The following is taken from a comment to Columbia University area email lists on the gentrification of lower West Harlem (Manhattanville) where Columbia is threatening the use of eminent domain to grab 17 crucial acres for the construction of a new — mainly profit-oriented biotech campus.

Those who drive or take the #4 bus up Broadway will notice to the west on the south side of 135th St. a massive housing complex (with a connected basketball area between it and Broadway).  This is 3333 Broadway which has completed its Mitchell Lama 20 years after which owners are free to sell or raise rents.  I hear that evictions are now taking place monthly there — I don’t have all the specifics.  But Columbia’s move would make this a highly attractive place to house faculty, staff and students connected with a new campus.  Presumably the stores and residences running north from there would undergo rapid ‘upgrading’, i.e. replacement with far more expensive stores, removal of tenants and/or new construction.  All the attractions of Riverside Park are also there.  One would expect to see the Upper West Side extended northward and the removal of small businesses, jobs, affordable housing, etc. by upscale replacements — not quite the dramatic type of urban removal that occurred under Robert Moses, but a more insidious kind such as that impacting Morningside Heights currently and moving in on the Manhattan Valley which will be converted to Central Park North luxury housing in the next decade or so.

When we returned to Morningside Heights in 1966 after a brief stint teaching out of town, we moved into 440 Riverside Drive.  It was an affordable building and we particularly appreciated the mix in our neighborhood and building of people from diverse backgrounds.  There was even housing for those who would otherwise have been homeless in several SROs who now live in the rail tunnel under Riverside Park or wherever else they can grab some sleep — the B’way Presbyterian church steps, the far end of our subway platforms, etc.

When the co-op boom hit in 1979 (an earlier one had been aborted by the Depression and had made co-ops dubious ventures), we watched the neighborhood rapidly begin changing.  We were fortunate to be able to buy our apartment for virtually nothing — now only millionaires need apply to purchase apartments in our lovely building.  We still have some tenants left as we converted on a non-eviction basis.  But the neighborhood is firmly moving upscale.  All our stores are increasingly either upscale (i.e. much more expensive than their equivalents in other ‘hoods — even when part of the same operation, e.g. University Market) or chain operations.  I venture that few not earning upwards to 6 figures can even afford to rent in Morningside Heights now?  I fully expect to see a new luxury housing tower replace even the remnant of bargain shopping at Rite Aid facing the Columbia equivalent across B’way.  All the low story buildings in our neighborhood are known as ‘tax payers’ — expect these blocks to be replaced by high rises as leases expire.

As I had an early connection with Manhattanville, having interned in the Manhattanville Community Center many years ago while a student, I am saddened at the prospect of people living in that general area being forced out by the heavy footprint of Columbia moving in.  I see no quid pro quos of any serious kind being offered by Columbia — a math and science school will presumably serve its own employees, not those currently living in the area. CCNY provides such things for bright kids living in that neighborhood now.  Columbia puts its own into public space, e.g. the recent dispute about the move of an older set of Columbia faculty children into P.S. 36.

The on-going question is why did not Columbia respect the highly professional plan offered by CB#9 which would benefit a mixed community living in the Manhattanville and locate its expanded campus outside of NYC somewhere that could be reached by university transportation much as its two existing campuses are now connected?  The Columbia alternative will obviously force the people now living in the area to make the move out.  Seems terribly unkind as well as greedy.  Is this the morality of a major university  — corporatized?  What are those upper management salaries and perks again?  Ed Kent

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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