In Class Struggle: Mapping higher education as a potent force of development across the city, now and in the future, Mitchell Moss makes the case that higher education generates economic growth for New York. While he credits the industry with “creating a new intellectual infrastructure for the 21st century,” he also acknowledges that the industry’s struggle for space can lead to fierce community conflict, as colleges and universities play a more “powerful and forceful role” in land development. Moss notes that university presidents face a new challenge of “building for their institutions while accommodating the values of the surrounding community, an especially complicated mission in a time when development must be smart, sustainable, and environmentally sensitive” (Moss, 7/28/11).
NYU’s colossal plan for expansion, NYU 2031, calls for developing “superblock sites” on several parcels of land between LaGuardia Place and Mercer Street, and between Houston and West 3rd Streets. The City Council approved the university’s plan in July 2012, amidst vocal opposition from a coalition of faculty, neighborhood groups, and preservationists concerned the plan will alter the character of the historic neighborhood.
Recently, local resistance continued when opponents filed a lawsuit against the City, in an attempt to reverse the City’s approval and prevent construction. A coalition of eleven groups has accused the City Planning Commission and the City Council of illegally handing over public land to the university. As part of the expansion, NYU plans to develop four parks—Mercer Playground, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, LaGuardia Park, and Mercer-Houston Dog Run—which “have been dedicated as public parks, either expressly or impliedly,” according to former NYC Parks Commissioner Henry Stern. Although the parks are in fact mapped as DOT property, and not as parkland, they have been used as parks for many years, have DPR park signs at entrances, and are regularly maintained and repaired by the Parks Department (Powell, 2/27/13). Under the Public Trust Doctrine, the City may not “alienate” parkland without prior approval of the State Legislature. The judge who heard the plaintiffs’ petition on 2/26/13, signed the order for cause and agreed to review the evidence on the parkland question in Manhattan State Supreme Court on 3/15/13.
Some journalists have been quick to paint the current lawsuit as a stalling tactic by privileged West Village residents jumping on the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) bandwagon driven by Matthew Broderick. A recent NY Post Op-Ed suggests the plaintiffs miss the boat completely: “In short, the battle here isn’t about historic buildings or neighborhoods. It’s about the city’s capacity to compete in the 21st century. That includes the city’s private colleges and universities, which over the past two decades have increased their employment 77 percent” (Nice Park if You Can Get It, 2/28/13).
While there is no denying that higher education generates economic returns for NYC, one must also weight the external value undeveloped parkland provides to New Yorkers, which include environmental, health, recreation, and even revenue-generating (tourism) benefits. In a city where undeveloped, “green” space is such a hard-to-find commodity, it may be difficult to quantify these types of added value, but they nonetheless contribute to the neighborhood charm that draws students and faculty to the NYU campus, as well as to quality-of-life enjoyed not only by Matthew Broderick, but also by all members of the NYU community and all others who work, live, and play in the Village.
NYU 2021: http://www.nyu.edu/nyu2031/nyuinnyc/
Nick Powell, City&State: Judge Allows New Documentation in NYU Expansion Hearing http://www.cityandstateny.com/judge-allows-new-documentation-in-nyu-expansion-hearing/
NYPress: Can a Community Garden Stop the NYU Expansion? http://nypress.com/can-a-community-garden-stop-the-nyu-expansion/
NY Post: Nice Park If You Can Get It http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/editorials/nice_park_if_you_can_get_it_fp77paLfvzbDMVDjJ0vGBJ