Plans for a new Penn Station and Madison Square Garden at the historic Farley Post Office building remain as murky as ever. But a recent poll undertaken by the Municipal Art Society (MAS) suggests that Penn Station commuters overwhelmingly favor the prospect of a grand new train station--but they need more information. If and when the project proceeds, who will keep watch over the three mega-developers (the state-run ESDC, along with private companies Related Group and Vornado Realty Trust) to make sure the new-generation Station and Garden turn out better than the last one?
MAS is one of the only groups so far to organize an public advocacy campaign to influence the redevelopment process. Just how this campaign will work is unclear, but the opening shot may be seen at the New Penn Station website. Gothamist checks in with MAS President Kent Barwick, a 40-year advocate for enlightened city planning in New York, about the new initiative.
How important is the outcome of this project to the future of New York, compared to other large projects on your radar?
This is probably the most important transportation project on the agenda of New York, and has the most promise for the future. We think the redevelopment of Penn Station as Senator Moynihan envisioned will be the greatest catalyst to the Far West Side. It is as important to the development of the West Side as Grand Central Terminal was to Midtown.
Among the public agencies, elected officials, and private developers, who wields most control of this project?
We hope the authority resides with the Governor. It's a public-private partnership, and requires the cooperation of lots of agencies. But the most important player is the State of New York.
How should the public get involved in order to have a voice in the planning process?
Our poll showed there was not as much knowledge as one would have thought. The public cannot really be involved until the government shows us what the plan is. We insist the plan be made public and reviewed by the public before the major decisions are made.
In the 1970s, MAS helped lead the campaign to save Grand Central Terminal from demolition. Although the Penn Station campaign is not the same kind of struggle, what lessons about public advocacy might be useful to revisit?
Several years before the Grand Central preservation campaign, the Municipal Art Society and other groups and individuals tried to save the old Penn Station. People didn't really get it. But with Grand Central, there was an enormous public response. Not only in New York, but all over the country. We got letters from Iowa saying "Keep up the good work," with $5 enclosed. I think the public was involved in an important way.
Could the Penn Station project mimic the rushed planning of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, which also was led by the ESDC and a large developer?
I think the Atlantic Yards project is a good example of how not to involve the public. There was no city review. This was all under Pataki. We're optimistic that Governor Spitzer's administration will approach this project in a different manner.
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