Renovations on 185th Street: Integrating the YU and Local Washington Heights Communities?

By: Geffie Kornhauser  |  November 3, 2016

On September 28th, Yeshiva University Senior Vice President Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph joined the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) Associate Commissioner of Infrastructure Tom Foley and New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Manhattan Borough Commissioner Luis Sanchez to strike ground on the renovation of the pedestrian plaza outside 185th Street between Audubon and Amsterdam Avenues. The plaza is being jointly funded by the City and YU. The $3.6 million dollar project seeks to revamp the area and enhance recreation by planting new trees, providing ornamental lighting, and adding bicycle racks, movable chess tables and extra seating. The restoration also plans to improve the safety of the existing streetscape by supplying new curbs, sidewalks and water mains.

City officials and YU staff alike hope that the renovation, the result of which is to be shared by Yeshiva University students and local residents, will bring together and enrich both facets of the Washington Heights neighborhood.

“DDC is pleased to break ground on the 185th street pedestrian plaza, with DOT and Yeshiva University, in support of the Mayor’s vision for an environmentally sustainable and resilient city. This renovated plaza will provide a safe, ample space with great benefits to Yeshiva University students and staff, as well as the surrounding neighborhood,” said DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora in a recent YU press release.

YU President Richard M. Joel voiced similar visions for the renovation in a statement to the press. “We look forward to the completion of the 185th Street Plaza as we cement our future with the community. Not only will the student life at Yeshiva University be enhanced, but the local neighborhood will be richer as well,” he said.

In interviews with students from both the Beren and Wilf campuses, however, some expressed skepticism of the project, questioning whether it can accomplish commissioners’ goals and if it’s even a vital project for YU to be undertaking.

An anonymous student at Stern College expressed concerns about the work: “In theory,” she said, “I think the idea to bring together YU students and local residents of Washington Heights is great, but I don’t know if this renovation is going to accomplish that. During the spring and summer months, some Heights residents monopolize the seating areas designated for YU students, so I fear that the same thing will happen with the refurbished spaces and that YU students will not utilize them as much as the project intends for them to.” She added that “while I realize this is kind of impossible, I wish that a similar sort of project could be done downtown on the Beren campus so that the women could also forge some kind of connection with their surrounding community.”

Josh Perlman, a junior at Yeshiva College, challenged the necessity of the project. “I think that students choose to attend YU for the academics and programming it provides, not for the way that 185th Street looks. So although the renovation might end up looking nice, I, for one, along with many other YU students, don’t spend a lot of time hanging out on that street, and I don’t believe the project is very necessary, as it will probably not enhance student life or attract any prospective students. Also, I feel like these renovations often take a long time to be completed, like when the library was renovated, so it’s hard for current students to get excited about something that probably won’t even be finished by the time we graduate. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but I just think that YU could put their money towards something more fundamental to student life.”

Regardless of the varying opinions of its proposed success and necessity, renovations of 185th Street are already underway and are expected to be finished by summer 2017. Only time will tell if YU and the city of New York contributed to a worthwhile enterprise.kornhauserkornhauser