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
Posts tagged with "Municipal Art Society":
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.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
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.
Courtesy MASThe Municipal Art Society’s mission claims that it “fights for intelligent urban planning, design, and preservation through education, dialogue, and advocacy in New York City.” But while it still engages in a dialogue of sorts, it seems to have lost its fight for a fight. The society was founded in 1893 as a better government organization in the wake of the City Beautiful movement and boasts of its “decades of advocacy” that include defeating proposals by Mayor John F. Hylan to build the IND subway within Central Park, as well as the Music and Art Center on its south edge. MAS also helped halt the demolition of Tweed Courthouse, Radio City Music Hall, and most famously, Grand Central Terminal. 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 like Barry Diller and Hudson River Park Trust’s Pier 55. It is always a balancing act to create a board of directors in a nonprofit that needs to raise funds, but the MAS’s recent leadership has handed the organization over to the real estate industry, who it in turn “honors” in its fund-raising benefits. When it decides to take a controversial position it is usually something like their weak stand against Mayor de Blasio’s idea to take pedestrian plazas out of Times Square. Several weeks after every editorial in the city publicly came out against the plans, the MAS finally opposed the crazy scheme. When it came out and testified in support of the super tall One Vanderbilt Avenue project, its former directors must have sighed a collective “Oh no!” It has not taken a difficult or controversial stand in recent memory, choosing to act instead as a cheerleader for development throughout the Bloomberg administration. Instead, the society spends its time and money organizing meaningless sound bite events like their summits for New York City, which encourage attendees to tweet out their thoughts and give advertorial stage-time for new digital start ups and developers of projects it wants to support. One wonders what comes out of these really meaningless events—except the appearance of having done something. In addition, the MAS once supported fellowships that worked on substantive planning and preservation issues that have been dropped. Its Ralph C. Menapace Fellowship gave new law school graduates an opportunity to acquire firsthand experience in the legislative process and litigation and advocacy before New York’s regulatory bodies. Members of the New York preservation community talk about the importance of the fellowship in providing important research to committees, agencies, and commissions. This was something that truly benefited the preservation community, but the leadership of MAS quietly abandoned the program. In retrospect, the problems with MAS leadership should have been apparent in 2010, when it decided to move out early from its long-term lease at Madison Avenue’s Urban Center—which it helped establish—to private offices on 57th street. No one can blame the group from wanting to cash out early from its lease, but the Urban Center was such an important public space (with the city’s only architecture bookstore) that has never been replaced. In the meantime, another better government organization—The City Club—has reformed (with several former MAS leaders) to take up the slack created when MAS decided to not take any positions controversial to the real estate industry. The Club is the group behind the opposition to the Pier 55 development that MAS supports and promotes. The MAS is currently seeking a new director and a change in leadership, which could not have come at a more important time for preservation efforts in the city. With development speeding along at pace rivaled only by the 1920s, the historic fabric of the city is threatened in new and more powerful ways. We have never needed an organization like the MAS more than at the present moment. Let’s hope it finds a new leader not just with vision, but the steely resolve to take controversial stands when they are needed to defeat proposals that only benefit the real estate community and not the larger city.
For over 120 years, the Municipal Art Society has been an important organization in New York City's efforts to promote a more livable environment and preserve the best of its past. It's successful preservation campaigns and advocacy for better architecture—such as its advocacy to rebuild a better Penn Station—are well known. Now the organization has announced its annual MASterworks Awards, and of the nine buildings selected this year as honorees, many are in Brooklyn, confirming that borough's continuing upgrading evolution. The Weeksville Heritage Center (Caples Jefferson Architects) has won the top honor, “Best New Building,” while “Best Restoration” goes to the Englehardt Addition, Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory (Scott Henson Architect). The “Best Neighborhood Catalyst” award will be given to the BRIC Arts Media House & Urban Glass (LEESER Architecture), and “Best New Urban Amenity” will go to LeFrak Center at Lakeside (Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects). Brooklyn Bridge Park (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates) will be recognized as “Best Urban Landscape.” Additionally, this year’s MASterworks also recognized two new design categories. “Best Adaptive Reuse” will be awarded to The Queens Museum (Grimshaw Architects) and the NYC DDC Zerega Avenue Emergency Medical Services Building (Smith-Miller Hawkinson Architects) will take home the award for “Best New Infrastructure.” Finally, “Best Green Design Initiative” honors will be given to Edible Schoolyard at P.S. 216 (WORKac) and P.S. 261 School and Community Playground (SiteWorks Landscape Architecture). The MASterworks Awards, recognize projects completed in the preceding year that exemplify excellence in architecture and urban design and make a significant contribution to New York’s built environment.
The Municipal Art Society (MAS) has announced that New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has been awarded the 2014 Brendan Gill Prize. The award will be officially presented by MAS President Vin Cipolla and Board Chair Genie Birch on March 25th. The annual cash prize is named in honor of the late New Yorker theater and architecture critic. "Michael’s insightful candor and continuous scrutiny of New York’s architectural environment is journalism at its finest, and in solid alignment with the high standards of Brendan himself,” MAS President Vin Cipolla said in a statement. The jury was particularly impressed with Kimmelman’s calls to drastically improve Penn Station.
The Municipal Art Society (MAS) is accepting nominations for the 2013 Brendan Gill Prize. Each year the MAS presents the honor, which carries a cash prize, to a creator of a work of art from the past deemed to embody the spirit and energy of New York City. Former MAS chairman Gill spent more than 60 years as a critic of architecture and theater for the New Yorker and the prize was established in his honor in 1987. Past winners within the field of architecture include Louis Kahn and Michael Van Valkenburgh (pictured). MAS will be accepting nominations until January 6, 2014. (Photo: Courtesy MAS)
At the National Design Awards Ceremony at the White House on September 20, Michelle Obama confessed that Barack really wanted to be an architect—but he wasn’t talented enough. This was recounted by Henk Ovink, senior advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, at the 4th Municipal Art Society (MAS) Summit, held October 17-18 in New York City. During the event, the themes of Innovation and Leadership heralded the upcoming New York mayoral election and the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. The Summit is a testing ground for MAS’s current and future work, and there couldn’t be a clearer indication that this institution has moved beyond the shadow of its most historic achievement—the saving of Grand Central Terminal—decades ago. MAS’s commitment to New York as a livable, globally-competitive city that is socially, economically, and environmentally resilient—note that last watchword—is a hallmark of President Vin Cipolla’s leadership. In more than 40 sessions over 2 days, here are some of the highlights of the Summit. Talks by foundation presidents Judith Rodin (Rockefeller), Darren Walker (Ford), Rip Rapson (Kresge), and Stephen Huddard (McConnell) allowed us to hear priorities straight from the top of the funding chain. Rodin spoke about the Rockefeller's recently announced “100 Resilient Cities” initiative whose winners will receive technical support for urban resilience over three years—there’s that word “resilience” again—while Walker, in his first public outing as president, talked about the difference between equity and equality in the Just City. Rapson noted that Detroit was dealing with vacant land the size of San Francisco, and Hubbard highlighted the innovative SVX social financing scheme in Canada, and sticking to theme, lauded a conference called “Art of Resilience, the Resilience of Art.” The dilemma about what to do with the problematic Penn Station: possibilities, financial options, and locating Madison Square Garden were discussed and debated. Panels were enhanced by presentations by four architecture firms invited by MAS to imagine a new station complex: H3, DS+R, SOM, and SHoP. A heavy-hitter real estate panel representing such firms as Hines, JDS, and Brookfield (noticeably, this men’s panel followed a female panel “Redefining Social and Economic Value in the Age of Sharing” featuring Etsy, Airbnb, Mesh Labs) was contrasted with Brandon Jenkins’s Popularise, a bottom-up real estate model launched at the vibrant H St. NE in Washington, DC. In “New Ideas for the Next Administration,” Carol Coletta (Knight Foundation, formerly ArtPlace) posed questions to panelists who were each magically were transformed into the next NYC mayor. One of the new leaders proposed NYC-only visas for teachers and professionals. Another new mayor, Eddie Torres of the Rockefeller Foundation reminded us that NYCHA would be the 11th largest city in the country (in a separate presentation, NYCHA talked about plans to develop it’s “vacant” property, i.e. parking lots and green spaces into public and private housing. And speaking of public housing, Richard Sennett referred to growing up in Chicago’s notorious and now demolished Cabrini Green). The rousing Richard Saul Wurman (TED founder, Access guides) presented his latest project, the cartographic cloud-based “Urban Observatory.” It allows direct visual comparison of cities, using the common language of data ranging from climate, age distribution, air quality, traffic, crime statistics, electricity and more, that can be an enormously useful tool for urban planners as well as inhabitants. Shohei Shigematus of OMA showed the firm’s provocative redefinition of mixed-use high rises which he says have become a generic “Bento-box” assortment of functions. They’ve posed alternatives in Sao Paolo, Santa Monica, and Miami Beach. And for ingenuity, how MAS’s Mary Rowe’s citation of Occupy Sandy’s use of Amazon’s wedding registry to get Hurricane Sandy victims the goods they actually need.
The Municipal Art Society recently commissioned and released four versions of a re-imagined Penn Station. It commissioned Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to prepare drawings of what a new terminal would like for the busiest train station in the country. It has now come to light that actually a fifth concept was prepared but not presented at MAS's "press conference." The design by the firm Michael Sorkin Studio builds on MAS's legendary 1970s protest against the destruction of Grand Central Station. In that protest Jacqueline Onassis famously joined forces with other powerful Manhattanites to stop a proposed Marcel Breuer high rise slated to be built above and across the southern front of Grand Central. Sorkin's proposal would build on Breuer legacy and move the Current Madison Square Garden from 33rd Street and place it atop Mr. Vanderbilt's Grand Central that he claims would give the Dolan family—owners of the Garden—a "highly accessible new site for MSG." Hugh Hardy (H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture) in a widely circulated email has called for a wider discussion of his and the other proposals so that "informed public discussion and analysis will lead to recognition that the large scale problems presented by Penn Station require large scale thinking and funding." If this does not happen he warns, "these ideas could easily be dismissed as “pie in the sky.” In reality we have at least fifteen years until a new station can even begin construction and Mr. Sorkin's garden in the sky has as much to offer as the other four designs. Let the informed public discussion begin.