On April 25th, several hundred people turned out for the City Planning Commission’s one scheduled hearing on the NYU’s massive proposed Village expansion plan. The turnout was so great that the hearing lasted from 10:30 am until 8pm, with many waiting several hours for the opportunity to speak. The overwhelming majority of attendees were opposed to the plan, with Village residents, and NYU faculty, students, and graduate workers well-represented among the opponents.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) was there to call upon the Commissioners to vote against the plan. The basic premise for NYU’s request is that the university needs additional space and facilities to function and stay competitive, and that the facilities they want to build in the Village must be located within a 10 to 15 minute walk of their other facilities around Washington Square. NYU argued that their expansion is necessary for New York’s economic health, and that the Village would benefit greatly from this expansion.
However, GVSHP submitted several studies to the Commission which refuted these claims. GVSHP hired an outside firm, Gambit Consulting, to study the relative economic and environmental impacts of NYU’s proposed Village expansion and compare it to the impacts if the expansion were located in one of several suggested alternative locations such as the Financial District, Downtown Brooklyn or Long Island City, all of which are easily connected to NYU’s main campus by mass transit, have been targeted for large-scale growth by the city, and have business, cultural, or other resources that would be an asset to university facilities.
The study found that, in many respects, while NYU’s growth would have economic benefits for New York City, the city as a whole would benefit just as much, no matter where in the city the expansion is located. However, the study found, the Village would derive relatively little economic benefit from the expansion, while these alternative locations would benefit much more from such an expansion. Additionally, the report found that the proposed Village expansion plan, because it seeks to build underground, on valuable open space, and between existing residential buildings, would have a severely negative environmental and quality of life impact. Furthermore, it would have a particularly large carbon footprint and would harm the remaining open space as well as the designs of the University Village and Washington Square Village complexes, both recognized by the New York State Historic Preservation Office as meeting the criteria for listing on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. At alternative locations, by contrast, the study found that such development could be significantly greener with fewer environmental impacts and run less of a risk of detracting from residential quality of life.
GVSHP also conducted its own study of how other colleges and cities have dealt with planning for growth by universities located in older, residential neighborhoods. We found that in cities across the country, the establishment of satellite campuses as a way to deal with university growth was a successful model which prevented oversaturation of historic residential neighborhoods, while serving as a valuable economic development tool which spurred development of neighborhoods cities had targeted for large scale growth or redevelopment. Examples include Brown, Harvard and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
In response to NYU’s claim that their facilities must be located within a 10 to 15 minute walk of one another, GVSHP also studied the geographic distribution of facilities by colleges across the country. We found in case after case that colleges large and small routinely spread their facilities out over areas vastly larger than the 10 to 15 minute walk NYU claimed was essential, and typically closer to the distance between the Village and the Financial District. Most of these other schools, however, did not have the benefit of mass transit systems that allowed travel between these locations in 5 to 10 minutes by subway, as NYU does.
Finally, GVSHP revealed that a study we conducted of NYU faculty housing in the area NYU is asking to overturn zoning rules to allow them to construct more faculty housing, found that NYU has actually been warehousing and eliminating hundreds of faculty housing units, thus significantly contributing to their supposed need for new housing. GVSHP documented, through Department of Buildings records and census figures, that NYU is actually keeping dozens of faculty housing units empty for protracted periods of time, and has eliminated nearly 200 units of faculty housing permanently by combining existing units into larger and larger combination “super apartments,” sometimes composed of what were previously three or four apartments. As a result, GVSHP’s study found that between 2000 and 2010, the census tract where NYU is seeking permission to build millions of square feet of new buildings, including faculty housing, actually had the largest population drop, the largest increase in vacant housing units, and the largest decrease in the number of units of any census tract in the Village or East Village.
All of these reports can be found in their entirety on GVSHP’s website at www.gvshp.org/nyu under “Reports & Analysis.”
The City Planning Commission will vote on the NYU plan sometime before June 6th. If approved, from there it goes to the City Council, which also must approve it in order for it to move ahead.
GVSHP urges Village residents and all concerned about the impact of NYU’s massive proposed Village expansion plan to write to city officials urging them to reject the proposal. Sample letters with contact information, which can be sent electronically, faxed, or mailed, can be found at www.gvshp.org/nyultr.