I lived on East 6th St. in view of this piece of New York City in the early 90's, a shortcut street between 7th and 6th Streets best not traveled, day or night. It always reeked of urine and human feces, was littered with empty small plastic vials that crunched underfoot, and provided a "home" for aggressive crack heads at night. By the end of the Giuliani administration the street became a much more civil and less malodorous space. Midway through the Bloomberg administration the homeless, the druggies, and the creative class of the East Village were moved out, policed out and priced out respectively and Fecal Alley was not just no more, but unthinkable. Yet today what's old is new again.
It was also the back side of the erstwhile Hewett Building at 41 Cooper Square that housed Cooper Union art students' studios along with the student lounge with a TV that seemed to always be playing Spanish language soaps, Roseanne reruns and hosted Peter Cooper's billiards table, which I fear is now lost to posterity.
But alas, the "lowly" Hewett building was deemed superannuated, demolished, and replaced by a monument to a group of imaginatively bankrupt trustees and a CU president in the service of ego and unrealistically hopeful pecuniary pursuits. It's a memorial to incompetent leadership, an eduring edifice on the CU campus presiding over Cooper Square as the physicalized obituary to a lost institution, and a headstone marking the remnants of the last collegiate meritocracy in the U.S. See here for an updated appraisal of the situation.
The one time rarefied CU environment, a place that brought together talented, motivated, madly creative students from amazingly diverse backgrounds who earned a place in the student body based on their abilities alone ceased to exist with the first tuition paying class. The last true academic meritocracy, the last bastion of the ideal academic village, gone.
I can't help but wonder if Taras Shevkenko Pl. returning to its ignominious status as Fecal Alley reflects the decay of the institution it abuts. It can't possibly be exclusively the product of current mayoral incompetence, the turpitude of humanity or the destructive remnants of the Occupy Movement. Cooper Union has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1859. It exudes influence. It's current internal and significant malaise must effect its immediate environment. Much of what I read and assimilate from the Save Cooper Union people and the administration alike feels like the the beginning of the end of this once great place.
My sincerest hope is that the new as of yet appointed president, new trustees and other leadership positions in the university can restore CU to its previous status as a free, fully endowed institution of creativity that exists for all those who are capable of gaining admittance entirely without regard for whether or not the student can afford the tuition. The appointment of the new Dean of the Architecture program is a great start.