The Times has yet another piece about Columbia University’s plans to expand its campus in West Harlem in an area otherwise known as Manhattanville. The struggle to develop a massive 17-acre campus, designed by Renzo Piano, promises to become another Atlantic Yards shootout, or perhaps even worse, given the long standing antipathy between Columbia and Harlem.

It’s safe to say that Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger could open up his own veins and bleed on the streets, and it wouldn’t be enough for some residents of Harlem. Every time Columbia sneezes, people drag out the protest signs dating from 1968 and threaten self-immolation. This fight is so tedious, you can’t help but root against both sides. (Click to enlarge map.)


And frankly, the Times article does little to sort it out by allowing residents of Harlem to level charges without examining them — something about a science and technology-oriented high school that Columbia vowed to build for the neighborhood, but the residents don’t like the temporary location? It’s ridiculous.

And what’s even more amazing to me is the complaint that the people of Harlem won’t benefit because they aren’t qualified to work in high-tech or health science jobs that will be created at the new campus, so they have to settle for the janitorial jobs. Say what? It’s somehow Columbia’s fault that people aren’t qualified for the good jobs, so screw you and the “bad” jobs? That is just crazytalk, especially considering that people have been complaining since 1971 about the disappearance of well-paid jobs that DON’T require a lot of skills and degrees. And that’s exactly what a “bad” job at Columbia is, a well-paid, low-skill job with a great benefits package.

The Times quotes the current largest property owner in the area, whom I’m sure is providing tons and tons of well-paying, secure jobs with a great benefits package:

Nicholas Sprayregen, president of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage, is the largest property owner in the area with five buildings and almost 300,000 square feet of space. He said he has spent several hundred thousand dollars fighting Columbia and is willing to spend more.

He has a right to defend his property, even if it is a losing battle, but it’s no wonder that Columbia refuses to give up the eminent domain threat. Given the hardened position of the opposition, only a fool would.

Of course, residents of Harlem should demand and fight for what is best for the neighborhood — including saving more than just three buildings that are currently on the site. But for activists to say in one breath that Columbia has done a lot to make up for past mistakes and yet still has less than zero credibility is to be a bad negotiating partner, period.

Photo by Tyler Hicks.

2 Responses to Manhattanvilified

  1. Nicholas Sprayregen says:

    lisa – inj response to your comments regarding the nyt article, and, in particular, to my mention in it, the most important thing to understand is that the continued threat of eminent domain by columbia is abusive and unethical. they are a private entity and this is a land grab. i have no issue with them being my neighbor; many in the community share that feeling. but we are in total opposition to columbia’s threats and heavy-handed style. already they have driven out most of the communtiy merely by the threat of em do. for those of us remaining, we intend to do just that – remain. there is enough space for everyone here.

  2. Thank you for you comment. Unfortunately, there is quite a precedent of the state granting eminent domain rights to private entities. This was affirmed in a very controversial Supreme Court case, which I’m sure you are aware of. Abusive and unethical, perhaps, but as of right now, it is legal and would be very difficult to stop. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it very expensive for Columbia and that is ultimately your trump card. My point, which I think I made clear, is that the lack of cooperation on both sides has already resulted in the hardening of positions and no one’s going to come out of a process like that unscathed. It’s a shame, because it really could benefit everyone, and could have started a new chapter in the way Harlem and Columbia related to each other.

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