I am an alumna of NYU’s doctoral program in Sociology, and I support the portion of NYU’s 2031 plan under review today, for two linked reasons.
First, the “superblocks” in question have for decades been fortress-like—enclosed by buildings that cast shadows on street and sidewalk, turning their backs to the rest of the neighborhood.. The plan’s proposal to eliminate parking and turn these blocks inside out—with gardens and open space, as well as walkway-fed retail—will return them to a scale of circulation compatible with the texture and economic strengths of Greenwich Village. These blocks are simply too valuable to maintain out of local economic circulation as they have been, and NYU’s proposal to lead their renovation in the specific, thoughtful, human-scaled ways it has are absorbing the always high political and financial costs of revisioning. This is a form of public service all by itself.
And so second and more generally, the expansion of an already large landholder in a discrete area promises to continue to intertwine the bottom line of the neighborhood with NYU’s. The more NYU is a university in the physical city, the more it can serve as a platform for experiential education, offering its own growth as a laboratory for smart urban planning and economic development. Here is where gaps between a university’s business interests and its overall value proposition may be reconciled, where expansion also allows room for experimentation and a lot of creativity.
University growth means multiplying platforms for connecting alumni and student entrepreneurs, venture capital, and affordable space—sowing and fertilizing the seeds of healthy economic ecosystems. Expansion can also present growth opportunities for existing small businesses. In an effort led by planning and business students, for example, local proprietors might participate in a management consulting program where they learn how to grow with campus expansion. Art students might come together with long-established Greenwich Village artists to design seating, artful bicycle and skateboard parking racks, and beautiful wayfinding signage—all of which will be needed in increasingly public square-fostering campus settings. The public school included in the Village expansion plan could also be a teaching school, a lab for pedagogical experimentation.
Such mechanisms are not yet built into the university’s plans, but they could be, and it is my sincere hope that NYU’s President, its head of University Relations and Public Affairs, and its Academic Provost might come together to openly explore these shared value horizons. This is not the way of begrudged concession, but instead the way to let university expansion spring from the well of creativity and imagination in university departments present and future, as well as all New York City neighborhoods where NYU is present.