Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

New York City State of the City Speech tonight and MAS use of the event as an organizing and media push

The Municipal Arts Society is a citywide organization in New York City that is focused on maintaining and enhancing quality of life in NYC, although its foundation as an organization rests on historic preservation and preservation of the city's landmarks and neighborhoods.

Tonight is the State of the City speech by Mayor Bill de Blasio and MAS is utilizing this event as a way to call attention to the priority issues identified by the organization as major concerns, which are divided into three categories; Citywide, Neighborhood, and Places.

MAS isn't parochial like so many organizations can be in that they do address issues through a citywide lens. They have a long history of doing so--the organization is more than 100 years old.

New York City is fortunate to have many civic organizations focused on the city. MAS plays a unique role along with a small set of like-focused organizations (Regional Plan Association, Center for an Urban Future, Citizens Union Foundation, and others) in how they address issues at both breadth and depth.

-- 2015 MAS Watchlist (pdf)


Penn Station
The busiest transit hub in the western hemisphere is over capacity, underfunded, and in need of an upgrade. But long-overdue improvements are beyond reach unless Madison Square Garden—which shares the site with Penn Station—either relocates or provides more room for commuters. Penn represents the challenge of finding resources—and the will—to fix our crumbling, aging infrastructure.

Vanishing Local Retail
Keeping the streets affordable to a mix of businesses benefits all New Yorkers. The trend of beloved institutions shutting their doors—the Subway Inn, Rizzoli Bookstore, Café Edison, etc.—speaks to the market pressures and regulatory obstacles that threaten smaller, independent businesses. If these businesses cannot thrive in New York, then we risk undermining the economic diversity that makes the city so successful and dynamic.

Rent Stabilized Apartments
The future of almost one million apartments in New York City will be decided in Albany this year, as legislators negotiate the renewal of the rent stabilization law. This is not the only housing policy that will be decided upstate — the renewal of the rent control law and the 421-a tax abatement are also on the 2015 legislative agenda.

LPC Reform
The Landmarks Preservation Commission faces a backlog of almost 100 buildings and sites. Many of these items have been with LPC for decades, without any final determination on their landmark status. It is now up to the preservation community to address the backlog, and take steps to update and modernize the landmarking process moving forward.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority Budget
The MTA needs $15 billion to fund critical capital improvements. This year, Albany must identify ways to pay for these improvements and ensure our transit system is equipped to accommodate the growing number of commuters. All options are on the table, from tolls on the East River bridges to multiple fare hikes to the agency selling off key real estate assets around the city.


East Midtown
Following the decision by Mayor de Blasio to move forward on rezoning East Midtown, this year will see the Vanderbilt Corridor and One Vanderbilt project completing public review, and a new proposal for the larger East Midtown district taking shape. How these different projects evolve will have long-lasting impacts on the one of the city’s most important business hubs.

The area surrounding Cromwell and Jerome Avenues in the Bronx is the first of three neighborhoods that the City will rezone as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York Plan (the other two neighborhoods being East New York in Brooklyn and West Flushing in Queens). The plan calls for 200,000 affordable housing units within ten years, which will require unprecedented collaboration between developers, advocates, and the City.

South Street Seaport
The Howard Hughes Corporation is proposing big changes for the South Street Seaport, including relocating the landmarked Tin Building, adding a canopy to the new Pier 17 building, and introducing a controversial 42-story waterfront tower. What is unclear is how the developer’s proposals will address the post-Sandy reality of rising sea levels, climate change, and the federal funds already allocated for the resilience project known as The Big U.

Similar to the cluster of supertowers along 57th Street, several projects will be changing the Flatiron’s skyline. Developers are already planning three 50-story towers just four blocks south of the Empire State Building and directly north of the Madison Square Historic District. Such rapid development underlines the need for thoughtful planning, especially around our landmarks and open spaces.


The Archdiocese of New York
Last year, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it would “consolidate” its network of 376 parishes in response to rising operating costs and shrinking congregations. This is the latest example of a trend among houses of worship looking to sell off coveted land and historic buildings to make ends meet, causing waves in development and preservation circles.

Hudson River Park: Pier 55
The Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation announced a $100 million gift to Hudson River Park Trust to build “Pier55”—a new public park and performance space on Manhattan’s lower west side—as well as a commitment to cover the new park’s maintenance, programming, and operations costs for the next 20 years. This project is one example of how park administrators are creating new open space through public-private partnerships.

Brooklyn Public Library
BPL has partnered with Hudson Companies to build a 20-story condo building on the site of the current branch library at Cadman Plaza. This joint venture will provide BPL with a more modern library on the ground floor, as well as an additional $40 million to be put towards maintaining and restoring other libraries in the borough. This innovative project is part of broader trend of leveraging development to pay for civic assets.

American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History recently proposed an expansion of their facilities to create new spaces for exhibitions, labs and events. Similar to other museum expansions in the city like the Frick, AMNH will face extreme scrutiny, given the high profile of the museum and the fact that the expansion would result in some loss of park space.

Bronx General Post Office
Young Woo & Associates is seeking to redevelop the Bronx General Post Office at the Grand Concourse. The developer has already submitted plans to introduce new office space, retail, restaurants, a rooftop terrace, while preserving the WPA-era murals in the building and a US Post Office presence. This creative re-use could serve as a test case for other underutilized post offices around the city.

Times Square Plaza
This fall, the City will complete its Snohetta-designed renovations of the Times Square pedestrian plaza. This as policymakers grapple with the issue of how best to govern these new public spaces. Last year, the City Council proposed a bill to license the costumed characters in Times Square as a way to prevent bad behavior from the occasional Elmo, Batman, or Cookie Monster. While that bill seems to be on hold for the moment, the pedestrian plaza conversation continues.

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