Debate on both sides of the incendiary NYU expansion plan—NYU 2031—continues as the plan remains in limbo until voted on by City Council in July. The proposal passed the City Planning Commission 12-1, with Michelle de la Uz being the sole holdout against NYU’s controversial plan, which has come to be known as “Sexton’s Plan” after NYU President John Sexton.
(by Alissa Fleck)
City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden described the grueling review process in a press statement:
“Throughout the public review process, including more than 10 hours of testimony at the Commission’s public hearing, we heard strong support for NYU’s need to grow and modernize its academic core in order to remain a globally competitive institution and economic anchor for New York City,” said Burden. “We also heard deep concerns from many stakeholders, including the community and local elected officials, regarding the scale of the proposal, and the project’s potential effects on residents’ quality of life.”
NYU described modifications made by the Commission to the original plan in an email to University students following its approval. These modifications, intended to reduce the project’s scope and size, included the elimination of a temporary gym, some dormitory space, below-grade (underground) academic space, a hotel and commercial overlay. The Commission also introduced reductions in the height and size of proposed Mercer St. buildings as well as construction phasing changes on the Washington Square Village superblock, preserving a key playground until at least 2027. These modifications are still subject to review by the City Council.
The NYU website details the project’s ultimate breakdown of uses: “approximately 65% for academic purposes, 10% for faculty housing, 17% for mechanical systems and replacement parking, 4% for the new public school and 3% for retail.”
Support for the plan is varied and far-reaching. In a letter initially advocating for the plan, Sexton wrote: “Space is required to create a vibrant intellectual community in all senses of the phrase, with teachers and learners in proximity to each other, ready and willing to engage with other thinkers and doers throughout the city.”
Outspoken public advocates include the deans of numerous of the University’s schools, faculty members, individual students, administrators, leaders of other institutions of higher learning, local businesses, various nonprofit organizations and individuals, such as trustees and alumni. While the NYU website lists many of these supporters, less than one third of faculty members have actually chosen to publicly speak out on the plan. Those who have aligned themselves in favor of the plan frequently represent departments in need of expanded space.
President of Columbia University Lee Bollinger, who testified at the April public hearing in support of the plan, explained at a certain point an academic institution begins to suffer without the necessary space, and when the institution suffers so does its value to the city and society.
One former Resident Life Leader, Emily DaSilva, spoke in the support of the plan, saying expanded resources are needed to promote student safety, as the departments in charge of this are currently stretched thin. Student supporters, a handful of Resident Assistants in particular, overwhelmingly agreed the plan would be good for community-building. NAACP President Hazel N. Dukes said the plan would provide a much-needed boost to the economy.
A section of NYU’s website devoted to the plan stands in support, urging students to “tell elected officials NYU’s expansion plan is good for New York,” while many faculty members still oppose it.
WNYC News reports a large number of faculty members are worried about environmental factors, while many of them live in the proposed construction zone. At least 34 NYU departments have voted for resolutions to oppose the plan, the article says.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) also remains staunchly opposed to the plan, despite the modifications. In a collaborative statement between GVSHP members and NYU faculty against the expansion, they stated the public simply did not have sufficient information to make a meaningful assessment of the plan. The environmental impact has not been properly addressed, they argued. Executive Director of the GVSHP Andrew Berman said his group would continue to fight the plan, including lobbying City Council.
“We have already hit the City Council with literally thousands of letters from New Yorkers, NYU faculty and civic leaders urging Councilmembers to reject the proposal,” said Berman. “The City Planning Commission hearing on the NYU proposal was the longest in its history; we expect the turnout for the Council’s hearings to be equally historic.”
De la Uz cited the plan’s vagueness and insensitivity, and a concern over affordable housing, as a reason to vote against the plan in the Commission review the Architect’s Newspaper reported.
Near the site of the proposed expansion plan and general Washington Square Park area, students seemed more or less oblivious or indifferent to the plan. Of six individual students surveyed across grade levels and programs, one had never heard of the plan, and five had no opinion. The fact that it’s summer and many programs are not in session may have played a role in student feedback.
UPDATE: The union representing NYU’s 1,400 clerical workers has come out against the NYU 2031 plan, and is urging the City Council to vote against it.
The City Council will hold its public hearing on the plan on Friday, June 29th. There will be a rally on the steps of City Hall at 8:30 am prior to the 9:30 am hearings.
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