LET COLUMBIA GROW
December 19, 2007 -- After years of wrangling, the City Council appears set to approve - possibly as early as today - Columbia University's bold plan to expand its campus in the Manhattanville section of Harlem.
Though we've had some reservations with the proposal, the way it's been sold to the public and, in particular, Columbia itself, the council nonetheless should bestow its blessings on the expansion - and hasten the day when shovels start digging.
Ultimately, the expansion will be a big plus for the area, the university, the local economy - and the city at large.
It will create, for example, more than 6.8 million square feet of space for research labs and other academic facilities.
The new campus will provide added recreational and commercial space - as well as improved access to the Hudson River waterfront park.
And it promises 6,000 new jobs, once all's said and done - and billions in new economic activity at local shops and restaurants, as well as from new vendors at university-owned buildings.
The Coalition to Preserve Community, an anti-expansion outfit, worries these gains aren't worth it if the neighborhood becomes "homogenized and gentrified."
That's just silly.
The plan aims to take a stagnant, depressing swath of land and make it attractive - and economically productive.
What's wrong with that?
It's a shame that Columbia botched its marketing of the plan so badly. And that it has had to battle its reputation as a poor neighbor in its community.
Since presenting the expansion, school officials have tried, literally, to buy off community members.
They've conducted back-room dealings with political leaders.
And the school's hired guns - bygone-era black leaders like Bill Lynch, David Dinkins and Hazel Dukes - have insulted the community's intelligence by playing the race card, as was the practice back in the bad old days, to win support for the plan. At one point, as Tom Elliott noted in these pages, the school apparently paid outsiders to pose as supporters.
It's also disappointing that the school has continued to use the threat of the state's powers of eminent domain to make the deal work. What that means, in plain English, is forcing property owners to give up their land - at a price they may not agree is worth it.
(Nor have other Columbia infamies - such as allowing an anti-illegal-immigrant speaker to be physically run off stage and inviting Iran's heinous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak - helped win it much sympathy.)
But again, at the end of the day, the expansion will spawn huge benefits.
The council can seal a bottom-line good deal today by giving Columbia's expansion a green light.