As a new Graduate student and new resident of New York City, it did not take long for me to figure out that I was entering into a college community completely different from what I had experienced as an undergraduate. I spent the last four years at the University of Michigan where practically the entire city was bleeding with Maize and Blue pride. I cant remember a single day that I did not see someone wearing a Michigan shirt or hear someone talking about the latest Michigan football game. True, I expected a different atmosphere here because NYU isn’t exactly known for it’s stellar athletics, but I was not prepared to enter into a University that is not the beloved center of the community. It only took a few ventures down Washington Square South to realize that the students and the Greenwich Village residents just do not have a lot of interaction.
Now originally I assumed that this was just a result of Ann Arbor spoiling my views of what every college experience should be like. However, I learned through a discussion in one of my first classes with a representative from the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, that this “tension” between Greenwich Village residents and New York University has a pretty complicated history. Basically, once NYU became more popular to out-of-state residents during the 1980s, the University began to expand, renting spaces where they could be found and constructing new buildings where space permitted. Since Greenwich Village is well-known for it’s historical significance, the idea of making changes to the appearance and atmosphere of the area did not sit well with many residents, especially those working to preserve the neighborhood’s history.
This fragile relationship between the University and the neighborhood became an issue once again this past summer when the New York City Council voted in favor of NYU’s proposed 20-year expansion plan. As a Public History Graduate student at NYU I find myself torn on this issue. I love the school and want to see it grow, but as someone who is dedicating my life to preserving history, I understand why they would want to preserve the landmarks in the village.
Here is a basic overview of the NYU expansion dilemma:
The university’s plan calls for adding four buildings to land already occupied by two university apartment complexes (Washington Square Village and Silver Towers/ Coles Sports Center) in the area between Washington Square Park and Houston street. The four new sites will create a type of “superblock”, in combination with the already existing structures. These new buildings will replace single-story structures and the total area will equal 1.8 million square feet.
The original plan would have added an Empire State Building’s worth of floor space to the seven buildings in the apartment complexes, but after negotiations they came to a 26 percent reduction in space from NYU’s original plans.
Many Greenwich Village residents feel that the plan would be detrimental to the historic environment the community is known for. There is also a concern over the loss of park and outdoor space that these new buildings will be taking over, as well as the potential shadow these skyscrapers could cast on Washington Square Park. Residents fear that this new “superblock” will not fit in with the rest of the neighborhood and take away community space.
NYU isn’t just facing community opposition, but opposition from many of it’s faculty members and departments as well. 40 percent of the University’s faculty members live in these two apartment complexes and, along with others, have expressed opposition, arguing that “the dust and noise of construction would ruin their pleasure in working for the university.” City council member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, argued that “NYU’s academic and housing needs should be prioritized, but not at the expense of this community and its residents.”
Many believe that NYU is, and should be treated as, an integral part of both New York City and Greenwich Village. University officials argue that if they are not allowed to go through with these expansions in areas they already occupy that “they would have to continue buying up, tearing down or converting buildings, which would further damage the neighborhood’s character and infuriate residents.” In addition, over the last 30 years NYU has transformed into one of the world’s leading research universities, and as a result has become an integral part of New York’s economy. The University has 16,200 employees, making it one of the city’s largest private employers. As a research university, NYU attracts many talented professors and students, a majority of which will stay in the tristate area after graduating. Robert Yaro, writer for the New York Daily News, argued that “In an increasingly competitive world, New York needs to continue to attract these ambitious students and faculty to sustain the region’s economic base and quality of life.”
Although the City council voted in favor of NYU, the opposition is far from over. However, NYU intends to start construction as early as 2014.
Learning all of this information about the tension between the two sides does make it difficult for me, as a member of both communities, to form a fair opinion on the situation. Whether NYU is a “Purple Monster” taking over the village, or a growing university rightfully wanting to spread it’s wings is not for me to decide. However, I now at least feel like I understand both my new neighborhood, and my school significantly better than when I first arrived to the city just two short months ago.