Maybe This Town Is Big Enough

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Columbia isn’t the only university set on expansion in New York. NYU has decided to make a bit of a ruckus with the residents of the Village for the past couple of months with their proposal to develop 2.5 million square feet of new infrastructure over the next twenty years. Their plan, which they’ve called NYU2031 in honor of the year that marks the university’s bicentennial, includes a host of other changes, like expanding academic buildings to Governor’s Island and Downtown Brooklyn and reconfiguring its medical campus in Midtown. But, it is the construction in the Village, a historically political (and now affluent) area of the city–the very neighborhood where NYU resides–that faces the school with so much opposition.

Unlike Columbia’s expansion, much of NYU’s proposal relies on it building on the land it already owns, land some would argue it has the right to develop. This makes the development more palatable for Village residents who have demanded that the university “build on its own footprint.” But doing so isn’t enough for some residents who feel they have a claim to the open space . Michael Kimmelman, the NYT’s architecture critic writes:

The most radical part of what N.Y.U. wants is to construct two tall, crescent-shaped towers, 400,000 square between them (the architecture is still notional) on the 1.5 acres of open space between the two apartment slabs of Washington Square Village. Beneath that open space, in lieu of the current parking garage, the university wants to dig several floors down to create 770,000 square feet of underground classrooms.

This would entail, among other things, demolishing the raised concrete garden by Hideo Sasaki from 1959 that is one of the country’s earliest parking garage roof structures, beloved by landscape historians, with its boxed crabapples, cherry and willow trees. I used to play in it as a boy. It’s a severe park but peaceful. The Village has notoriously few public refuges, aside from Washington Square Park. This is one of them, though most people don’t even realize it exists.

That’s because over the years the university has effectively closed off the open space between the buildings with fences and gates, obscured it behind a cheap retail strip mall on La Guardia Place and allowed what should be accessible parkland to languish while arguing that building the towers with fresh landscaping around them would create an improvement. Demolition by neglect is the term of art.


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  1. Anonymous  

    This town aint big enough for the both of us... so NYU, git!!!!

  2. Anonymous

    All universities need to continually renew and expand to stay competetive. We can't rely on information from thirty years ago. Also, Columbia did already own a majority of the land in Manhattanville before the construction.

  3. Anonymous

    What is NYU supposed to do otherwise? Please try not to be a moron about it.

  4. Anonymous  

    Governor's Island? Who the heck is going to take a water taxi just to get to class..?

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