Municipal Art Society Partnership Ties NYC to Global Cities

The recently adopted NYC green zoning text amendment allowed solar panels to be installed on virtually any building, among other energy reducing initiatives. As a partner with the World Urban Campaign, the Municipal Art Society will share NYC's sustainable urban planning agenda with cities around the world. Photo courtesy of Tree Hugger.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT) — which promotes humane housing in towns and cities through socially and environmentally sound practices– released a report that claims by 2050, 89 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean will live in cities. The report encouraged the region’s cities to pursue forward-thinking planning strategies, particularly to accommodate the urban poor.

While New York City underwent an extensive slum eradication process more than half a century ago, UN HABITAT thinks that New York urban planners might have valuable input for developing cities around the globe.

At the beginning of August, the Municipal Art Society joined UN HABITAT’s two-year-old World Urban Campaign, an international network of public and private partners  dedicated to sharing best practices for more sustainable cities.

“The thing we’re interested in here [at the Municipal Art Society] is that we really believe cities are changed and affected by individuals, individuals who care about the way that a neighborhood is changed,” said Mary Rowe, urban fellow with the Municipal Art Society.

The 119-year-old Municipal Art Society is best known for its very local roles in historic preservation, zoning advocacy and its nascent Summit for New York City (October 18-19), a two-day conference on sustainable infrastructure that attracts high-profile academics, architects and planners. But the Municipal Art Society says their work on these topics can be related to other nations.

“One of the big issues that everybody is facing is climate change and the way we can organize our settlements and how much greenhouse gas we create,” said Dr. Eugenie L. Birch, chair of urban research and education in the University of Pennsylvania’s design department, chair of the Municipal Art Society, and co-chair of the World Urban Campaign, which came out of the UN’s biennial World Urban Forum conference.

Children walk near the Jacare River at the Manguinhos slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On August 22, UN HABITAT released a report on the state of Latin American cities and their and future options. AP/Victor R. Caivano.

“The Forum has become the preeminent conference on all things urban. People come together at these events to exchange notes and learn from each other about the problems and opportunities offered by urbanization,” UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director Dr. Joan Clos said in a written statement.

The next World Urban Forum takes place in Naples from Sept. 1-7, and Dr. Birch will be in attendance, representing the Municipal Art Society.

“We can contribute all the phenomenal work that’s been done on PlaNYC, the green buildings legislation,” said Birch. “There are tons of things happening in New York right now that are best practices and we need to share.”

And the UN HABITAT’s media campaign will also reach New Yorkers.

“At the moment we’re promoting their “I am a City Changer” program,” said Rowe, “and on Oct. 18 and 19 we’re doing the Summit for New York City. For us that’s really the premier forum for discussing ongoing livability issues in the city.”

During that third annual summit, MAS will release its third annual Survey on Livability, which reports New Yorker’s perceptions, concerns and experiences.  The survey captures a wide variety of information, but regarding housing, the 2011 survey suggested much disgruntlement. More than half of the residents of the Bronx and Brooklyn disagreed that the quality of housing in their neighborhood was good to excellent, and as did a near 50 percent of Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island residents.


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