NYU’s “Scale Back” Is Just Part of Developer’s Long-Game

NYU's announcement to scale back back its controversial expansion may seem promising, but this is a move straight from the developer’s playbook.

New York University announced yesterday that it was scaling back its controversial plans for expansion by “almost a fifth.” Wow, now that’s a significant number, you might think, if you didn’t already know how these cynical games are played. The school had originally proposed adding 2.5-million-square feet of dorms, classrooms and commercial space to the two superblocks it owns south of Washington Square Park. A couple of new towers (designed by Toshiko Mori and Grimshaw Architects) were part of the plan.

On the face of it, the announcement was in response to local opposition. But this is really a move straight from the developer’s playbook. In honor of the client here, let’s call it “Gamesmanship 101.” Here is how it works: 1) propose a humongous, X-million-square foot project; 2) get predictably hammered by outraged community groups who claim it will ruin the neighborhood; 3) appear to re-group or “go back to the drawing board”; 4) allow a decent interval of time to elapse (you’re busy processing all of the “neighborhood concerns”); and 5) roll out a slightly modified new plan (still too damn big, of course, but not quite as bloated as the original) that appears to be in response to local “input,” but is in fact very close to the internal number you were aiming for all along. Think of it as a high stakes poker game, with numbers and renderings and zoning variances as the chips. You want 2-million square feet of new construction approved in the Village? First ask for 2 and a half million. (Oh, it also doesn’t hurt to have most of the elected officials in your back pocket.)

Categories: Housing, Planning