Resilience and urban development were at the forefront of the 2013 MAS (Municipal Art Society) Summit for New York City. The timing of the summit – at the end of Michael Bloomberg’s 12 years as mayor, one year after Superstorm Sandy and 12 years after 9/11 – providing a dual focus of looking back and looking forward at both topics.
Much of the conference looked at plans and proposals for new development, especially in Manhattan. Leading the pack were NYC’s transit hubs. The proposed rezoning of Midtown East, the area surrounding Grand Central Terminal, to encourage existing buildings to be replaced with taller ones has been highly controversial, with the MAS and others wondering about the impact on livability and whether the city’s transportation infrastructure can handle it. Conversely, the MAS strongly supports redevelopment of the hated underground and labyrinthine Penn Station. Four designs, a product of the MAS’ Design Challenge for a New Penn Station and the Next Madison Square Garden, were presented.
Skidmore Owings and Merrill's proposal for the MAS' Design Challenge for a New Penn Station and the Next Madison Square Garden
Resilience took the stage (a stage which, by the way, has a highly appropriate and eye-catching – at times to the point of distraction – backdrop view down 59th Street and into Central Park), often in combination with the topic of livability. Speakers and moderators discussed resilience in terms of participatory platforms, the relationship between nature and cities, the rehabilitation of NYC’s water fronts, and projects developed by local partners working with federal programs. A commonly heard term throughout was engagement: how to involve residents and community organizations in rebuilding and resilience.
An overarching theme of the summit was the results of the fourth annual MAS Survey on Livability. As one who experienced the city through its darker days of the 70s and 80s, learning that 82% of NYC residents are satisfied or very satisfied with living in the city represents a remarkable turn around. Still more astounding, in a great way, is that 87% feel safe walking in their neighborhoods. Employment ranked as the top priority for the next mayor while 54% said rebuilding hard infrastructure impacted by Sandy was a (but not “the”) top priority. A smaller percentage (36%) felt that restoring and developing soft infrastructure (such as wetlands and dunes) was a top priority, probably reflecting the fact that many people don’t know what soft infrastructure is or what its advantages over hard infrastructure solutions are.
Since its beginning four years ago, the annual MAS Summit for New York City has become a significant touchstone for the state of the city’s built environment. Now, with the city about to get its first new leadership in 12 years, much of the conference pondered the questions of what comes next.