Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Columbia, gem of West Harlem

Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 07:06:02 -0700 (PDT)
From: "J Reyes-Montblanc"
Subject: Columbia, gem of West Harlem

Dear Editor:

Thank you for this June 19th editorial "Columbia the gem of West Harlem" which reflects so many mythical misconceptions and mis-information that are taken by many in the unkwnowing public to be facts and which I will take this opportunity to clarify and de-mythify them.

First - Columbia University has been located in West Harlem for over 100 years in our historic neighborhood called Morningside Heights. So Columbia is not coming to West Harlem, it has been here all along. West Harlem if the home of the highest concentration of quality instituions of higher learning including Columbia and sadly congruently the worst public schools in the City.

Second - Community Board 9 Manhattan is "West Harlem" which is composed of our well known historic neighborhoods of Morningside Heights, Manhattanville (a small portion of which is Columbia's expansion target area), Hamilton Heights and the newly designated Sugar Hill.

Third - The "tattered swath of West Harlem" [West Manhattanville], to which you refer, is actually the creation and fabrication of Columbia University and their properties are the most "tattered" of all. Most if not all vacant buildings in the area belong to Columbia University and the loss of businesses and local employment has been a sore point in our community for the 25 or 30 years CU has been quietly acquiring and decommissioning properties there.

West Manhattanville may not be pretty, granted, but it is a vibrant, economically viable area, that provides homes, employment and services needed not only by the residents of West Harlem by many Manhattan residents as well.

The impact on affordable housing for West Harlem residents income levels will be catastrophic and tenant displacement in Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights are already beginning to be felt not only in CB9M but also in the adjacent CB10M (Central Harlem) and CB12M (Washington Heights/Inwood) districts.

Fourth - All those "shopworn warehouses, auto repair shops and a couple of gas stations" are the mainstay tax-base and employment source of West Manhattanville as Columbia's properties are tax excempted, vacant shells belonging to a "not-for-profit" institution. Further as Columbia acquires more property the tax-base of West Manhattanville is further eroded and local jobs disappear. These industrial jobs are highly desired and within the educational attainment of our residents while the much promised Columbia's 9000 jobs, will be scientific, professional, academic, technical and very few current residents of West Harlem will qualify or even be considered to fill them, except for the janitorial, maintenance and perhaps security jobs, if at all, while the good paying industrial local jobs will have disappeared.

Fifth - That Columbia is cramped for space is regretable and no one is suggesting that they should not expand, what concerns the West Harlem community is the effects of that expansion, concerns which your editorial so esily ignores altogether. Concerns about job loss, tenant displacement, community affordable housing, hazardous research labs, unwarranted threat of eminent domain to intimidate and harass local property owners to sell to Columbia and many other issues which you do not address at all in your glorification of the Columbia's Manhattanville Plan.

The West Harlem community, over a period of many years developed our own vision for the development of West Harlem, our 197-a Plan allows Columbia's expansion as a good neighbor co-existing with the long-time industrial and residential residents and without the many noxious effects anticipated in the Columbia Manhattanville Plan.

Sixth - "Harlem leaders" have nothing to say about what will or will not transpire in West Harlem between the community and Columbia. Development in Central Harlem, Washington Heights/Inwood and East Harlem are their business and their responsibility, their development has never been discussed with West Harlem leadership; so there is no obligation, except for our mutual affection, respect and courtesy to even consider what "Harlem Leaders" have to say about developments in West Harlem however, when overlapping interests coincide, our communities have never failed to work together and will continue to do so in the future, just as we are doing in the "125th Street River to River Plan".

Seventh - The West Harlem LDC, whose creation was facilitated by CB9M, will, when fully empaneled, be reflective of the most wide representation of West Harlem local interests working together for the benefit of all the citizens of West Harlem.

CB9M will address all the land use issues when the land use review period starts and has been in conversations with Columbia's technical people throughout the last 30 months and will continue to address those isssues with Columbia the gem of West Harlem.


Jordi (George) Reyes-Montblanc, Chair
Community Board 9 Manhattan
565 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027-2301
CB9M Tel: (212) 864-6200
CB9M Fax: 212-662-7396
JRM Tel: (212) 862-5051
JRM Fax: 212-926-1765

CB9M Calendar

Columbia, gem of West Harlem

Columbia University is on the brink of a multibillion-dollar expansion aimed at maintaining the school as a preeminent 21st century institution while transforming a tattered swath of West Harlem into a vibrant source of learning - and jobs.

The university has purchased most of the properties west of Broadway between 125th and 133rd Sts. and is seeking to have the area rezoned. Where there are now shopworn warehouses, auto repair shops and a couple of gas stations, Columbia would erect an open campus, including a world-class center dedicated to studying the brain in the hope of finding cures for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other diseases of the mind.

Columbia's expansion would be a boon to the city at large and to Harlem in particular. The university, occupying chronically tight quarters, needs room to attract tomorrow's scholars to New York. And the benefits to the locals start with land on which the city Education Department could open a competitive high school with seats reserved for the neighborhood's best and brightest.

In the first phase of Columbia's plan, which is still being shaped in discussions with the city and the Harlem planning board, the university would build the mind-brain institute, relocate its business school, construct housing for faculty and students, and open a square block of public space, modeled on Bryant Park. The streets would remain open to the public, facilitating access to the Hudson River. Retail stores would line the ground level in many places.

All in all, Columbia President Lee Bollinger has devised the outlines of a campus that would mesh nicely with the community and has acquired the tract with a minimum of fuss. The university is negotiating to buy more properties, and Bollinger says he intends to do so without asking the state to step in and exercise the power of eminent domain. That is as it should be at the moment.

Now it's time for Harlem leaders to help shape the future of an important corner of the city. Community Board 9 has formed a local development corporation that will negotiate a so-called community benefits agreement with the university. The group's 13-member board already has representatives from property owners and tenant associations, with about half the seats remaining to be filled.

The board will have much to discuss with the university - for example, employment on the new campus for Harlem residents or access to superior health care services. So far, all players seem to be proceeding in good faith. Here's hoping that progress continues, in what could be a win-win-win for Columbia, Harlem and the city.

You can e-mail the Daily News editors at Please include your full name, address and phone number. The Daily News reserves the right to edit letters. The shorter the letter, the better the chance it will be used.

Originally published on June 19, 2006


Mary said...

My concern with Columbia University as a neighbor (besides the controversial expansion) is their commitment to illegal germ warfare research against all international accords. They have a nice Homeland Security name for the 'research' they do on their Morningside Heights campus but its like putting lipstick on a pig.

As far as being a 'gem' of a neighbor perhaps they would, in a neighborly fashion, disclose their radiological accidents and inform the community on just what amounts of radiological waste they are storing at their facilities and what plans they have to stop storing highly toxic contaminated substances.

see US Radiation Sites, NY

Kingmont said...

Subject: RE: Columbia, gem of West Harlem
Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 10:35:55 -0400
From: Theodore Kovaleff
To: "J Reyes-Montblanc"

Good show!

Kingmont said...

Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 10:56:07 -0400
To: Reysmont
From: "Tenant"
Subject: Columbia, gem of West Harlem

When I started reading this reply to an editorial, I first thought it was the New York Times, famous for calling areas dowdy, shopworn and so on, and which affectations have less to do with the reality or appearance of an area than with the agenda of the paper. Well it's the News, not the Times.

Either way, the first thing they do to destroy a neighborhood is devalue it. The perception of junk shops is that they need to tear it down to save it. If it has no value, then it has less worth and importance to the suits downtown and all the Democratic club hacks around the city.

That's what they did (and continue to do) with the West Side. Then they change it's name. No longer Hell's Kitchen or Manhattanville; enter Hudson Yards and Amanda Burden Square. They even stole Jane Jacobs legacy and made it a parody under the guise of "New Urbanism." It's like calling Joe Lieberman a real Democrat!

Then they try to get someone ... usually a city council member, state senator or assembly member, who by their very nature is easily snookered ... to try to make a deal ahead of time, give up all leverage, promise dog runs, or fake affordable housing (community boards and Borough Presidents fall for that one). Or they promise jobs for minorities. Remember Al Sharpton, Charlie Rangel and Keith Wright all bought into the notion of jobs of selling hot dogs at the Jets stadium. You will hear phrases like "revitalize," or "inducify," or "24/7 destination" along with "world class institution for a world class city."

It's what they call Community Benefits Agreements, made famous by Bertha Lewis and Acorn in Atlantic Yards where they people who were the most important stakeholders were left holding the bag by Astroturf groups paid off by Bruce Ratner.

Or they could create another Hudson Yards Alliance, created to help Christine Quinn run for speaker, make it appear they were against the stadium while she was collecting piles of developer money to build 28 skyscrapers. They're attempting to take credit for an alleged 30% of affordable housing in the Hudson Yards plan. Except they're not telling people that a large part of that housing was promised back in the 1970's, it's on city land, or that developers will get huge bulk bonuses for it. Nor are they telling people that they methods they are using often results in a net loss of affordable housing.

Same thing is happening in Williamsburg courtesy of CM David Yassky and Brad Lander of Pratt Bulldozing Company.

The idea of CBA is to cover the ass of politicians, so they can stand up and declare victory while the community suffers their political prospects bloom. Developers just love Democrats like that. I have no doubt that Scott Stringer is already leaning on those who will cover his ass on this one.

The residents and shops go away. In come the soccer moms.

So it's important for the community groups (the real ones, not the ones created by politicians), and those who have done the heavy lifting and educated many about Columbia's plans, they should be the ones telling the politicians what to do, not the reverse. And let's hope the community board members are more in touch with the local residents than with Stringer's office.

Kingmont said...

From: BFrappy24
Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 12:06:14 EDT
Subject: Re: Columbia, gem of West Harlem

This is an excellent letter - well thought out and organized. At the
bottom you write "published on June 19". Does that mean the Daily News published it, or just that you sent it out for their publication. Usually they don't print anything but 3 or 4 sentences though I read the Post and Times each day, not the News, so I may not know.

You should send it over to Ben Rosen at Wright's office cause they are writing a letter too. As a matter of fact, I will just do that now.

In a message dated 6/22/06 10:06:30 AM, writes:

<< Dear Editor:

Thank you for this June 19th editorial "Columbia the gem of West Harlem"

whitmananne said...

Jordi, Our fearless leader, this is powerful and all encompassing. Thank you for supporting us. I think of them as the migraine of West Harlem. Thank you! Anne and the Whitman and Zuhusky families.