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Columbia University Unveils Urban Plan Design to Community Leaders

Close to 100 people attended the briefing for Harlem business leaders. From left, Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger; Barbara Askins, President and CEO of The 125th Street Business Improvement District (BID); David Dinkins, former New York City Mayor and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs Professor; and Lloyd Williams, President of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce.
Credit: Chris Taggart

To meet its formidable space constraints, Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger unveiled at an April 21 breakfast briefing of Harlem business leaders Columbia's proposed plan to convert an adjoining underutilized manufacturing area into a vibrant, mixed-use development.

The build-out in Manhattanville in West Harlem will generate about 9,000 permanent new jobs and provide $4 billion in economic stimulus to the City of New York, where Columbia has deep roots. The University estimates that approximately 20 percent of hires in recent years come from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone.

The urban design reflects a collaborative community planning process -- the most extensive and inclusive in the University's history. Columbia administrators and staff have engaged in a dialogue with area residents, businesses, elected officials and community boards to listen and learn so that a shared vision could guide the plan.

Speaking at a breakfast co-sponsored by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, the Harlem Business Alliance and the 125 th Street Business Improvement District, Bollinger said:

"Columbia is addressing its formidable space constraints in a way that both ensures the University enhances its status as a world-class academic and research institution while at the same time working with the community to meet its needs. These goals shape a shared vision that will guide the University's development over the next 10 years and beyond."

Bollinger said the design plan is the result of the collaboration of the two preeminent urban architectural and planning firms, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) and Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM).

The proposed site for the Manhattanville expansion is the area bounded by West 125th Street on the south (including properties on the south side of 125th) to 133rd Street on the north and from Broadway on the east to 12th Avenue on the west. In addition, the area under study also includes two blocks bordered by Broadway and Old Broadway on the east and west between 131st and 133rd Streets, property fronting 12th Avenue between 133rd and 134th Streets, and property fronting the east side of Broadway between 133rd and 134th Streets.

Addressing community's economic and social needs : The proposed project would entail the creation of approximately 9,000 permanent new jobs, and $4 billion of economic stimulus in New York City to design and build the facilities. Employment in the proposed area has fallen by more than 40 percent since 1984 and is now estimated at approximately 1,250 jobs. Much of what is currently composed of warehouses, automotive services or similar types of industrial buildings would be converted into vibrant, mixed-use development.

Addressing University's space shortage: Columbia faces significant physical space constraints as it continues to provide world-class educational opportunities to a diverse student and faculty population. At 326 ft2 per student, Columbia has less square footage per student than other leading research universities (compared to Yale at 866 ft2, Princeton at 828 ft2 and Harvard at 673 ft2).

Pedestrian-Friendly Design

The design plan invites residents, students and faculty to converse and do business along open, tree-lined streets. Highlights include:

• Buildings that feature transparent ground floor sections, creating a light and airy, seamless transition from building interiors to outdoor spaces.

• Generous use of open space, widened sidewalks, tree-lined streets that encourage pedestrian passage between the Waterfront Park and neighboring communities.

• Traffic-easing measures designed to encourage pedestrian passage between the Waterfront Park and local communities.

• Provision of more public performance spaces.

• Mixed use ground floors that feature both new retail establishments such as banks, drug stores and restaurants.

"At this stage and every stage along the way we will continue to collaborate with the community to meet our mutual needs and goals," said President Bollinger. "At the end of the day, we want to be as proud of the process we followed to realize our shared vision as we are of the facilities and new spaces we've created."

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Published: Apr 22, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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