Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bollinger Discusses Urban Renewal Programs

Bollinger Discusses Urban Renewal Programs
By Betsy Morais

President Bollinger joined a panel of scholars to address university development in urban communities to an engaged crowd at Rockefeller University last night.

The event was held as part of a series organized by the Municipal Art Society to discuss revitalization and the preservation of city neighborhoods entitled “Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York.” The series was inspired by famous urbanist and writer Jane Jacobs, who fought against urban renewal programs, advocating instead for smaller, organic renewal enterprises that preserve community interaction.

Jacobs scholar Kent Barwick, sat beside Robert Moses curator Hilary Ballon of NYU, facing audience members wearing anti-eminent domain stickers.

“We have to do this in a way that would integrate the interests of all,” President Bollinger said of Columbia’s expansion plans. But, he added, “I think we have a long way to go.”
“A long, long way to go!” a heckler interjected enthusiastically.

Journalist James Traub moderated the event, asking panelists about the impact and responsibility of universities as they build into their surrounding areas.

Ballon described how universities have, in the past, “worked against the fabric” of local sentiment “to improve the quality of urban life,” in the true spirit of controversial urban planner Robert Moses.

Since the Moses era, disputes over expansion of universities have erupted from tensions over socio-economic and architectural diversity, which is at risk of being diminished in the face of urban development. Panelists discussed the key challenge of balancing institutional and community benefit, infusing new life in cities as universities grow, while retaining local spirit and combating gentrification.

“Universities are often the four thousand pound gorilla exerting their power over neighborhoods,” Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin said. As president of the University of Pennsylvania during their expansion project, Rodin strove to avoid this problem by working towards collaborative community integration.

Rodin also explained the role of universities as engines of economic development and models of civic engagement, citing Penn’s climb in the U.S. News and World Report Rankings as evidence of the university’s gain from its positive community impact.

But Barwick expressed that residents regard an incoming developer as a “powerful force that can alter their destiny without accountability,” alluding to the perception of the Manhattanville community towards Columbia.

“The Columbia plan creates a space. We don’t think it’s in the right place.” Barwick also noted.
Members of the crowd reflected Barwick’s views as they directed questions to the panel. “I’m very disheartened,” Manhattanville resident Michael Henry Adams said of Columbia’s plans, which he feels are “imposed by an elitist institution that is predominately white.”
Adams believes Columbia is saying, “To hell with you!” to his neighborhood.

President Bollinger asserted that “there is a much bigger consensus” of support by representatives and leaders in upper Manhattan. According to Bollinger, Manhattanville development would be a positive change in an area that has been suffering from economic decline for decades. He added, “We are always ready to listen” to opposition.

Yet Coalition to Preserve Community President Tom Kappner, CC ’66 said, “Bollinger refuses to deal with this notion of collaboration with the community.”

Although Kappner loves Columbia, he fears the outcome of the University’s project will be disastrous. “He’s ignoring us,” Kappner commented, after comparing Bollinger to Robert Moses.
In response, Bollinger said, “Columbia has been extraordinarily willing to talk.”But one audience member saw the manifestation of Columbia’s attitude in its “big fucking gates. It’s all closed.”

Betsy Morais can be reached at

TAGS: President Bollinger, Urban Renewal

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