For tonight’s topic about development, Maria Torres spoke on behalf of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), and Lisa Kersavage for the Municipal Arts Society of New York (MASNYC).
NYCEDC is a quasi-governmental agency that manages properties on behalf of New York City. The organization is under the authority of the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Redevelopment, who is himself, of course, under the mayor’s jurisdiction. NYCEDC’s work is double-pronged, involving both physical and also economic transformation, both toward the goal of promoting New York City’s economic vitality. An example of the physical aspect is iNYEDC’s work to revive New York City’s infrastructure, which was notoriously poor in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Economically, the organization has worked to diversify New York City away from the financial services industry, which the city has depended on and has consequently been economically vulnerable. Another of NYCEDC’s goals has been to modernize industries–the media, the financial industry, the fashion industry, and others–for the 21st century. A third example of NYCEDC’s economically-oriented work is in entrepreneurial initiatives. After conducting a survey to investigate what budding city entrepreneurs needed most for success, NYCEDC started a fund to provide businesses with capital and also helped supply office space for companies. Additionally, the corporation conducts entrepreneurial training programs.
Though both are NYC development organizations, NYCEDC and MASNYC greatly differ. The contrast was clear even in the dress of tonight’s speakers–Ms. Torres’ from NYCEDC with a suit, appearing very much the businesswoman, Ms. Kersavage from MASNYC with a more informal top decorated with flowers. The significance will become apparent in a moment.
But first, I should describe MASNYC. Beginning with work in the late-1800’s to beautify the city and encourage public art (such as the small monuments present throughout the city–hence the name Municipal Art Society), MASNYC is now involved in many public planning projects, engaging both in education and in advocacy work. Some examples of the projects the organization has been involved in are the demolition of the original Penn station (MASNYC opposed it, though unsuccessfully) and the Times Square revitalization (MASNYC promoted it–advocating especially for keeping the flashy signs and billboards characteristic of 42nd street).
Three chief goals of MASNYC are: 1) promoting a sustainable NYC; 2) planning for all New Yorkers; and 3) place-making and visioning. Ms. Kersavage gave three example to illustrate the organization’s activities: Moynahan station, Coney Island, and Atlantic Yards/Prospect Heights. Moynihan station is about a proposal to build a new train station in place of the old Penn Station that the city shoved underground, and where Madison Square Garden now stands. One “used to enter like a god, but now scuttles in like a rat.” The organization has worked with Senator Moynihan by creating visual models for what the new station might look like, conducting research studies about its feasability, and other activities.
Both MASNYC and NYCEDC worked in planning for the redevelopment of Coney Island. Whereas NYCEDC focused on the development of the whole neighborhood–through the creation of housing, amenities, and parks, for example–MASNYC centered on the neighborhood in its historic cultural role as a center for entertainment. This illustrates an important point, also evident above from the Times Square example–one of MASNYC’s primary concerns is promoting the city’s personality and culture. The work of both MASNYC and NYCEDC are to some extent complementary, the one focusing on the economic, the other on the cultural. No doubt, though, this is a simplification of both organizations’ goals and activities.
Both Ms. Torres and Ms. Kersavage spoke about community-level involvement and its importance. Ms. Torres encouraged us to be involved in our communities and stressed the community feedback NYCEDC always sought in its activities. Ms. Kersavage’s presentation, though, conveyed MASNYC’s community involvement more effectively. The presentation was replete with video clips and montages of community-level work. In Coney Island, MASNYC conducted community level workshops for Coney Island residents to express their ideas for how to improve the area. In the Atlantic Yards project, the organization worked with community members of nearby Prospect Heights and produced an application on residents’ behalf, focusing and drawing out the community’ energies to resist interference in their neighborhood from the Atlantic Yards project. One of the community’s goals was to have the neighborhood given a protected designation as an historic district. The effort, fortunately, was a success.
All in all, both speakers were informative and presented different–and sometimes opposing–aspects of development in New York City.