Thursday 29 March, 2012

Update: Resistance to NYU 2031 Expansion Heightens

Illustrative Rendering of the Greene Street Walk, Part of the NYU 2031 Expansion Plan. © NYU

The contenders: NYU and the Greenwich Village community. Let Round 2 commence.

Almost two years after we first brought you news about NYU 2031, NYU’s plans for expansion in Brooklyn, Governor’s Island, and (most controversially) in Greenwich Village, and the fight has not only continued, but escalated. A debate, hosted by The Municipal Art Society of New York, two nights ago brought about 200 NYU affiliates and community residents together, but only spatially; there was a considerable lack of willingness to compromise from either camp.

NYU’s plan, thought up by Toshiko Mori Architect, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and Grimshaw Architects, has ruffled feathers mostly for the fact of its bulk. The 2.5 million square-foot development (1.1 million of which would be underground) is the largest ever proposed for the Village, and has drawn criticism for its potential to diminish light, greenery, and open space in the neighborhood.

Proposed Super Blocks Conditions, Part of the NYU 2031 Expansion Plan © NYU

NYU maintains that the expansion, which includes two “super blocks” (the size of nine normal blocks) and two crescent high-rise apartments, is vital if the University is to remain a competitive institution that can attract talent from all over the world. Hilary Ballon, architectural historian and deputy vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi, had this to say at the debates: “It’s essential for a thriving university to grow. If we don’t take steps now, we won’t be ready for the future.”

However, many have pointed out that students come to NYU for the very low-rise, neighborhood charm that would be potentially disrupted by these plans. The resisters describe it as an “out of scale” project that would “gobble up” the Village’s “Bohemian charm” and destroy its local “essence.”

NYU’s proposed site plan (3D schematic) © The Metropolitan Art Society of New York

While the area could use a revitalization, what is truly needed, according to The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, is open, green spaces. Kimmelman’s article takes a needed mediatory stance and suggests how the plans could better serve both NYU and the community at large:

  1. Veto the crescent towers in favor of a park for Villagers and students.
  2. Let NYU tear down its Coles Sports & Recreation Center in favor of its proposed multitower building, the Zipper (which includes a pedestrian thoroughfare).
  3. Approve the dormitory built atop a public school that could potentially serve as a landmark beacon for the site.

Illustrative Rendering of View on Mercer Street, Part of the NYU 2031 Expansion Plan © NYU

If NYU is willing to incorporate these changes is uncertain. The University has already presented its plans to the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who will suggest recommendations on April 12.

Whether NYU decides it’s time to go back to the drawing board or to dig in its heels, we’ll keep you posted on how the plans develop.

Proposed Superblocks, Part of the NYU 2031 Expansion plan © NYU

Time Line

May 2010 – NYU proposes NYU 2031 Expansion Plan.

November 2011 – NYU delays plans to seek city approval in order to gather more public input.

March 27, 2012 – Debate, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, gathers urban planning experts and the local community board to discuss the plans.

April/May 2012 – The City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and vote on the plan.

June/July 2012 – City Council will vote to approve the plan or not.

NYU’s proposed development site as it exists now © The Metropolitan Art Society of New York

Photos With permission from The Metropolitan Art Society of New York or taken from the NYU 2031: NYU in NYC site.

References (in chronological order)

Farley, John. “Planners Engage in Polite Combat Over NYU Expansion.” Metro Focus. March 29, 2012. <>

Bernstein, Fred A. “Experts Debate NYU’s Controversial Expansion.” Architectural Record. March 28, 2012. <>

Hlavenka, Jacqueline. “Panelists Call For Alternative Plans for NYU 2031 Expansion.” March 28, 2012. <>

Kimmelman, Michael. “It Riles A Village.” The New York Times. March 22, 2012. <>

Maas, Jennifer. “Washington Square Park Champion Deborah Glick Squares Off Against NYU’s Expansion Plans.” New York Observer. March 26, 2012. <>

Berger, Joseph. “N.Y.U.’s Plan for Expansion Draws Anger in Community.” The New York Times. March 9, 2012. <>

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