Don’t Fear Columbia
By DAVID N. DINKINS
Published: May 27, 2007
THIS city has always been a place of constant change, and one of the challenges that we who live and work here face is ensuring that the changes generated by growth and development in the city benefit all New Yorkers.
Columbia University’s proposal to develop the old Manhattanville manufacturing zone of West Harlem over the next two decades is the perfect example of a change that will generate growth and benefit all.
Back in the early 1990s, during my administration, the city and the West Harlem community developed plans to attract responsible growth to the blocks between the Henry Hudson Parkway and the area around the subway station on Broadway and 125th Street.
Columbia’s Manhattanville proposal takes the best of these ideas to gradually create a new kind of open, urban campus that will improve local streets; bring back commercial life to Broadway, 125th Street and 12th Avenue; and better connect the residential areas of Harlem with the waterfront park now under construction along the Hudson River. This kind of long-term institutional growth will provide more jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as cultural and open space, to the diverse group of people who live in the area.
Of course, town-gown partnerships are not without their stresses and strains, and the relationship between Harlem residents and Columbia has not always been the best. Indeed, I was one of those picketing Columbia back in the 1960s, so I know the history and appreciate the concerns that some Harlem residents may have about the university’s plans.
But we should give each other credit where credit is due, and not lose sight of the ways in which the partnership has benefited both groups and provided hundreds of public health and human service programs, educational and cultural exchanges, and workplace experiences and opportunities. For instance, Columbia University Medical Center provides summer research fellowships to minority students from the City University of New York, enabling them to participate in innovative research at Columbia’s medical labs and receive mentoring from leading scientists at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health has a variety of public health clinics, outreach programs and research studies that serve the neighborhood, working with places like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, which is also now in an educational partnership with Columbia Business School. The Mailman School has also joined with the Columbia-affiliated Harlem Hospital Center and the Harlem Children’s Zone to tackle the problem of asthma among overweight children in the community.
For more than four decades, Columbia’s Double Discovery Center has provided on-campus after-school enrichment and college readiness programs to hundreds of local students from low-income families. Double Discovery participants have consistently achieved high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates of 97 percent. These are but a few of the many collaborative efforts that have helped to make the Harlem community and Columbia University institutional partners, and to make friends and neighbors of Harlemites and Columbians.
New York is a gorgeous mosaic, and an institution like Columbia is an important part of the vibrant mix that makes our city unique. The university’s expansion project will broaden its mission of teaching and academic research, patient care and public service, and enhance the quality of life for those who live and work in Harlem and across our city. And Columbia University could have no better partners in this venture than the people of Harlem.
David N. Dinkins, the mayor of New York from 1990 to 1993, is a professor of public affairs at Columbia.