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COLUMBIA'S EXPANSION INTO WEST HARLEM: IN WHOSE INTEREST?

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What is Columbia's Plan?

Columbia has announced that it will expand its facilities into an area of West Harlem known as Manhattanville, which stretches from 125th to 133rd streets west of Broadway.

The university has a history of displacing residents by buying up residential property for student and faculty housing. The administration says Manhattanville is underdeveloped and underoccupied, but there have not been adequate guarantees that people who are being displaced will receive substantial assistance or compensation and that development will make community needs as central as university interests.

What is gentrification, and how is Columbia implicated in it?

"Gentrification is the process by which poor and working-class neighborhoods in the inner city are refurbished via an influx of private capital and middle-class homebuyers and renters--neighborhoods that previously experienced disinvestment and a middle-class exodus" (Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier).

The gentrification of Harlem is a broad, longterm trend in the urban landscape. If Harlem's current residents can't participate in Columbia's economic and residential developments there, they will be pushed out instead.

Why does the rezoning process matter?

- Manhattanville is currently zoned for light manufacturing, so a range of manufacturing work is legal there.

- Columbia is asking the New York City government to rezone the area for mixed use, which "encourage[s] investment in mixed residential and industrial neighborhoods by permitting expansion and new development in a wide variety of uses" (nyc.gov).

- Tenants' rights activists and urban planners warn that "mixed use" zoning is often a euphemism for gentrification because it encourages the development of trendy retail and refurbished residential space. Universities gentrify by infusing neighborhoods with private capital, displacing longtime residents and changing the character and affordability of the community.

What is the Community saying?

In an open letter addressing the creation of the Community Advisory Committee, the Coalition to Preserve Community (CPC) has called Columbia's efforts at community inclusion, "a sophisticated, well-heeled public relations operation that functioned to provide the appearance of community input in order to avoid having to address the destructive consequences of Columbia's continued unrestrained expansion."

What is the Alternative: the Community 197a Plan

Though often not mentioned there are two major plans being considered in West Harlem. The 197-A Plan developed by community members and planners at Community Board 9 is a guideline for development that if followed would protects longtime residents and businesses and still allow for much of the development Columbia is proposing.

- "In part, the 197-a plan reflects the Community Board’s intent to develop a framework to guide decisions concerning a spate of anticipated public and private sector land use initiatives which will inevitably alter the community’s demographic profile and shape its future growth.

The plan represents the result of a planning process in which CB 9 residents expressed a vision for the future development of their community. Its recommendations consider the entire community district with a particular focus on Manhattanville, as it is the most likely area for intensive future development." [From Community Board 9's 197-a plan, see full plan here]