These days by and large when I stagger to 6pm and the end of my workday, like as not I'd just as soon shuffle home. (And that's no express hop. If I take my least stressful homeward transit route, once I board the train I get off a mere 28 stops later. But who's counting?) The other night, though, after surprising myself by remembering to look at my calendar, I was reminded that I had a commitment: the annual meeting of New York's Municipal Art Society.
This is the first time I've ever been an MAS member at the time of the annual meeting, and therefore eligible to attend. (I joined for the excellent MAS walking tours, and in fact have two coming up this weekend -- I just hold my knees hold up. Why, today I got around to poring over the April-May calendar I brought away from the meeting and signed up for four more tours.)
I get lots of e-mail from the MAS, and once I've checked out the upcoming tour listings, I often actually read about of the society's real business, which is monitoring and advocating for a host of urban quality-of-life issues. Great stuff! It seemed only logical to RSVP my attendance at the annual meeting. Besides, there was the promise of some sort of reception afterward. Although I am widely known in my admittedly narrow circle for the motto "Free isn't necessarily a bargain," the offer of free food nevertheless gets my attention.
I arrived early, as I often do -- my only weapon against the familiar horror of wheezing in late. I found a nice seat in the spacious theater where the meeting was held -- in the Times Square area, the them of this year's meeting being the miraculous regeneration of the area over the last 20 years --and tried my best not to wish I'd been able to go home.
In fact, the meeting was fine, and I'm glad I went fear of arriving late, And then talk turned to the impending annual meeting, at which there would be speeches and a panel discussion and election of new board members (who'd actually already been chosen; they were just going to be ratified) and even a reception afterward. Somehow in this telling it sounds even less interesting than it turned out to be, but the thing is, since I was a member, I got to go, and I did. And I'm not sorry I went.
For one thing, among the on-the-stage people there were a number with names I sort of recognized for their history of civic involvement. It was nice to attach faces and bodies to the names, and to see these very grown-up people really making a difference in their (our) community. During the president's talk about the society's agenda for the coming year, I actually got out a pen and jotted down the 11 items he announced for "our" Livability Watch List for the year, and it all sounded pretty darned good. Assuming I can read my notes, I could listen them for you, and I think you'd agree that they sound pretty darned good. Oh wait, I can crib them from the MAS website, which is where you'll find brief descriptions of each, with links to fuller discussions.
The MAS 11 for 2011 Watch List
The MAS 2011 Livability Watch List is a compilation of the 11 initiatives that will have the most significant effect on livability in New York City this year. As the leading organization dedicated to creating a more livable New York through intelligent urban planning and design, MAS will call attention to these 11 through advocacy work, public programming and issues monitoring.
Stay tuned to MAS.org for updates and watch for announcements on MAS programs that will explore our 11 for 2011.
1. Moynihan Station & Hudson Yards
2. The Garment District
3. Disaster Planning
4. Public Housing
5. The Bronx
6. Lower Manhattan
7. NYU Expansion
8. Changing Streets
9. PlaNYC 2.0
11. Coney Island
Serious stuff, right? Okay, in most cases you'll have to check out the website link to find out, for example, "Well, what about the Garment District, or Changing Streets?" But I do believe that a lot of people with their hearts in the right place have put a lot of time and effort into this, and come up with serious initiatives.
So it was all inspiring in its way: all these serious grown-up people devoting all that time and effort to making the city a more vibrant, livable place. I truly admire what they do, even as I know that that probably sounds like the prelude to a "but" which will lead to some bashing of what they do.
I won't bore you with an extended recap of the speeches. The keynote was given by Rocco Landesman, whom most of us know as, until recently, the head of Jujamcyn Theaters, operator of five Broadway theaters and thus one of the largest players in the city's live theater industry. He stepped down when he was named by President Obama to head the National Endowment for the Arts. And I jotted down some keywords from his speech too, which was also inspiring. Rocco was a major player in the Times Square revival -- after all, the financial health of Jujamcyn's theaters depended on lots of people wanting to come into the area, which for many years they had been not so eager to do because it had become so run-down and dangerous.
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