Angry faculty to caped dogs unite at anti-N.Y.U. plan rally
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | More than 550 protesters — including 50 with wet noses and tails — turned out at Judson Memorial Church Saturday for a mass protest against N.Y.U.’s superblocks mega-development plan.
The rally was organized by Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Terri Cude of CAAN (Community Action Alliance on N.Y.U 2031).
Speakers inside the church evoked the name of Jane Jacobs, the legendary preservationist and Robert Moses vanquisher.
Meanwhile, gathered outside Judson’s steps, dog owners, with their pooches sporting blue-and-yellow capes, took inspiration from another hero — Underdog.
Houston-Mercer Dog Run members, who have defiantly dubbed themselves the Underdogs after the fighting cartoon canine, marched up to the church in a dog parade from the run.
“Don’t kick the dogs out, N.Y.U.!” they chanted, and “Underdogs unite!”
Toting a long banner, green thumbs from the LaGuardia Corner Garden also converged on the Washington Square South church.
Among the neighborhood residents packing Judson were scores of superblock residents, including New York University faculty and non-university-affiliated tenants alike. They included members of a new group, N.Y.U. Faculty Against the Sexton Plan.
The Friends of LaGuardia Place and the Greenwich Village Block Associations also added their voices to the outcry against the university’s scheme.
“N.Y.U.’s 2031 Plan threatens the character of the Village as we know it,” Glick told the crowd. “N.Y.U.’s proposed buildings are large and out of context with a historic district. They would usurp light and air without regard to the residents who have been living in Washington Square Village for more than 50 years.
“We are going to marshal a Village army to protect our neighborhood,” Glick declared, “and we will be victorious!”
Also speaking was state Senator Tom Duane, who assured the protesters he has their back.
“You have to struggle,” he said. “But we’re going to be with you every step of the way because we’re united. N.Y.U.’s part of our neighborhood, but we cannot allow N.Y.U.’s Village-swallowing plans.”
Warning the university, Duane said, “Respect our neighborhood, N.Y.U.! Respect the Village!”
He then led a chant of “Towers and towers and towers — go away!”
“We’re going to win this, and save our beloved Village,” he vowed.
Under its superblocks plan, N.Y.U. would try to shoehorn an additional 2.5 million square feet of space, above- and belowground — including four new buildings — into its two South Village superblocks. The plan, however, requires changes of zoning, of open-space requirements and of other restrictions dating from when the jumbo-sized blocks were developed under federal urban renewal.
N.Y.U.’s application is now going through the city’s ULURP (uniform land use review procedure), a seventh-month-long process.
ULURP’s first step is for the plan to be reviewed by Community Board 2, which wraps up its assessment next week. Last month, C.B. 2’s full board meeting was filled to the rafters with people weighing in, pro and con, on the N.Y.U. plan; residents condemned the neighborhood-transforming scheme, while hard-hat honchos and N.Y.U. deans and employees testified in favor, saying the university and the city sorely need the project. In all, 87 people testified on the issue during the board’s public session, which ran an extra-long, two-and-a-half hours.
An equally intense turnout, if not even more so, is expected at C.B. 2’s full board meeting next Thurs., Feb. 23, at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 151 Sullivan St., lower hall, starting at 6 p.m. For those wishing to testify, speakers’ cards will be accepted between 6 and 6:30 p.m.
Spirit of Jane
Speaking at last Saturday’s rally, Brad Hoylman, C.B. 2 chairperson, evoked the memory of Jacobs, noting that decades ago, she had stood “right near this location.” People told Jacobs she couldn’t win, that she was going up against City Hall, against too much money and power, he noted.
“You know what? She won,” he said. “We have to take the spirit of Jane Jacobs, embody it and fight on.”
Hoylman pointed out that C.B. 2 hasn’t yet taken a formal position on N.Y.U.’s plan yet — that will happen on Feb. 23. However, giving a clear indication of how the board will likely vote, he said, “We’re gonna fight to save Sasaki Garden,” referring to the courtyard garden in the middle of Washington Square Village, where N.Y.U. hopes to add two big, boomerang-shaped buildings.
“Yeah!” the crowd answered him.
“We’re gonna fight to save our open space,” he continued. “They call them D.O.T. green strips — we call them open space.”’
“Yeah!” the crowd cheered him on.
“And this talk of a temporary gym — we’re going to fight that,” Hoylman pledged.
N.Y.U. plans to tear down Coles gym and rebuild the site with a larger “Zipper Building,” and would build a temporary gym in the middle of Washington Square Village.
‘Enough purple already’
CAAN is a coalition of more than 30 neighborhood organizations dedicated to protecting the area from N.Y.U. overdevelopment. Cude, CAAN’s co-chairperson, said, “Enough is enough.”
“N.Y.U.’s 2031 plan looks for a ‘blank check’ to develop enormous buildings and add unneeded retail space on the two superblocks and the area east of Washington Square,” she said. “Four gigantic new buildings, plus a small city underground, plus taking city-owned land. It will bring unprecedented bulk and density to our area.
“We already have enough purple [the color of N.Y.U.’s ubiquitous flags],” Cude said. “We need our blue sky and our green parks and our multicolored gardens. The Financial District is calling and we say: N.Y.U., answer their call — you’ve already jammed more into the Village than we can tolerate.”
Marty Tessler, CAAN’s other co-chairperson, scolded those who dare dub the plan’s opponents NIMBYs — as in “not in my backyard.”
“This isn’t a back yard,” Tessler retorted. “This is our community. This is our neighborhood.”
Larry Goldberg, president of Friends of LaGuardia Park, told N.Y.U. to keep its hands off of — and not use easements to dig through — the open-space park strips along Mercer St. and LaGuardia Place.
The speaker who really brought down the house, however, was Mark Crispin Miller, an N.Y.U. media and culture studies professor who lives in 4 Washington Square Village, facing into the complex’s courtyard. He asked people in the crowd who were N.Y.U. faculty to raise their hands and there were many. There would have been more, but “people at N.Y.U. are afraid” to speak out against the plan, he said.
“This is an unprecedented alliance,” he said of faculty members joining with the community to fight the university’s plan.
He blasted N.Y.U. officials’ descriptions of the 2031 scheme as doublespeak “Orwellian bulls—.”
“This plan is demented,” he said. “They’re adding all these buildings, but they say, ‘No, no, actually we’re adding open space.’
“Twenty years of construction — doesn’t that pose a threat to public health?” he asked angrily.
Speaking later, he said his child has asthma.
In fact, all the construction and new buildings taking up light and space will, in the end, only drive good faculty away, hurting the university, he warned.
“We will not let them do this,” he exhorted the crowd. “We’re going to save N.Y.U. the university from N.Y.U. the corporation!”
Miller’s remarks were met with thunderous applause.
Glick closed the rally by leading everyone in a chant of “The people united will never be defeated!”
Great speeches, but..
But afterward, Soho activist Carl Rosenstein was skeptical, saying he hadn’t heard any real strategy.
“What I felt was missing in this was any discussion of the ULURP process itself and the political process,” he said. “It was all about N.Y.U. N.Y.U. is only the developer and this is a political process first — the city wants this. The issue is Chin and Quinn — how to address them on this.”
Rosenstein was referring to Councilmember Margaret Chin and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, neither of whom attended the event. The last step of ULURP is the City Council’s vote. The superblocks are in Chin’s district, so she presumably will have a major say on the issue. However, there will be tremendous pressure from N.Y.U., the Bloomberg administration and others who feel the project would benefit the university and the city, in general.
Speaking later, Hoylman said, “It was a great turnout and it seemed to be a tremendous success. It looked like a strong, united front.” Referring to Chin and Borough President Scott Stringer — who also has a role in ULURP and, like Chin, didn’t attend the rally — Hoylman said, “I think the elected officials have their own timing considerations [on taking public positions] because the plan is moving through review.”
Although Duane and Glick spoke out forcefully at the rally, as members of the state Legislature they have no vote in ULURP.
Underdogs barking mad
As for the Mercer-Houston Dog Run and the Underdogs, the dog owners said the run is open to all, but, due to insurance reasons, there’s a waiting list because they can only accommodate so many dogs. There’s a $50 annual fee and the dogs must be licensed and vaccinated. They say their run is safer and cleaner than the ones at Tompkins Square and Washington Square parks.
Annie Balliro, whose dog, Luna Bear, was sporting a black face mask in addition to an Underdog cape, said the run socializes not just dogs, but people, too.
“None of us would know each other without the dog run,” she said of her fellow human Underdogs. “Without these public spaces, there is no community.”
N.Y.U. wants to acquire the city-owned, open-space strip that the dog run currently occupies to use for part of the footprint of its new “Zipper Building.” The dog run would be shifted west into what is currently a children’s playground. But the proposed site is too near Silver Towers and the dogs’ barking would just annoy the N.Y.U. professors who live there, the Underdogs say.
‘18, loud and drinking’
Meanwhile, a dorm — particularly a freshman dorm — being included in a new “Zipper Building” would annoy everyone, said writer Holly Hager, who came to the rally with her huge Harlequin Great Dane, Titan.
“I work from home because my neighborhood, Soho, is livable,” Hager said. “If 1,000 kids come in, they’re going to be loud and drinking. They’re 18, 19 years old, and they’re let loose in Manhattan without their parents for the first time. It’ll be like St. Mark’s. They’re fine — they’re college freshmen, that’s the time to go wild. But this is not the neighborhood for it.”
Go Downtown ‘simplistic’
As for opponents’ repeated calls for N.Y.U. to grow instead Downtown in the Financial District in Community Board 1, the university’s spokesperson said these ideas are “simplistic and don’t work.”
“It comes down to this: We need space close to our existing academic core, and space is not fungible,” John Beckman said. “Students cannot make it between classes in 10 minutes if they have to try to commute from the Financial District to Washington Square. Moreover, many departments work together on research, and that proximity is important to their research enterprise. And, in addition, N.Y.U. owns the land on the Washington Square Village and Silver Towers blocks; I am aware of no one who is proposing to give us land Downtown for free.”