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This Day in History: NYU Incorporated

The original University Building, constructed 1833-36; demolished 1894
The original University Building, constructed 1833-36; demolished 1894. It was replaced by the Silver Center building on the northeast corner of Washington Square Park.

Today is the 184th anniversary of the incorporation of NYU. Originally chartered as the “University of the City of New-York”, in 1831 admission was open to all during a time when most universities only admitted members of the privileged classes. The founders of NYU imagined a non-denominational center of higher learning that would be open to all people regardless of their national origin, religion, or social background.

As expected, “all” during this era referred to mainly White Protestant men from upper class, New York families. The first women students were admitted in 1873 to take non-degree “instructional” classes. Women were finally admitted to degree programs in 1888.

Of course NYU has played an enormously important role in the development of the neighborhood. Over 350,000 people have been awarded degrees by NYU, and the university has been an anchor for Village life since 1836, and a key ingredient in what makes the Village the Village.

The problems between NYU and its neighbors typically arise when the university is not content to remain simply an ingredient in the neighborhood, but through its expansionist policies seeks to take over more and more of the neighborhood. Most recently this has been the case with NYU’s massive twenty year expansion plan, NYU 2031.

In February, the New York State Court of Appeals agreed to hear our case against the NYU Expansion Plan. This is the State’s highest court, and in November 2014, GVSHP and our co-plaintiffs filed our case with them. Two lower courts have ruled differently on this matter — one siding with our contention that the City illegally alienated public parkland for the NYU expansion plan, while the other court agreed with NYU and the City that the giveaway of public green space was legal.

The Court of Appeals, which could have chosen to let stand the lower court ruling siding with the City and NYU, is the final word in New York State on a case such as this. We are deeply gratified that they felt that our appeal merited their review.

In 2012, then-Borough President Stringer, the New York City Council, and the New York City Planning Commission approved NYU’s massive, 2 million square foot expansion plan. In addition to giving public green space to NYU, the plan overturned long-standing neighborhood zoning protections, open space preservation requirements, and urban renewal deed restrictions. It would allow the construction of four massive buildings, including the largest building ever constructed in Greenwich Village, as well as an enormous underground complex below the block bounded by Bleecker, West 3rd, and Mercer Streets and LaGuardia Place.

GVSHP, NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan, Historic Districts Council, Washington Square Village Tenants’ Association, East Village Community Coalition, Friends of Petrosino Square, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, Inc., Lower Manhattan Neighbors’ Organization, SoHo Alliance, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, NoHo Neighborhood Association, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and 10 other individuals, filed suit against the City and State’s approvals of the plan. We are represented on a pro bono basis by the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, with Randy Mastro as lead attorney.

The outcome in this case has enormous implications, not only for our neighborhood, but citywide. In addition to deciding whether or not this massive plan, which will overwhelm our neighborhood, will be allowed to proceed, a decision in this case will affect the way in which public space in New York is regulated and protected under the law.

We greatly appreciate the support of our members, who have allowed us to move ahead with this appeal. We are especially grateful to all of our co-plaintiffs and to Gibson Dunn & Crutcher for their work on our behalf.  We are scheduled to go before the court in June.

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