From: "Hans Kundnani"
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2006 12:32:17 +0000
Thank you all for your help with my story on Manhattanville. Here's the online version from the Guardian's website:
I don't have an email address for Nellie - could one of you forward this email to her?
EducationGuardian.com.uk Education Weekly
West side story
A $7bn planned expansion of Columbia University is causing outrage among WestSide Harlem residents
Tuesday November 28, 2006
Standing on Broadway as a subway train rattles by on rusty iron stilts above her, Louisa Henriquez points at her home which, if the developer's plan goes ahead, will be demolished. The apartment she has lived in for 30 years is in a tenement on 132nd Street, a block away from Broadway. In the distance you can see the massive Riverside Drive viaduct and behind that the Hudson river, and beyond that New Jersey. "They want everybody out of this area, all the way down to the river," she says.
The threat to her apartment block - and all the other buildings in a 17-acre area on the western edge of northern Manhattan - comes not from stereotypical property developers but from Columbia University, New York's elite Ivy League school. Columbia, whose main Beaux-Arts campus lies a few blocks to the south in leafy Morningside Heights, is planning a massive $7bn expansion into the area, known as Manhattanville. With the exception of an old Studebaker car plant, a listed building, it wants to knock down everything in the area.
The plan is the brainchild of Lee Bollinger, who became Columbia's president in 2002 and immediately devoted himself to solving the university's chronic space shortage. Manhattanville seemed to offer a unique opportunity. An industrial area of dilapidated warehouses, auto repair shops and a bus depot just a few blocks away from the main campus, it is by New York standards relatively empty, with only 132 residential units. By acquiring the whole area, Columbia, which has only 194 square feet per student compared with 368 at Harvard, could build much-needed science laboratories, relocate its business school and expand its arts faculty.
But by expanding into Manhattanville, which extends from 125th Street to 133rd Street, and from Broadway to 12th Avenue, Columbia was crossing a symbolic boundary. North of 125th Street is Harlem, where, to many people, Columbia's expansion is the most dramatic stage of a process of gentrification that has seen chain stores move in, rental prices increase and local people - mostly African-Americans - forced out. "West Harlem is bleeding while Columbia expands," says Nellie Hester Bailey, the executive director of the Harlem Tenants Council.
The relationship between Columbia and the historically black neighbourhood of Harlem has long been strained. It hit rock bottom in 1968 after Columbia planned to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park. In response to protests from locals (mainly black and Puerto Rican), Columbia agreed to allow them to use the facilities - through a separate entrance. The plan caused outrage and contributed to the violent clashes that erupted in April 1968.
This time it seemed as if Columbia could become a model for how a modern urban university could integrate with a diverse local community. In fact, Columbia says, its future success depends on being able to do exactly that. "It's our values and our self-interest to be good citizens," says Robert Kasdin, the university's senior executive vice-president. "I want to make sure that Columbia can look in the mirror and say, 'We did the right thing'."
Initially, many community leaders in Harlem say they were hopeful. Bollinger had great credentials: as executive vice- president of the University of Michigan, he had defended the university's right to use affirmative action in a landmark case in the US supreme court. But, as the project developed, some began to feel Columbia's offer of dialogue with the community was not genuine. "It's not turning out to be the collaboration it could be or should be," says the Reverend Earl Kooperkamp, the minister of St Mary's episcopal church, which lies on the edge of the area Columbia plans to develop.
In an old milk-bottling plant on 125th Street that serves as the showroom for the project, Warren Whitlock, the university's director of construction, shows me the drawings for the complex Columbia plans to build over the next 30 years. The glass-fronted 19-storey buildings resemble a shopping mall more than a university - indeed, the ground floor of most of the buildings will be given over to shops and restaurants, which Columbia says means locals will use the area. The complex will include a new centre for research in neuroscience. But beyond that, the plans remain vague. There has been talk of a hotel as part of the development, which Columbia at this stage cannot rule out.
The university has guaranteed that none of the 400 or so residents of the area, like Louisa Henriquez, will need to leave before the second phase of the development starts in 2015 and says they will be offered equivalent or better housing elsewhere. Opponents are sceptical and say that, in any case, the development will push up rental prices in the surrounding area (it is flanked on two sides by massive housing projects), forcing local people out. Some say it already has.
As part of the development, Columbia is building a new public high school (located where a McDonald's currently stands) specialising in mathematics, science and engineering. It says it will also create nearly 7,000 jobs, ranging from lab technicians to administrative assistants to cooks, and that a third of jobs at Columbia are filled by people from northern Manhattan. Again, opponents disagree. "We don't see the community is going to benefit as far as jobs," says Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the chair of Community Board 9, a body that advises the city council, which will ultimately decide on whether the Manhattanville development goes ahead.
However, discussions between Columbia and the local community about these issues have now collapsed over what opponents see as the university's unwillingness to compromise. Local activists joined together to form the Coalition to Preserve Community (stopcolumbia.org), and put forward an alternative plan that allowed Columbia to build around existing housing and manufacturing in Manhattanville. But Columbia insists it needs to acquire every property in the five-by-two-block area and has reserved the right to use eminent domain (a form of compulsory purchase under US law), which some opponents say makes it impossible to negotiate. "That's not collaboration talk," says Kooperkamp. "That's bulldozer talk."
Opponents of the plans no longer believe anything Columbia tells them. "Left to their own devices, they'll take the whole island!" says Anne Whitman, the owner of Hudson Moving, a removals company located on Broadway at 125th Street.
Some see Columbia as no different from any other rapacious commercial property developer. "This is not a university expansion, it's a business park expansion combined with a land grab," says Tom DeMott, a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community.
Columbia insists that perception is wrong. "We're not condemning to make a profit, we're building to find cures for diseases like asthma," says Kasdin. He says Columbia is being unfairly blamed for bigger problems in Harlem that it is simply not in a position to solve. "People who feel marginalised do not differentiate between power," he says. Unless Columbia can help local people to do exactly that, however, its attempt to integrate with WestSide Harlem may be doomed to failure.