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Daanish Chawala, Student, Advocates for NYU 2031

 

Statement of Daanish Chawala

Student, College of Arts and Sciences

New York University

Before the New York City Planning Commission

For the Public Hearing on the New York University Core Project

April 25, 2012

 

Dear Chair Burden and fellow Commissioners,

I frequently hear complaints about a lack of community at NYU and my job as a Resident Assistant is made very difficult in light of that fact. I personally think it is because each and every person has a bubble here that defines the area he or she will remain in while still in a state of laziness and it doesn't extend past each individual's apartment. What this project would allow us to do is to be able to go to a place where our bubble would feel a bit less restrictive. There is no denying a feeling of crampedness, a feeling that there is no space for a person to go with his or her group of friends without having to book it first, for example. All of the physical restrictions that prevent students from lounging around, organizing where they may, and studying at late hours puts a wall between them and their university, and that mentality circling in everyone's head doesn't help to fuel the community that we are striving to create at NYU. We are at a place now where students coming to college are deciding between NYU and Columbia, NYU and Princeton, NYU and Brown. What they see when they look at our brochure is a school with an amazing academic reservoir – where there is a strong program to satisfy nearly all intellectual and artistic interests. What they see they look at our "campus" is disappointing to most – paint is peeling off the walls in one building, the elevator looks too aged to be safe in another. And it makes sense, then, that the 2031 plan for the "Core" (i.e. the immediate Washington Square area) has a lot of restorative work and renovations for buildings in store. But that's not what the main concern is for this hearing and it's not the main point of opposition that I've been reading about. The buildings that NYU seeks to erect in the Village are the main point of contention and so I'll direct my statement back to the feeling of crampedness and competition. The university can cover the presentation of numbers and statistics and so I won't at this point in time. What I will say, though, is that NYU is now, more than ever, among the best colleges in the nation. There is a certain need for amenities to sustain ourselves when we are trying to go toe to toe with the best. I've read statements ranging from "NYU is prestigious enough," to "NYU is an intrusion in the Village" and I can't help but feel that these statements fall short of counteracting simple truths regarding the growth of anything. NYU would not be a respectable institution if it were not always trying to improve. U.S. News and World report ranks us only 33rd in the nation. Many other rankings have NYU placed at a comparable stature. We are not at that comfortable a location on the board that the people in charge could throw their hands in the air and maintain this status quo. The truth is that even doing so would probably result in our inability to keep up with innovations in all of the disciplines. Because it is not that the increase of space will directly allow for our ranking to climb – but it is an increase of space that allows for a few more seminar-style classes, a few more research labs, and a few more meeting places. The enhancement of student life and the availability of much needed resources would allow us to lessen the need to turn away the people who need it to do their job and represent the university; it would allow us to lift the ceiling that prevents NYU from its natural shift towards the top of the list to where every student who goes to NYU and everyone who works there can have more respect and pride for their institution. As far as NYU's intrusion in the village goes, I would like to present a simple scenario. The Village, as most likely all of us know, does not follow the city grid system, and very often, I get lost whilst roaming in the Village. Not once have I been able to use a "towering NYU building" as a landmark from afar, nor do I turn every corner to find purple and white, because it is simply not the case that NYU is in every vein of the Village as some would claim. NYU is undoubtedly an important part of the Village – it has grown up with NYC and the Village. NYU choosing to modernize on land that it owns affects NYU's share in the Village. That deli, that pizza shop, that bar, will all still be there – the rest of the Village that so many have come to know and love will still be the Village that everyone knows and loves after NYU adds their space to two blocks in the village, nearly half of which will be below ground. This is not to mention the jobs that would be added for need of public safety officers, maintenance staff, and cleaning staff. I understand the people's worries when expansion is mentioned – there is fear of NYU painting the city purple. I take this directly from the words of our President, John Sexton, himself when I say that is not, nor will it ever be, NYU's mission, if even a thought in the mind of anyone at NYU. We pride ourselves on being a part of this city – "salt and pepper in a salad," as President Sexton once put it. Cambridge, MA is not Cambridge without Harvard. Los Angeles is not without UCLA. New Haven, CT is not New Haven without Yale. NYU is a part of the Village; we are so proud of that fact. This plan asks that we able to stretch our legs, spread our wings, if you will, ever so slightly, and give people from outside the city, outside the country, even, another reason to look at the Village and have it engrained in their minds as one of the best places to be by virtue of the mix of amazing things that make it up. Thank you.

Daanish Chawala

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