Volume 20, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Feb. 22 - 28 , 2008


The ‘new N.Y.U.’ is off to a good start

As part of its long-term planning, New York University recently unveiled conceptual designs showing how the university might develop its two South Village superblocks to accommodate some of its projected 6 million square feet of growth over the next 25 years.

Top planning firm SMWM, which did the concept designs, has determined that the university’s Washington Square-area campus core and surrounding neighborhood, between 18th and Canal Sts., can absorb 3.6 million to 2.8 million square feet of additional N.Y.U. space. SMWM and N.Y.U. say the superblocks (Silver Towers and Washington Square Village) could support 2.5 million square feet of new development — almost half the total the university says it will need.

The university’s reach extends throughout the broad Downtown area and will likely increase under its new long-term plans. In addition to possibly moving into Hudson Square, N.Y.U. is also interested in opening a one million-square foot campus on Governors Island – which could help end over a decade of frustrating false starts on Downtown’s island jewel. The university’s adult learning center in the Woolworth Building has brought more life Downtown, and its move out of its Financial District dorms on Water and Cliff Sts. should be a mere blip on a hot residential market.

Lower Manhattan is reinventing itself once again with the growth of “ICE” — intellectual, cultural and educational facilities — which should be more recession proof than “FIRE,” or the financial, insurance and real estate industries that once dominated Wall St.

In general, the university under President John Sexton has exhibited a new openness and a commitment to repairing its historically strained and acrimonious relationship with the community. In that vein, Sexton and Borough President Scott Stringer recently signed new community-friendly principles to guide N.Y.U. in terms of its presence in the Village and Downtown area.

Those principles are the good work of Stringer’s N.Y.U. Task Force, composed of representatives of leading community groups, local politicians and N.Y.U.

N.Y.U. deserves credit for publicly showing its potential plans in advance of acting on them.

These are all positive, long-overdue developments.

But N.Y.U. can do better. First, the university should cap its growth in its campus core and surrounding neighborhood — at the lower end of N.Y.U.’s projections, 2.8 million square feet, so as to not overwhelm its predominantly low rise Village core. As much of that amount as possible must go on N.Y.U.’s property. This cap should include the university’s opportunistic purchases, such as its recent buying of a building on E. 23rd St. for a dorm.

The university should commit to periodic monitoring and reporting of its growth to ensure it is abiding by SMWM’s and the task force’s principles.

Above all, N.Y.U. must look to expand in “remote” locations.

Many residents oppose any further N.Y.U. expansion in the Village area, even on property it owns. For a community that has been burned so often in the past by N.Y.U.’s unbridled expansion and out-of-scale projects, this reaction is understandable, but not realistic. The best hope is for N.Y.U. to continue to develop its comprehensive plan — which aims to balance respect for the community with the university’s needs — and to keep the community involved.

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