Central Park. Photo: Lucia Vazquez
If you’re a fan of the grandeur of Grand Central Terminal and prefer not having a subway line rumbling through the peace of Central Park, you have the Municipal Art Society of New York to thank. This organization, established over 130 years ago, not only aims to preserve the City’s beauty—it also spends time showing it off.
MAS’s mission is to create a city that is both functional and beautiful for residents and visitors, with the nonprofit’s advocacy responsible for some of the City’s most enduring works and policies. In the hopes of beautifying New York City “from sidewalk to skyline,” MAS helped press for the creation of the NYC Planning Commission, campaigning for the preservation of historic districts in neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights and the South Street Seaport. In 1920, MAS was even responsible for against Mayor John Hylan’s proposal to create a subway line through Central Park, unearthing papers from the original designers of Central Park, Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, that helped galvanize other preservationist groups and block the plans.
To put their advocacy into the kind of action that anyone can relate to, the Municipal Art Society established their first official walking tour in 1956. Today, visitors can learn more about the society’s efforts and conservancy through the institution’s monthly . Admire public art commissions like those in , and even . Explore the impact of the Steinway and Sons piano makers and its former company town in , or experience the of Shirley Chisolm, the first Black woman in Congress.
As well, MAS hosts the first weekend of May, an annual walking tour festival that features more than 150 volunteer-led tours across the City, balancing personal and local histories with the impact of civic engagement. Past years’ walks have celebrated topics such as LGBTQ+ bars, Staten Island insects and Native American history. The event is inspired by the work of journalist Jane Jacobs, who saved her Greenwich Village neighborhood from Robert Moses’ development plans.