July 12, 2022
by: Adam Roberts
Children play on a pedestrianized street
East Harlem Play Street. Image: Municipal Art Society of New York.

Though New York City has an enormous municipal workforce, there is no single office or individual charged with coordinating the various agencies that oversee public space. This is not a problem unique to New York, though other cities have sought to fill this gap. For instance, a few years ago, Los Angeles created the position of “Chief Design Officer” to ensure a more cohesive city policy around the built environment.

Back in 2020, the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) began the campaign to create a “Director of the Public Realm.” In its report, MAS called for “a position dedicated to coordinating and marshalling this vast array of agencies to act quickly in times of crisis and think innovatively in moments of calm about long-term improvements to the health and equity of public space across the city.” Despite the need for this role, efforts to advance the proposal stalled under the previous mayoral administration.

With the start of the Adams Administration in City Hall, the campaign has jumpstarted. AIANY, along with MAS and Open Plans, are leading a coalition of many diverse civic organizations to advocate for the position’s creation. The three leaders of the coalition recently released an op-ed making the public case for why the city needs a Director of the Public Realm to coordinate between city agencies.

AIANY will continue to press forward with its partners to create this much-needed position in our city’s government. With so many new design-related policies going into effect over the coming years, ranging from Local Law 97 to a permanent Open Restaurants program, the city desperately needs a design expert to ensure these policies are properly implemented.


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