New York’s Forgotten Master Planner: Rediscovering the Legacy of George McAneny
October 20, 2016
New York’s Forgotten Master Planner: Rediscovering the Legacy of George McAneny is the first in our “Unsung Heroes” lecture series focusing on the lasting, though perhaps forgotten, legacies of significant figures in New York City’s preservation history.
Since the publication of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker over 40 years ago, public discussion of the shaping of New York has been dominated by the impact of that book’s subject, Robert Moses. But during much of Moses’s lifetime, the City’s most celebrated planner was a man who is little remembered today: George McAneny (1869-1953).
In this lecture, Charles Starks, research fellow at the New York Preservation Archive Project and teacher of urban studies at Hunter College, explored McAneny‘s distinct legacy, illuminating past and present conflicts over planning and preservation. Afterward Starks was joined by Manhattan Borough Historian Michael Miscione and Anthony C. Wood, founder and chair of the Archive Project, in a discussion on the lessons that McAneny‘s work holds for the City’s changing built environment today.
George McAneny had an extraordinarily diverse and consequential career as a public official and advocate. He was elected Manhattan Borough President and President of the Board of Aldermen, and led, at various times, the City Club, The Municipal Art Society, the Regional Plan Association, and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, among other groups. McAneny was responsible for the construction of half of New York City’s subways, sponsored early urban renewal efforts, helped preserve landmarks such as City Hall and Castle Clinton, and conceived many of the instruments of planning and historic preservation that the City, region, and nation still rely on.
Because 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the City’s first zoning resolution–an early fruit of McAneny‘s long campaign to plan and regulate development–it is a fitting time to reconsider his significance as a planner, preservationist, and New Yorker. This lecture is the culmination of Stark’s research on McAneny, which was funded by the New York Preservation Archive Project. Starks drew on material from archives around the region to unravel the complex legacy of the man whose heavy-handed tactics ripped through the City’s ethnic neighborhoods in the 1910s, but who was lauded as a hero a generation later for saving the Battery and helping found the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A complete monograph by Starks on McAneny is available in the “Resources” section of Archive Project’s website.
This program is co-sponsored by the New York Preservation Archive Project, The Municipal Art Society, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, the Manhattan Borough Historian’s Office, the Historic Districts Council, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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