Columbia, as long as we have known it, has been a Janus figure — ugly real estate practices driving out neighborhood residents and small businesses — covered by its ‘academic face’.  Those of us who have experienced both know what an incredibly disparate mindset operates each.  I gather faculty are now noting the decline and disappearance of the humanities that might otherwise soften Columbia’s brutal side?

Columbia now looks to be buying out the opposition to its Manhattanville expansion wherever it can — it is hard to keep people off the plantation (to use the expression of J. Raymond Jones, the Harlem Fox, who years ago defended Harlem against comparable sell outs).  The ducks now seem lined up — most of the local pols except for Bill Perkins, the City Planning Commission headed by a rich white lady, a weakened community board — ready perhaps, to accept a few scraps from the table?

Jane Jacobs would point out that the worst of things are once again happening in our neighborhoods.  Interests with vague ego drives are doing their things.  The ‘icebox’, the ugly building known as the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive, was supposed to become the Protestant Vatican — it now houses most any other office effort that will pay the tab, as American Protestantism has been degenerating into the Billy Graham Anti-Intellectualism predicted by Reinhold Niebuhr.

And then there is the King — not the one reversed as a civil rights leader, but the former Columbia trustee who converts not for profit lands into high priced money-makers.  This King (not to be confused with Mark Kingdon) originally launched Columbia’s moves towards Manhattanville and then moved on as trustee of the Cathedral to organize the sell off of its lands to high priced luxury real estate interests — rentals planned at $6500.00 per month!  This expansion is now placing huge pressures on nearby residents who are having to fight for their lives to forestall comparable rents which are being so raised in their neighborhood.

And what of Manhattanville — those 17 acres in lower West Harlem to be devastated by years of construction seven stories deep?  Do you really think Columbia can afford such development just to reconstruct the human brain?  Far more likely the riverside park will become a drawing card along with the ready public transportation access for luxury housing which in turn will devastate wider area residents and businesses with super gentrification — already in process in West Harlem where the real estate values are escalating.

I don’t think Columbia has the wherewithal to carry out serious _academic_ expansion in that area.  Thursday night’s Columbia Alexander Hamilton fund-raising event tells the story — $1.75 million with a dozen young girls from a Harlem dance company as entertainment for the assembled money sources?  I strongly expect that down the line Columbia will fall back on the Cathedral model and use this high value turf at least in part for luxury items — hotels, condos, whatever will sell or lease big along side an occasional Columbia academic structure — the business school, perhaps?

Yes, Harlem is being lynched!

“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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