unclear whether this relationship will continue.