Wednesday, November 28, 2007


It should come as no surprise that the views neighborhood residents, community activists, students, small business people, and others were shunned by the New York City Planning Commission as it approved plans by Columbia University to expand into a west Harlem neighborhood. The commission’s vote is the second to last step in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a mandatory public review process

The Commission historically caves in to corporate and big business interests. Big time universities get the same breaks because they are big businesses, too. Money talks, and the people get shafted. That's the name of the game.

Mayor Bloomberg who can't figure out if he is a democrat, a republican or an independent (but knows for sure he is a rich guy) embraced Columbia University's push to expand its Harlem campus, even before the city's land-use process to evaluate the controversial plan haD begun. Since most of the members of the Planning Commission were appointed by him, well, you get the idea.

Columbia has been purchasing properties from 100th Street to 168th Street, concentrating on a mainly industrial zone in West Harlem from 125th to 133rd Streets. The property, if all goes according to plan, will provide a setting for a new 17-acre campus.

The purchases are part of a broader effort to "expand significantly over the next decade," as University President Lee Bollinger said in his inaugural address last year. Bollinger has described it as a necessary step to perpetuate the quality of a great but space-constrained university.

Isn't that nice.

Studies indicate that up to 5,000 local residents OF Manhattanville and nearby neighborhoods are in danger of either direct or indirect displacement.

The New York Independent in a brutal indictment of the plan wrote:

"For local residents, Columbia’s expansion comes with the sting of irony. Having emptied out a large portion of Manhattanville, the university is now asking New York to find the area “blighted,” so that it can use eminent domain, a state government power, in order to force remaining holdouts to sell and demolish the area for “public benefit,” as university President Lee Bollinger put it in a March interview on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” This “public benefit” comes in the form of urban renewal. Bollinger says the new campus is about building the future. Columbia estimates that its new facility will generate 7,086 permanent jobs on site, though the vast majority of those would not be available to the average person currently living in West Harlem, where 32 percent of residents hold less than a high school education."

Protesters blasted city officials after hearing of the commissions decision.

Cynthia Doty, a coalition activist who described the details of the expansion, has a less then favorable view of the plan. "They're just gobbling up everything they can," she said.

“We will stop the bulldozers and we will stop Columbia University and they will never build this plan that City Planning claims they will build,” said Tom DeMott of the Coalition to Preserve Community.

“This is an assault not only against West Harlem, but the greater community of Harlem,” said Nellie Hester Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council." She called the expansion nothing less then, "...a plan to dismantle and restructure Harlem. You are driving blacks, Latinos and working-class whites out of Harlem."

Small businesses will be destroyed in the expansion as well. But then small business people aren't held in much higher esteem then working and poor people by big business types and their lackeys anyway.

As pointed out in the article in the New York Independent:

"In Manhattanville, this kind of story has become old news. Since the late 1990s, Columbia has amassed about 70 percent of the property it seeks, vacating many of the buildings. As the university has grown, West Harlem’s manufacturing and service shops have fallen by the wayside. In the 1990s, West Harlem’s industrial sector added 403 jobs to the workforce. "

But between 2000 and 2002, when Columbia picked up the bulk of its Manhattanville property, this same industry suffered a sharp loss of 372 jobs, according to a study commissioned by Community Board 9 (CB9), which represents West Harlem."

The Neighborhood Retail Alliance which represents small business issued a statement after the Commission vote which read in part:

"The Commission, whose majority is controlled by the mayor, faithfully did what it was told to do-and did so without any recognition of the potential negative impact that expansion would have on existing businesses or residents..."

...and don't forget all of the wonderful landscaping that Commissioner Burden has included-not really comprehending the irony of providing landscaping for an area that will witness the displacement of people from their homes and businesses from their locations. You know, you may be forced out, but think of all the pretty trees that will take your place. "

Many students at the university have spoken in opposition to the planned expansion. A number of them went on a hunger strike.

The group the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification marched issues this statement more than a month ago:

"As students of Columbia University, we find it impossible to stand aside as our university actively ignores and evades the rights of the West Harlem community. Instead of engaging the community in respectful and open negotiation, Columbia has pursued an expansion plan of disruption and displacement. We believe that the community has a right to affordable housing, living wage jobs, and a prominent voice in any development plan for its neighborhood. We believe that Columbia's plan must recognize the rights of all people regardless of their economic background or race."

The commission's action did not settle the question of whether the laws of eminent domain would be invoked to take property owned by resistant land owners.

That will likely be left to the state's Empire State Development Corp.

I might point out in passing that according to Stop Columbia has already given $300,000 to the Empire State Development Corp (ESDC) as part of its effort to pursue the implementation of eminent domain. Documents attesting to these facts were uncovered by Columbia Spectator reporters. The Columbia Administration has repeatedly claimed that eminent domain was a matter for the state, which Columbia had no control over, and that it was only a distant, unlikely option in any case. Last summer Columbia said it would not ask the Empire State Development Corporation to use its power of eminent domain to evict anybody living in the new "campus' footprint."

Who do you trust?

What do you think will happen to people who don't want to leave?

The following is from Newsday.

Columbia gets approval for West Harlem expansion

Columbia University's controversial plan to expand into west Harlem got the go-ahead yesterday during a raucous meeting before a crowd of hostile protesters.

The City Planning Commission approved Columbia's construction of an arts, business and science campus on 17 acres in Manhattanville that the university maintains it needs to stay competitive, but some community groups insist will drive out longtime, lower-income residents and businesses.

Although the university has acquired most of the properties in the project's footprint, it hasn't ruled out using eminent domain to acquire the rest.

"[The plan] represents a vision for the future of Manhattanville that meets the shared objectives of addressing the needs of an institution of major importance to the city while building on the strengths of the neighborhood and providing for new investment, jobs and public open space," said Planning Commission Chairwoman Amanda Burden.

Ten of the 12 commissioners voted to approve Columbia's plan, with one abstention.

The protesters represented a cross-section of preservationists, affordable housing advocates and neighborhood activists, who accused Columbia and the commissioners of, among other things, trying to drive the working class out of the city, abusing eminent domain and building science labs to experiment on human as guinea pigs.

"The record of this commission is that their allegiance is only to other wealthy people," said architectural historian Michael Henry Adams, who harangued the commissioners with chants of "rich, rich, rich" throughout much of the meeting. "I guess the rest of us can just go to hell and die."

The meeting was delayed several minutes when protesters refused to move from the aisles of the meeting room despite warnings from the police. The protesters chanted "Harlem not for sale," and sang 1960s-style protest songs.

Plan supporters blamed a few agenda-driven malcontents for stirring up the neighborhood.

"Change is always difficult," said the Rev. Reginald Williams of the Manhattanville Coalition, a group that supports Columbia's plan. "They are trying to play on people's fears. It's the record versus the rhetoric."

The plan now goes to the City Council, which will hold hearings early next month, and is expected to approve the plans with some modifications.

Opponents of the plan vowed to press ahead.

"We will not be moved because we do not have any place to go," said Nellie Hester Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council. "A mosaic of this city is represented in west Harlem. We cannot lose that."

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