A rich study of the role of the Municipal Art Society in the urban planning and development of New York City throughout the...

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SHAPING THE CITY: New York and the Municipal Art Society

A rich study of the role of the Municipal Art Society in the urban planning and development of New York City throughout the 20th century. Commissioned by the Municipal Art Society to tell its tale, Gilmartin (co-author, New York 1930, not reviewed) documents its many trials and tribulations throughout its 100-year history. While sometimes poking gentle fun at his subject for its stodginess, the author traces the evolution of the MAS from its idealistic beginnings (when its goal was to provide ""adequate sculptural and pictorial decoration"" for public spaces and buildings and to further the cause of Beaux-Arts architecture and ""civic virtue"") to its emergence in the 1960s as one of the leading forces behind the architectural preservation movement. After the birth of Greater New York in 1898 (the incorporation of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island into the city), there was concern about issues that continue to plague the city today: congestion, noise, pollution, and traffic. The MAS was involved in numerous civic debates regarding, among other things, the development of a subway system that would be accessible to the outer boroughs; the rise of bridges; tunnels that would link New York and New Jersey; the eventual establishment of the Port Authority; and zoning laws. Gilmartin examines the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing and introduces the leading players -- philanthropists, artists, architects, scholars, Tammany Hall politicos, and the long-reigning urban czar Robert Moses. What emerges in this account is the MAS's instinct for survival, its ability to adjust to the changing demands of urban society while at the same time navigating a complicated system where art, politics, and government collide. Gilmartin, to his credit, moves quickly from topic to topic -- no minor feat in a long volume so crammed with information and anecdotal detail. Lacking cohesiveness and closure, this good-natured account doesn't quite add up to the sum of its fascinating parts.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995