For a sustainable neighborhood, modify N.Y.U. plan
BY JUDY PAUL and RANI MAROM | Try this experiment: Take all of the office space in the Empire State Building — 2.4 million square feet — and cram it into two square blocks on either side of Bleecker St. What happens to our neighborhood?
Unfortunately, the 2.4 million square feet of construction is not a thought exercise but a real development, an expansion of New York University, coming to the blocks bounded by Houston and W. Third Sts., and LaGuardia Place and Mercer St. And what happens to the neighborhood will not be pretty.
N.Y.U. provides many benefits to our neighborhood and the city. As a prestigious and competitive university, it needs to grow.
But we’re not Midtown, and we don’t want to be. Greenwich Village is a human-scale neighborhood, and one of the most genuine and vibrant historic districts in the nation. N.Y.U. must work with our elected officials to downsize its proposal to work for all of us who live and work here.
N.Y.U. plans new towers up to 26 stories tall — far higher than anything else in the Village — which would overwhelm their 19th-century fringes and cast shadows up to Washington Square Park. The plan would add 49,000 to 94,000 square feet of new commercial space, even though the area has vacancies now. It would also reconfigure 4 acres of open space, adversely affecting the Mercer-Houston Dog Run, the LaGuardia Corner Gardens and the Key Playground.
It’s confounding that N.Y.U., which markets its Greenwich Village location to prospective students, would bigfoot its own home.
Both of us own small businesses in this neighborhood. We’ve been here a long time and we care deeply about our community.
That’s why we are joining with other small businesses and neighborhood groups to form Villagers for a Sustainable Neighborhood. We want our elected officials to ensure that the university amends its proposal to both meet the needs of N.Y.U. and protect the essence of the place that has nurtured and benefited the university.
First, the plan must be scaled back, in both height and density. The proposal must also be redesigned to increase the amount and quality of the open space it offers, especially since the Village has one of the lowest percentages of open space of any neighborhood in Manhattan. N.Y.U. must ensure that the open space is accessible to the public rather than walled off by fortress-style buildings.
It’s critical, too, that the university help offset the burden it would inflict on the local infrastructure. The current plan would add 1,500 to 2,000 new residents and bring at least 10,000 people into the neighborhood every day. Our already-crowded sidewalks and narrow streets would be sorely tried even by a scaled-down plan. The W. Fourth St. and Broadway-Lafayette subway stations would also be adversely impacted. The university should be called upon to improve the stations and to honor its commitment to providing a much-needed new public school for the neighborhood.
The application is now before the Manhattan borough president. It will then go back to the Department of City Planning and ultimately the City Council.
Our elected officials, especially Borough President Scott Stringer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin, need to work with N.Y.U. to modify the proposal so that it doesn’t overwhelm our neighborhood.
We don’t want to kill N.Y.U.’s expansion. We simply want a plan that respects our Village. Our neighborhood is known and loved around the world for a reason, and with responsible planning it will remain that way for generations to come.
Paul is C.E.O., the Washington Square Hotel; Marom is owner, Café Wha? and Groove