In the East Village, a dichotomy cuts the neighborhood in half. New apartment buildings, all glass windows and steel accents, stand alongside their brick forebears, with ivy trailing along their fire escapes. The modern constructions represent the changing population of the neighborhood, as the influx of students from New York University has continued to grow.
“The greedy landlords, they jump all over that,” said Joffrey Wilson, a longtime resident. “When the students are here for three or four months, they’ll paint the place and sand the floor down and add another few hundred dollars on the rent. People who have lived here for decades can barely afford to live here anymore.”
The university was recently in the news because of its controversial NYU 2031 plan, which proposed the construction of two “superblocks” near Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The selected blocks would be used for NYU’s purposes, including academic buildings and a hotel. Though the plan was not well-publicized to students, it garnered support from the New York Times–and an outcry from community members seeking to preserve an older vision of New York.
“[The plan] really compromised the integrity of the neighborhood, the family structure of the streets,” said Wilson.
Community Board 2 obviously felt the same way and voted down the plan in February.
“We’re very strongly opposed to their expansion plan, we think it would have a terribly damaging effect on Greenwich Village,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation, a leading challenger of the plan. “It would oversaturate an area that’s already oversaturated with NYU facilities. It would change the character. It would eliminate valuable public open green space.”
Since then, the university downsized the plan, which now includes the preservation of two playgrounds and an agreement to reduce the heights of new buildings. But residents still aren’t pleased.
“The 2031 plan is still very significant and will still have an enormous negative impact on Greenwich Village and its surrounding neighborhood,” said Terri Cude, co-chair of the Community Action Alliance on NYU 2031. “It still changes the nature of Greenwich Village and it’s still massive. The reduction was not enough to change any of that.”
The alliance is composed of community associations from the neighborhoods affected by NYU’s presence, which also include NoHo and Union Square. Members are concerned about the local character, including small businesses, being affected.
“The additional construction will change the neighborhood to the point where they will no longer have the audience they need to survive,” Cude said. “It’s the nature of the customers, as people don’t want to live on a college campus. They change the demographic from a diverse mix to more students.”
The high ratio of students in the population is a common concern.
“It changes the Village–and the word village is important–into something that might look more like Midtown,” Cude said. “Which is fine if you like Midtown, but if you want a village, it’s not.”
Keeping the area residential is also important to residents like Wilson. The community garden that he oversees lies at the intersection of East Sixth Street and Avenue B. It is also within a census tract, 26.01, that has gone from 54.2 percent family households in 2000 to 47.9 percent in 2010. In the six block tract, the total number of households has jumped from 1,224 to 1,486. He worries about the neighborhood being overrun by students.
“Any given night, the bars are swelling with NYU students,” Wilson said. “I don’t know where they get the money to buy all this alcohol and stay up so late. They should be studying and putting their money toward their books and loans.”
Though the NYU 2031 plan is continuing to be negotiated, residents are still suspicious of the eventual outcome.
“It doesn’t benefit the people, it only benefits NYU,” said Wladek Debowski, who noted that he first saw the population beginning to change during the 80s and 90s.
Greenwich Village preservation advocate Berman, the Community Action Alliance, and others have pushed for NYU to instead target a less residential area, such as the Financial District.
Click the image below of NYU’s previous expansion: