New York University’s vibrant presence in the Village, its diverse and creative student body and faculty, and its commitment to the civic culture of New York make it one of the city’s genuine treasures. The university also has managed the not-insignificant trick of expanding its presence while acting as a good neighbor should.
For that reason, New Yorkers should support NYU’s ambitious expansion plan, which would add some 2.2 million square feet to the campus and could well be one of the largest development projects in the neighborhood’s history. The university clearly is determined to prepare itself and the community not simply for the next generation of college students, but for generations not yet born, students who will lead the city and nation into the 22nd century.
That sort of vision, thankfully, is very much in vogue in New York these days. Mayor Bloomberg’s successful competition to develop a new engineering school in the city set in motion a plan that not only will bring even more top-flight students to New York, but will help generate billions of dollars in economic activity. The city’s resurgence over the past 15 years has allowed politicians, planners and developers to think big and to think long-term.
NYU is doing precisely that. Some neighborhood residents have begun a campaign to block the university’s plans, and perhaps that is inevitable. Change can be difficult, especially at the neighborhood level. But without change, without creative development, and without the ability to reimagine and reinvent itself, New York would have become a museum—Venice on the Hudson—decades ago.
Unfortunately, the local community board doesn’t quite see it that way. Board members voted unanimously several weeks ago to recommend that the City Council reject the university’s expansion plan. The Council will have to rule on the plan because it involves rezoning, a process over which the Council has authority. Opponents argue that the plan will damage the low-rise character of much of the neighborhood.
There’s no question that the plan to build four new academic buildings and dorms will have an impact on the community. But, as NYU’s previous expansions have shown, that impact inevitably will improve the neighborhood while also making the university even more attractive to students from around the world. That’s no exaggeration, as any stroll through Washington Square Park will confirm.
It’s important to bear in mind that the university’s expansion will take place on property that the school already owns. The new buildings would rise where two NYU-owned housing complexes already exist. And, frankly, neither Washington Square Village nor University Village is the sort of housing stock associated with the Village’s low-rise charms.
It’s no secret that NYU has become one of the nation’s hottest schools, thanks in no small part to the city’s resurgence since the early 1990s. NYU has benefited from and contributed to that resurgence. Its expansion plan will continue to move the university—and the city—forward.