NY4P Works With City Council to Secure Open Space Improvements in Modified NYU Plan

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The New York City Council voted 41-1 in favor of New York University’s 2031 campus expansion plan on Tuesday, clearing the way for construction to begin in 2014.

To gain passage, NYU agreed to scale back its construction on two superblocks south of Washington Square Park by a further 17 percent – including significant trimming of proposed building heights and footprints – after making additional concessions earlier in the land use approval process.

Since that process began, NY4P has supported NYU’s plan – with modifications – based on our guiding principles that public open spaces should serve the greatest number of constituencies, and be preserved and well maintained in perpetuity.

In our testimony before a June 29 City Council hearing on the plan, we called on NYU to make several key modifications, including strengthening the open space maintenance and operations agreement, establishing a fund for long-term maintenance, and giving the Parks Department the ability to enforce the agreement.

Over the past few weeks, we worked closely with local Council Member Margaret Chin, her staff, and the Council’s Land Use staff to secure these and other modifications.

Specifically, Council Member Chin negotiated a commitment from the City and NYU to enter into an agreement for the care of all public land within the two superblocks. NYU will establish an endowment that will provide $150,000 annually for upkeep of the City-owned open spaces, and NYU will maintain both these and the privately-owned public open spaces at the same standard of care. The agreement also requires NYU to secure a letter of credit upon which the Parks Department can draw if NYU fails to meet required maintenance standards.

Throughout the process, NY4P also pushed for the establishment of a long-term oversight body, including representatives from the community, to oversee the design and care of all public spaces within the superblocks. The resulting Open Space Oversight Organization will consist of five members, representing the Council, Community Board 2, the Manhattan Borough President, the Parks Department and NYU.

In addition, NYU agreed to reduce above-grade density by 44 percent on the north superblock – including a 64 percent reduction in the proposed “boomerang building” – which will allow for larger, more visible access points to interior public spaces.

Language was also added that provides greater protection for LaGuardia Community Garden, a beloved plot at the corner of LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street, during construction on the southern block.  Finally, the school agreed to several immediate open space improvements, including wayfinding and signage for the Sasaki Garden, a new seating area on Bleecker Street and playground for Mercer Street, plus improvements to the LMNOP playground.

In the end, our advocacy has produced the blueprint for comprehensive upkeep of new public open spaces, longer preservation of the Mercer Playground, transfer of several Department of Transportation-owned strips of land to the Parks Department, and the opportunity for community input in the open space design and ongoing maintenance process.

While there’s still work to be done, we’re confident that the public open spaces created by the plan will be more accessible and welcoming, serve a broader spectrum of New Yorkers, and be better maintained than the current spaces within the superblocks south of Washington Square Park.

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