President Lee Bollinger
Columbia University

Dear President Bollinger,

Columbia has had a long record of disastrous plans designed to bring in revenues through the back door. Most have fortunately been shot down before they got off the ground, e.g. a mall with faculty housing located somewhere towards the Catskills, a better cigarette filter. Its real estate ventures have been costly both to it and those hit by its hired guns.

One assumes that the current biotech move into Manhattanville is more of the same and ironically Columbia may be creating precisely the conditions that will _need_ biotech remediation — at the cost of the surrounding communities and particularly their children.

Stepping back, exploitation of Harlem in conflict with its interests is not the newest game in town. Robert Moses had contempt for poor communities which he had no compunctions about destroying or depriving — the wandering highways in Long Island that dodged the rich and bulldozed the poor. A particularly egregious move on his part that is readily apparent is that he covered the train tracks over Riverside Drive only up to 125th St. where the trains emerged and were killing kids as recently as a decade ago. My Columbia M.A. wife, Carolyn Kent, has fought successfully for the improvement of Harlem’s West Side parks as CB#9 Parks and Preservation Chair (another $40 million has just been directed there).

The even greater hazard that was imposed on West Harlem and which will be further impacted by increased building south of it is the North River Sewage plant in the 140s. It should have been placed far further down the West Side where conventional horizontal waste settlement areas could have been fitted in. But needless to say Harlem became the victim even though there was not sufficient space to place a sewage plant there. An ‘innovative’ design of vertical tanks was used. Unhappily they did not work. At best the plant can remove only some of the harmful stuff that is being dumped into the river. When the rains are heavy, only solid waste is kept back and all the poisonous stuff from manufacturing etc. that flows into our sewers goes straight into the Hudson where no one should fish or swim but where too many do. I hate to imagine biotech contributions to these overflows! Initially Harlem was beset by the stench of the sewage plant (and poisons on the winds), until protests led to protective enclosure of the plant which left only its employees at risk. This state of affairs is often denied, but has been confirmed by experts and those who work in the plant many years ago.

Back to Columbia — if the current plan to excavated seven stories deep into the 17 acres running from Broadway to the viaduct is implemented, hundreds of thousands of trucks will be carrying out junk over a 20 odd year period. Destruction of buildings will also scatter dust and debris that will follow the prevailing winds into central and East Harlem. Need one comment on the asthma impacts on kids alone that this environmental disaster will engender? There will be no wall to protect them from this tainted dust and other pollutants generated by the long-term construction process that will affect an entire generation!
After we moved out of 430 W. 125th St. in General Grant Houses where we had been invited to live when Columbia grad students, we were horrified to learn that the highest carbon monoxide rates in the city were along 125th St. — a valley with much truck traffic. Imagine the impact of all those trucks and other equipment running engines in and through the area!

And then there is the construction noise factor over 20 odd years. Columbia has one of its own huge faculty housing buildings overlooking this disaster which is bracketed to the north by 3333 Broadway. In place of quiet and socially productive uses that we all are likely to need such as storage spaces and even a gas station, Columbia will be destroying an environmental area ranging many blocks north, south of it, and wherever the wind blows.

I think our children and families of Harlem deserve far better from a major university. Such institutions are notorious for poor planning with their rapid changes of administrations and boards appointed per their ability to provide funding rather than public service credentials.

CB#9 has offered a far more constructive alternative plan to yours. I hope wiser heads connected with Columbia will halt this disaster before it unfolds.

Ed Kent, Ph.D. Columbia, 1965

P.S. I hope some of the pols that you have lined up on your side will also reconsider what they are doing to their constituents!

“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 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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