Gearing up for the showdown?

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kjhBwog tipster Raza Panjwani sent in this picture, a view across the Major Deegan Expressway (I-87) in the Bronx, just south of Yankee Stadium, taken from a Metro North train. The sign on the building reads:

Dear Columbia U:

The West Harlem Community Knows How to Share.

Why Don’t You?


At the bottom is the website (last updated in February 2005) of the West Harlem Business Group, a coalition of six businesses in Manhattanville fighting tooth and nail to stop Columbia’s expansion.

Meanwhile, PrezBo went on the offensive in Sunday’s Daily News, offering universities as the solution to New York’s economic soft spots. Especially that big one up north, in the “old Manhattanville manufactuing zone.” And in their last meeting in December, Community Board 9 passed a few resolutions aiming to make it a little harder for Columbia’s 197c plan to make it through in one piece. Much excitement to come!


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  1. wirc  

    I wonder if that is on one of Tuck-it-Away Storage's locations. Luckily that small, local West Harlem business has 11 other locations to put up their billboards to defend the one that stores Columbia students' stuff.

    I can believe the CPC, WEACT, the tenants, and other groups, but these guys seem like they're in it for less than the best goals.

  2. it's Raza  

    His name is Raza Panjwani. Nice slip there, Bwog.

  3. yup  

    I think that sign has been up for quite some time...I remember seeing it driving up the Henry Hudson several months back. Still, good manhattanville round-up.

  4. Damn it  

    Fact: Columbia can't "threaten" eminent domain. Eminent domain is a power that belongs to the government. Columbia can try to influence the state's decisions, but that's a long way from assuming the powers of the state.

    Fact: The West Harlem Business Group's website contradicts itself. On one hand, it says "it is true that Columbia is not a government agency and does not actually themselves have any powers of Eminent Domain". A few paragraphs later, it says "Columbia University must guarantee the six existing businesses in the West Harlem Business Group that the University will not resort to the use of eminent domain to condemn the land the businesses currently occupy."

    The WHBG conflates trying to influence a state decision with actually having that power itself. I'm sorry, but if Columbia were that powerful politically, the WHBG would not even exist and Manhattanville would be half-built by now.

  5. more reason  

    the institution should not expand into manhattanville. can't even teach its damn students good.

  6. #9,

    The issue is not whether Columbia should expand into Manhattanville. Both sides agree that Columbia needs to grow. The problem is in how it's done. CB9 and Columbia have drastically different plans. It will be interesting to see how everything works out.

    And #6, yes Columbia can't use eminent domain, but they have a lot of political influence, alumni, and cash. They already have a spin machine working to be the PR for the project. A lot of what they're currently doing is pretty shady business. The properties that Columbia owns have suddenly become covered with graffiti and much more dilapidated. It all sounds kind of fishy to me.

    • oh come on

      I'm sick of CB9's allies pretending their alternate plan is in Columbia's best interests. The kind of institutional goals Columbia has (competing with the likes of Yale and Princeton) will not be best served by building a campus interwoven with the preexisting landscape of auto repair shops. Find me a scholar who's going to be seriously attracted by that, or the awkwardly shaped lab space that will have to be constructed to build around such obstructions.

      Then tell me if you seriously think the landlords of the three apartment buildings in the expansion zone are going to keep their low rents once the potential of charging wealthy columbia students through the roof reveals itself...I think not. Either the state will evict those people for Columbia's preferred expansion, or the landlords will do it anyway, and the expansion will proceed to have all the undesirable aftereffects CB9 was afraid of, without the benefit of Columbia's master-planned, purpose-built environment.

      • uhhhh

        "the potential of charging wealthy columbia students"

        which Columbia students are these?

        • think

          the ones that will be attending columbia on the manhattanville campus. grad and gs students. they're going to be looking for somewhere to live, will have more money than the current tenants, and these places would be right inside campus per the 197a plan...sounds like a great incentive for the landlords to do what eminent domain would have done anyway. the only difference is that under 197a the landlords make out like bandits...see why they're lining up to support CB9 and the WHBG?

          • This is a fact

            Most low-rent, college-adjacent neighborhoods see a ton of resident displacement, since students are willing to live four to an apartment and pay way higher rent than people raising families. This is observed even around community colleges, and in poor regions. In Morningside it's sort of irrelevant because of (a) the huge amount of housing stock and (b) the '90s gentrification of the neighborhood, but since Manhattanville has el zilcho apartments, you can count on any tenant not protected by rent regulation to be out like a light.

            Frankly, I'm surprised that no Columbia students have taken up refuge in one of the handful of non-University-owned tenements. Get on it! It'd be a great protest vehicle (if you care).

    • wirc  

      I like how everyone has bought into the WHBG's own spin machine. The claim that is made by CB9 is that Columbia fails to maintain it's property, which is partially true. But the area is no less pretty than in 2000 when I saw it, and to suggest a conspiracy is simply FUD.

      Also, a close look at the 197-a shows that almost all of the university's plans would be cut down to sill levels by grandfathering, "contextual zoning," and the zero-waste policy that would prohibit most research.

    • You've

      completely gone off the deep end, John, if you are suggesting that Columbia secretly paid graffiti artists to deface Manhattanville property.

  7. Also

    Check out the new "Manhattanville Planning Updates" button on the bottom right of the Columbia home page http://www.columbia.edu

    They've got a video presentation up. Can bwog pull it?

  8. well

    I wouldn't be one bit surprised if Columbia is intentionally neglecting cleaning the property. It is in their best interest to do that. Columbia acts like a business because major universities are now run in the same way as businesses.

    I want Columbia to grow. I want to see a beautiful campus in Manhattanville. What bothers me about this is the manner in which Columbia is going about this. The university acts like it has some sort of entitlement to this area.

    This is not the first time it has been evident. The major immediate cause of the 1968 riots was because of Columbia's proposed gym in Morningside Park. Would you support that project if it were proposed today? The land it wanted was New York City park land meant for use by the community. Columbia wanted to convert it into two gyms - a very nice one for the students who were mostly white and a shitty one for local residents (mostly black).

    What bothers me about the expansion is that it seems Columbia is going about it in the same way they went about the gym. They want to take over land that does not belong to them. I'm not talking about the autoshops, but about the few hundred people that live there. Columbia does not seem bothered by the fact that they are shuffling peoples' lives around. They don't need to have those peoples' homes torn down to have their new campus.

    I don't support the 197-a plan either. But I don't think anybody feels like that plan will actually be approved. I think it's more like a defensive tactic so that eventually some mixture of the plans will be okayed.

    • You are  

      wrong on several counts. First, I'm glad to see you back off on your implication that Columbia somehow bribed graffiti artists to vandalize Manhattanville.

      Second, the 1968 gym was originally meant to be two separate gyms, but due to exactly the concerns that you raised, it was merged into one building. The community gym was hardly "shitty". It contained an Olympic sized swimming pool and several competition-size basketball courts with more seating that Levien Gym. Given the facts behind the project, and not your distortions, the majority of students supported the gym then (2,000 out of 2,700 Columbia College students actually signed a petition against the building occupiers), and the overwhelming majority of the students will support the gym now.

      On a related note, I hope you're not saying Columbia wanted to take over "all" of Morningside Park. That simply isn't true. Columbia's gym, including the outdoor track, would have taken a very small fraction of the land in Morningside Park (less than half a block). Lastly, the park that you idealize as some sort of pastoral wonderland "meant for the community" was, in the 1960s, pretty much a mud pit where drug dealers and criminals hung out. If students can be held up at gunpoint at 3 PM in our time (July 2005), can you even imagine what the place was like in 1968? There's a reason that the overwhelming majority of Harlem residents and Harlem political leaders and none other than Jane Jacobs herself supported the gym project from the late 1950s (when it was still 2 physically separate gyms) until 1967 (when the University's foot-dragging, combined with the rise to prominence of a group of radical leaders) made their patience run out.

      Third, very few people actually live in Manhattanville. The actual number is around 75 or so, not the "hundreds" that you claim. This number, of course, is based on the count of legal residents that the city is aware of. Moreover, the apartments in Manhattanville are on the northeastern edge of Manhattanville on 133rd Street, next to the MTA depot. Columbia's expansion won't reach that area until at least 2020.

  9. genius idea!  

    expand into new jersey. we can take over the whole state, most likely. i don't think anyone would care/notice.

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