Thursday, September 27, 2007

Columbia plan to expand riles its neighbors

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Columbia plan to expand riles its neighbors
Columbia University has already razed parts of its proposed expansion site in
Manhattanville. By Todd Plitt, USA TODAY
By Charisse Jones, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — It's a pocket of Manhattan that evokes New York City's past, its warehouses and former factories squatting in the shadow of subway tracks.

Yet it is here, in a part of Harlem known as Manhattanville, that Columbia University has sketched its future.

The elite Ivy League university wants to add 17 acres to its cramped nearby campus and construct buildings for the arts and research over the next 23 years.

Residents look over an architectural model of Columbia University expansion plans
at an open meeting Sept. 19.
Columbia promises that the $6.3-billion project will bring thousands of jobs and new vitality to this faded neighborhood, but the plan has stoked old tensions from its controversial expansion efforts in 1968 and 1990. Some community leaders say they fear that the college will callously displace its poorer neighbors.

"The sad part about this is, Columbia is a wonderful institution and they do wonderful things for the community," says Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, chairman of the local community board, which has voted against the plan. "But what they do wonderful and good with one hand they always seem to destroy with the other."

Others welcome a transformation. "Change is always difficult," says Reginald Williams, who lives in Harlem. But "nobody wants (the neighborhood) to stay the way it is."

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Schools Residents Harlem Todd Plitt University of Pennsylvania

The final decision will come from the New York City Council. In a vote expected by January, the council will decide whether to rezone the 17 acres and allow Columbia's plan to go forward.

For universities rooted in urban, working-class communities, the turf battle between Columbia and some of its Harlem neighbors is a familiar struggle. Colleges' need for more space sometimes clash with residents' feelings that they are being overpowered and disregarded by the wealthy academic institution in their midst. Columbia, for example, has a $5.9 billion endowment, and tuition alone is more than $24,000 a year.

While many universities in the past walled themselves off from their communities, an increasing number now are trying to be better neighbors, embracing their role as a major employer, partnering with residents and investing in the surrounding environment.

Schools get involved

"Universities have come out from behind the fortresses," says Bruce Katz, director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. A rise in homelessness and crime starting in the late 1980s prompted schools to get more engaged, he says.

"Many university presidents are really a part of that small network of big employers who have an enormous amount of influence on how cities grow and evolve," Katz says. "So they've taken on more of a civic responsibility."

Key examples:
•The University of Pennsylvania launched an ambitious effort in the late 1990s to address crime and decay in its West Philadelphia neighborhood. Over the past decade, the once declining community has landed 350,000 square feet of new business space, including a Barnes and Noble bookstore and Hilton Hotel. It has built a public school that now is one of the city's top performers. As Philadelphia's largest private employer, Penn also has made hiring neighborhood residents a priority.

"Universities have both the resources and appetite to expand and historically have done it by displacing local residents, many of whom were poor and minorities," says Judith Rodin, the former Penn president who spearheaded the initiatives. Penn recognized that it shared the community's problems.

"Universities are trying to teach their students about civic engagement," Rodin says. "And I'm not sure you can do that responsibly without being a good role model of civic engagement as an institution."

•The University of Southern California in Los Angeles introduced initiatives that have led to university students mentoring and teaching at 14 local schools. A fundraising campaign among staff and faculty this year gave more than $850,000 to community programs.

"The tension will exist because you are the mansion on the street," says Carolyn Webb Dey Macias, a USC vice president. "You also are the person who can bring resources to your neighbor."

•Yale University in New Haven, Conn., has helped develop more than 1,000 units of affordable housing and made physical improvements to downtown, says Michael Morand, a Yale associate vice president. Such efforts have helped strengthen the relationship between the 250-acre downtown campus and adjoining neighborhoods, says Jerry Tureck, who has lived nearby for 25 years.

Creating 6,000 jobs

Columbia, a fixture in Harlem for nearly a century, provides legal aid for residents and offers free English as a Second Language classes.

It already owns about 70% of the properties in the area to be redeveloped. The project would provide nearly 6,000 new jobs at the university and about 1,200 construction jobs annually over the next two decades. Along with new academic buildings, there would be space for local businesses and a site for a university-supported public school stressing math and science.

One sticking point is the fate of some in the path of the expansion. The university says it won't ask the state to use eminent domain to force out those living in the 132 residential units located in the project site. Columbia says it has bought land for a new building to house some of those residents. It also announced Wednesday that it will create a $20 million affordable housing fund.
Columbia, however, has not rejected the use of eminent domain for commercial properties, rankling some business owners. "They have no right to come into a community and say get out … or we'll have the state throw you out," says Anne Whitman, 55, whose family has owned a six-story building within the project site for 35 years. "It's just a naked land grab."

Reyes-Montblanc worries that Columbia's development will increase housing prices that have already doubled and tripled in a neighborhood where the average household income is about $29,000 a year. He also says the jobs at the university will be beyond the educational or skill level of many in the neighborhood. "We clean up the neighborhoods, make the district livable," he says. "And when it's finally to a point where we should be able to enjoy it, here comes Columbia."

Williams, who has lived in Harlem all his life, says Columbia's plan is the best option.

"This is not the same Columbia that we dealt with 30 or 40 years ago," Williams says. "If we're able to improve upon a quality educational institution in our neighborhood, provide the jobs, have additional retail space … we think that's a good thing."



Columbia University wants to add to its campus in Manhattan. The plan could be the latest development in a history of shaky relations with its neighbors.

Columbia has asked New York City to rezone 17 acres of a West Harlem neighborhood of mostly old industrial sites. Nearly 7 million square feet of building space would accommodate mostly teaching and research. Tenants of 132 apartment units would have to move.

How Columbia says its space compares with that of other Ivy League universities:
(School/Gross square feet per student)

Yale: 866
Princeton: 828
Cornell: 674
Harvard: 673
Columbia: 326

Gym controversy
The university scrapped a plan in 1968 to build a gym in Morningside Park after complaints about the racial implications of a separate entrance for neighborhood residents. Students staged a large, campuswide protest against the proposals.

Flap over Audubon Ballroom
In 1990, the university agreed to modify an expansion proposal to destroy the ballroom where civil rights leader Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. When the school built the Audubon Business and Technology Center, hit left intact part of the building.

Sources: Columbia University, wire reports, Columbia Spectator and ESRI
By Karl Gelles, USA TODAY

To report corrections and clarifications, contact Reader Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to Include name, phone number, city and state for verification.

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Showing: Newest first Oldest first

Jammer97 wrote: 13d ago
Perhaps the extra land is to be used when dictators are invited over...they can bring some tanks etc, and hold military parades a la the old Red Square May Day Parades.

JThos wrote: 24d ago
Is there a reason that Reginald Williams was depicted as a mere NYC citizen, and not as the preacher or ARC director that he is, etc.? This inquiring mind wants to know, because this article seems to be skewed and more pro-CU propaganda to me. It is just like the night that Bollinger, et al. spoke at the M'ville Houses CB9 meeting, having mailed their "Building West Harlem Together" brochure to every address in the area. No one should delude himself/herself about the depths certain CU entities will stoop to for conquests.

Mad Swede wrote: 25d ago
How about moving the entire University to Iran ? They could then do a study on Iranian homosexuals. Oh thats right, the students would all be killed. That would be one hard lesson on free speech. Something I guess they will never learn here. They certainly didn't know anything about free speech when the Minutemen tried to speak there !

R.I.P.RoryG. wrote: 27d ago
Is that lady in the middle wearing 3D glasses?

Reysmont wrote: 12m ago
Very good article however some points need clarification.

Harlem is really 3 separate and distinct Districts. When most people say Harlem they are referring to the traditional African American seminal community. However there is also an East Harlem also known as Spanish Harlem a seminal community for Puerto Ricans and other Spanish-Speaking peoples.

And there is WestSide Harlem or West Harlem, the community of diversity, multi ethnicity, multi racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural a unique District composed of 3 historic neighborhoods, Morningside Heights, Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights.

One major problem is people from other areas of Harlem interfering for or against the Columbia expansion.

CB9M tends to reject and discourage support from outsiders while Columbia only seem capable of getting support from outside the District.

Mr Williams may have lived all his life in Harlem, which he has, but in Central Harlem, Community District 10, he has no legitimate business getting involved in matters internal to West Harlem particularly since directly or indirectly his programs receive financial support from the University.

This is one of several strategic errors perpretated by Columbia which turn most of the community agaisnt their plans not the expansion itself but the invasiveness and impermeability of their expansion plans.

J. Reyes-Montblanc
Community Board 9 Manhattan

CB9M WestSide Harlem:

Morningside Heights * Manhattanville * Hamilton Heights

iceman4766 wrote: 29d ago
Can't they open a branch campus in Iran? I'm sure president Imanuttajob would love to have them there - I know I would.

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