Tuesday, July 13, 2010

You may have seen recent news coverage of air quality problems on the Upper East Side. According to the New York City Community Air Survey, our neighborhood has particularly high levels of sulfur dioxide as a result of heating oil burned for fuel. You can read the New York Times article here. CIVITAS is teaming up with the Environmental Defense Fund and other neighborhood organizations to address this problem.

Please join us for Clearing the Air on the Upper East Side, a panel discussion to raise awareness of pollution caused by heating oil and guidelines for converting from “dirty” oil (No. 4 or 6) to cleaner burning options, including No. 2 oil or natural gas. A panel of experts will provide practical resources to apartment owners, building managers, and co-op board members about costs and incentives for converting building infrastructure, as well as information about current city policies and initiatives to improve air quality. A reception will follow for more informal discussion of the issue.

The event will take place:
Wednesday, July 21, 6:30pm
Doyle New York, 175 East 87th Street

Registration is required. Free for CIVITAS members, $5 for nonmembers. Email info@civitasnyc.org to register.

Statement before the Landmarks Committee of Community Board 8
in Support of Proposed Designation of the Park Avenue Historic District
Between 79th and 96th Street
June 14, 2010

CIVITAS supports the nomination of Park Avenue between 79th and 96th Street to be designated a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places and as a New York City local historic district.

Park Avenue is one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares and is well regarded for its central median, lined by stately apartment buildings, low-rise nineteenth century buildings and houses of worship. Yet almost half of the avenue on the Upper East Side is not protected by landmark status. Except for a few blocks of Park Avenue located in the Carnegie Hill Historic District, most of this corridor between 79th and 96th Street does not fall within a New York City historic district.

Park Avenue is best known as a twentieth century streetscape as it rose to prominence in the 1910s and 1920s. Yet it has a significant nineteenth century layer as well, including several buildings that pre-date “Park Avenue” itself and were constructed when this thoroughfare was known as Fourth Avenue, before the railroad tracks were covered. The avenue’s predominant scale – 12-17 story apartment buildings that follow a uniform street wall—is mostly protected under the Park Improvement special zoning district. But this offers no protection to the nineteenth century layer, which is increasingly threatened. At least two of these structures have been demolished in recent years.

The architectural character of Park Avenue is not just about scale. The architects who designed many of the proposed district’s greatest buildings—George and Edward Blum, Rosario Candela, J.E.R. Carpenter, and others—followed a relatively uniform bulk in designing the luxury apartment houses. Much of the designers’ individual expression is articulated through architectural details, such as windows, decorative medallions and door surrounds. The structures present a wonderfully eclectic face to the avenue, evoking Renaissance Revival, Art Deco and Georgian references. Designation of Park Avenue as a New York City historic district will protect those details for future generations to enjoy.

As part of our support, CIVITAS raises the following issues for consideration by the United States Department of the Interior, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

First is the historical condition of the Park Avenue median. When the railroad tracks were covered in the 1880s and the landscaped median was created in the 1910s, it was a wide park with seating and meandering paths located in the middle of the avenue. Over the course of the twentieth century, the median has been whittled down to its current width, a “park” meant to be looked at but not entered and enjoyed. As the current movement in New York City continues to reclaim green space and public space in previously overlooked spaces, we would like to see additional thought given to restoring Park Avenue to its historical plan and configuration with a public park in its center. Designation as a National Register or New York City historic district should call special attention to the avenue’s original plan and not act as an impediment to possible restoration of the median.

Further, there is much discussion on the local and national level devoted to incorporating energy efficient components into historic structures. Preserving the “embedded energy” expended in constructing the historic buildings on Park Avenue represent the greenest approach there is, but we would like to see continued dialogue between the preservation and environmental communities to support eco-friendly upgrades that respect the aesthetics and historic integrity of Park Avenue’s buildings.

We encourage the United States Department of the Interior, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to move quickly in designating the Park Avenue corridor between 79th and 96th Street.