Symbolic gesture symbolically stomped on

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It was 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and a band of flannel-clad SCEGers was on a singular mission: to personally deliver their demands for accountable expansion to the overlords ensconced in Low. While rain threatened, a group of about 20 students congregated at the sundial and unfurled their paper protest signs, joined together, and prepared to march through the tchotcke shanty-town currently colonizing the plaza. They would be heard, they said, even in the face of imminent and eminent opposition.


But before they could nail their list of 10 CB9 theses to PrezBo’s door, they were summarily halted by bureaucrats Walter Rodriguez and SDA head Kevin Shollenberger, both formally dressed and wearing brass pins bearing their names. Rodriguez explained to the protesters that they could enter Low (he said this in an excited, patronizing tone, to the mildly confused stares of the SCEGers who reasonably expected no less) but that only three or four of them could enter the president’s office. Shollenberger looked around apathetically.

And so the demanders set out on their quixotic journey, clutching signs and chanting anti-expansion slogans. They were almost distracted by one pony-tailed vendor who came out from behind his poster stand to say, “This is how the SDS was started! Stop the monster!” as they passed. As the band reached the door of Low, a stern security guard stepped aside to let them pass, and they filed in past the bust of Athena and along the corridor to the president’s office.


There, a handful (four, maybe five) students entered the sacred room to speak with what looked like a secretary; Rodriguez and Shollenberger, who had been flanking the band, closed the door behind them. No more than a minute later the young Luthers emerged. Laughing nervously, the group turned around, resumed a chant (“Columbia’s renewal is West Harlem’s removal”) and made their way back down Low Steps. The bureaucrats, inexplicably, shook hands with security outside of the presidential office and commented on how well they had completely gutted the spirit and neutered the intentions of the protest (my words, not theirs). And so SCEG convened, kvetched, and dissipated. Read more for the full list of their demands.



October 3, 2007


Students at Columbia demand respectful and accountable expansion

Earlier this morning, the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification (SCEG) and allied students vocally delivered a list of demands to the Columbia University administration regarding its proposed expansion into West Harlem/Manhattanville.  The students’ demands are the same demands formulated by Community Board 9 in its August 20th rejection of Columbia’s 197-c rezoning proposal, and represent the students’ support for the community’s desire for self-determination.  The demands culminate in a call for the University to withdraw its pending proposal until it is in accordance with the community desires as formulated in the community’s own 197-a plan.


Students, chanting and carrying banners with slogans such as “West Harlem is not for sale!” and “5,000 gone is wrong”, marched through the halls of Low Library and into President Lee Bollinger’s office and each hand-delivered a copy of the students’ statement.  To hold the administration accountable to both the students and the community, SCEG called for a meeting with either President Bollinger, Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, or Executive Vice President Maxine Griffith, and have set an October 8th deadline for a response to this request.   


The students assert that Columbia’s agreement with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, made public last week, does not go nearly far enough to address the dire issues at hand, and in fact does not provide more than has already been stated in Columbia’s application for re-zoning, released in June of 2007.  They object to Columbia’s assertion that its compromise with the Manhattan Borough President can replace or even equate productive dialogue within established forums of negotiation such as the West Harlem Local Development Coalition.


Columbia’s own Environmental Impact Statement (6/15/07) estimates that up to 5,000 people would be displaced by the proposed 197-c plan by the year 2030.  Due to this fact, and the plan’s continual rejection by community representatives, as exemplified by CB9’s 32-2 vote against the plan in August, students firmly believe the University should go back to the drawing board.  The students support CB9’s 197-a plan, which was developed democratically over a period of years, and reflects the community’s need for affordable housing, living wage manufacturing jobs, and sustainable economic growth that does not lead to widespread displacement.


SCEG is a broad coalition of students who desire respectful expansion that is accountable to the community.  Given that the City Council is due to vote on Columbia’s plan this December, the group believes the lack of information about the community viewpoint and the social ramifications of the plan is inexcusable and contributes to the exclusion of students from the decision-making process.  SCEG feels that students have a responsibility to ensure that an entire community is not bulldozed in their name.


For more information, visit www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/expansion


The text of the students’ demands is as follows:


As students of Columbia University, we find it impossible not to take a stand when our university is actively ignoring the rights of the West Harlem community.  Instead of engaging the community in respectful and open negotiation, Columbia is pursuing an expansion plan of disruption and displacement.  We believe that the community has a right to affordable housing, living wage jobs, and a prominent voice in any development plan for its neighborhood.  We believe that Columbia’s plan must recognize the rights of all people regardless of their economic background or race.  We believe that Columbia must concretely apply the principles of the community’s 197-A plan to its planned expansion.


It is our view that Columbia’s agreement with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer does not go nearly far enough to address the dire issues at hand, and in fact does not provide more than has already been stated in Columbia’s application for re-zoning, released in June of 2007. We adamantly object to Columbia’s assertion that its compromise with the Manhattan Borough President can replace or even equate productive dialogue within established forums of negotiation such as the West Harlem Local Development Coalition.  


As informed and active members of this institution, we refuse to allow the current expansion plan to go forward in our name. We stand in solidarity with Community Board 9’s demands and therefore insist that Columbia withdraw its 197-C proposal to rezone Manhattanville.

We are not against expansion. We are for accountability. Our demands are the community’s demands.  We demand the following, as drafted by Community Board 9:

1. Withdraw the proposal for eminent domain, cease to use the threat of eminent domain to intimidate owners to sell, and abandon the process of imposing gag orders on those that have entered into agreements to sell;

2. Withdraw the proposal to build the 7-story below grade structure and the request to build under city streets and convey the area below grade to the University;

3. Build only on property owned by the University and obtained through negotiations with the owners without coercion and without the threat of eminent domain;

4. Guarantee that all housing developed directly by Columbia as a result of the Proposed Actions would meet the inclusionary housing requirements of the 197-a Plan; and that, in all Columbia developed and owned housing, an equal amount of housing for the University and the community would be created both on-site and off-site; and that no direct displacement would occur in the 17- acre area;

5. Columbia must immediately develop and hereafter permanently implement and carry out an effective housing anti-displacement program; commit not by itself or through any affiliate to purchase or lease or net lease any residential units in CB9M above 125th Street; and provide sufficient additional housing in areas outside CB9M to house all of the students and employees expected to use the proposed campus. And further not interfere with the transfer of 132 units from HPD to the residents of those units as previously agreed to by the City;

6. Pursue State and National Registers listing of any of its properties within the proposed Academic Mixed-Use Development Area found “eligible” by New York’s State Historic Preservation Office and not oppose LPC landmark designation of any site herein. Also preserve buildings of historic and cultural character throughout the proposed Special Manhattanville Mixed-Use Zoning District and in CB9 as a whole, as listed in the 197-a Plan;

7. Not build pollution emitting power sources – such as power plants and co-generation facilities – or research facilities above biosafety level 2, or other noxious installations that would contribute to the already high environmental burdens of this community;

8. Engage in sustainable design and construction practices that result in LEED platinum designation by U.S. Green Building Rating System prior to the commencement of construction;

9. Engage in good faith negotiations with CB9 to achieve a mutually beneficial land use compromise that would permit the construction of academic facilities needed by Columbia on properties owned by the University, through technical amendments to the 197-a Plan, in a manner that is consistent with the underlying principles and goals of the 197-a Plan and;


10. Otherwise meet the goals and objectives outlined in the 197-a Plan including, but not limited to, mitigating all direct and indirect adverse impacts with respect to job creation for local residents, economic development, socio-economic conditions, environmental protection and sustainable development, public transit, neighborhood character, public open space and other impact areas, as delineated by CB9 in the 197-a Plan.

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  1. it's sad  

    how this issue fails to energize me.

    i know what columbia is doing here is bullshit. but will i do anything about it?

    NOPE. and neither will anybody else.

  2. Schollenberger  

    Gay, or just beautiful?

  3. where is this  

    Some Like it Hot
    from The Bwog - RSS Subscription Service by Not specified

    Others hate it.

    These people are called Columbia students. And they're tired of wearing shorts, and lamenting the University for lack of air-conditioning, and drinking iced coffee, and sweating on their foreheads and then their bangs get messed up.

    Enough already, summer. Come back in May. We'll talk.

    - JNW

  4. What  

    Columbia is doing is NOT bullshit. It is called economic progress.

    And yes, negative externalities exist. But they should not prevent the greater progress of our school and of this City.

  5. Schollenberger

    is totally fabulous. Totally, gay too.

  6. Thanks SCEG  

    For demanding that Columbia students pay higher fees in order to fund your expensive provisions to this plan

  7. haha

    As much as I can't smug bureaucrats who pat themselves on the back for a job well done of deftly screwing over students, they were right this time. From the sounds of it, SCEG got castrated.

    This wasn't even a serious protest. You got shot down big time.

    They know you pose little threat, have little backing, and therefore can swat you aside like a fly.

    And I hope it stays that way.

  8. maybe  

    avoid telling everyone and their mother about it beforehand...

  9. andrew  

    the owl of minerva flies at dusk.

  10. EAL  

    Now if we could do this to every protest, life at Columbia would improve tremendously.

  11. wirc  

    197-a is a scam, get over it

  12. lets be honest here  

    until the floor falls out of the economy, the gentrification march will continue on...

    given that the neighborhood is going to be gentrified in the next ten years anyway. who is going to be a better neighbor? a luxury condo development or a private university?

    at least a private university will try to be reasonable with the neighborhood. do you think a private luxury condo developer would be as willing to work with the community?

  13. What community?  

    Seriously what fucking community?

  14. so is  

    eminent domain going to happen or not?
    because im pretty sure that's NOT ethical business.

  15. homeless  

    I hope you all get kicked out of your housing someday and have to live on the street.

  16. victoria  

    word to the 5:57 comment....but in the figurative sense.

    as far as 197-a being a scam...you try having your home, school, and work in danger of being destroyed, then working with your political board and city planning on a plan that gives the attacking monster the space they need and protects you and your neighbor, then we wil see if you are calling it a scam, you scum.

    as far as the ignorant student who asks, "what community," maybe tomorrow night instead of getting drunk at your local frat you should walk past 120th, look at the many residents, houses, small businesses, children, train tracks, and surroundings and understand that we are changing the map and not for the better.

    columbia has displaced people before....do you recognize that we will see people on street corners with bags in hand because we want a place for faculty to talk about their houses in connecticut and breathe in recycled air.

    i am afraid the dorm air is getting to too many heads.

  17. victoria  

    sorry i did not finish.

    i wish i had more energy, more anything to get over my college self and be a better member of the community that i am privelged to be a part of.

    i hope the community wins in this david and goliath batter.

    in solidarity with those that understand that justice is worth the fight.

    • Zach  

      Hang on now, 197-a is NOT a good thing. The entire community board structure is designed to take power away from the neighborhoods. This should be pretty obvious to anybody who's ever gone to a CB meaning (hell, or even read the law) -- CB just provides the neighborhood a place to vent, which is then paid lip service by the mayor and ignored.

      However, I think this is a good thing in most cases, as big as I am on democracy. Urban communities (and here I include Harlem, the Upper West Side, my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and many many more) have, over the last couple decades, become against development and in favor of an abstract notion of "tenants' rights."

      It's a nice concept. (I, for example, live in a rent-stabilized apartment that keeps me living in a neighborhood I would otherwise be priced out of.) But as soon as we start applying it on a large economic scale, we see effects like what we're seeing in CB9 now -- incredible, kneejerk opposition to all development in the name of "preserving community."

      In reality, though, "preserving community" just means "protecting the interests of whoever already lives here." Limiting development stifles the supply of market-rate apartments and drives up the rent of everybody that isn't regulated.

      So, yes, this means existing tenants can stay in their homes indefinitely -- and when they have kids, their kids can't afford to live there. Oops. On the other hand, building MORE housing meets the city's constantly-growing demand, and keeps rents rising at manageable levels.

      Ultimately, the community's plan is a selfish one that will backfire. Know anybody that grew up in a well-established suburb? Probably you do, but do you know anybody that can afford to move back to the suburb they grew up in, by their own means? It's the same crappy attitude toward new development, except now we're taking the thing about the suburbs that preserves their exclusivity and artificial economy and applying it to the city. Oops again.

      • victoria  

        zach, i would respond, but i am afraid an electronic response would not do your ignorance justice. read the newspaper, go to a cb9 meeting yourself and think about the columbia plan being a synonym for justice. good luck to you, you need it.

  18. shollenberger  

    is apathetic. Maybe if he cared a little bit more about the students whose affairs he should be developing he wouldn't be so miserable.

  19. Zach?

    You're a "fucking moron."

  20. victoria  

    because the columbia plan is actually an antonym for justice! even though you seem to think otherwise.

  21. victoria  

    this is from a community member.

    Steve Stollman Columbia College ‘63 [email protected]

    I have been the tenant of the cellar at 3251 Broadway, at 131^st street
    for twenty years. I rescued the old “Automat” machines and restore and
    sell them and I recycle old mahogany and oak bars and backbars, many of
    them also originally headed for dumpsters, including some that are true
    works of art. My other primary interest is in the design of new
    human-powered and electric-assisted urban vehicles including
    weather-protected and road-worthy wheelchairs.

    My building was bought by Columbia University two years ago. In some
    regards they have been reasonable in their treatment of me, keeping my
    rent virtually the same and verbally promising that future rent rises
    will be moderate. Their written lease however offers no assurance of
    this kind at all. In fact it permits Columbia to give me my walking
    papers and 60 days, and a $20,000 payout, which they see as generous but
    would not even cover my moving expenses. My slowness in signing the
    lease provoked them to give me a 30-day notice of termination before I
    reluctantly signed it..

    My space is also served by the large elevator now in place. While I only
    need it a few times a month, it is being put out of service permanently
    because, we were told, it can not, economically, be brought up to snuff.
    They will not let anybody test their assumptions to determine if there
    is a better solution than the one they present. This elevator has been
    in good service for decades. It will take them a month to cut a hole and
    install a steel gate so I can continue to operate, albeit in a more
    limited way without it.

    There are many provisions of the offered lease which are very
    unfavorable to me and I was told to take it or leave it. It was
    Columbia’s original position that I was not permitted to do what I
    wanted because of limitations imposed by the building’s C. of O. It
    turns out that this space falls into Use Group 8 and I long ago agreed
    to abide by all of its terms. So Columbia’s position changed and they
    decided that they needn’t provide any reason for the extreme
    restrictions they are now imposing.

    Columbia claims to be an institution that operates in the public
    interest and is therefore entitled to special zoning provisions, to
    allow them to do what they would like to on this 17-acre hillside along
    Manhattan’s historic waterfront. By offering no more than a one year
    lease though, the school makes it clear that once it has received all of
    its required permits, they have no intention of providing current
    commercial tenants with any measure of security or peace of mind. The
    LDC and the Community Benefits Agreement they are putting together is
    the only bulwark against this inevitable eventuality. Unless they are
    compelled to be more reasonable through public pressure and outrage over
    their assertions that they deserve to exercise such Medieval and
    Royalist notions as Eminent Domain and use other rough tactics
    commercial tenants have no protection whatsoever. We have been carefully
    left out of public statements regarding future actions. What will
    prevent them from exercising their eviction rights and giving the
    heave-ho to virtually all local businesses?

    Columbia has telegraphed its methodology and tactics during the recent
    past and I am part of the public record. They did meet, agreed to spend
    money, gave me a micro-lease and time to pay back rent. On the down
    side, they went back on their words, more than once, and refused to be
    in any way reasonable on a number of key issues, such as permitted uses
    and tenure of lease. Their squeeze relative to potential uses signaled
    that they found my activities, as a recycler of rain forest wood and
    conservator of classic handcraft and modern-era icons like the Automats,
    and expediter in the design of planet-saving human-powered urban
    vehicles, to have un-compelling relevance to the school’s central
    mission. In the October 2^nd ’s NY Sun, the President of Columbia again
    asserts the idealism and commitment to the community and environment
    absent from his school’s recent actions.

    As a member of the Columbia College class of 1963, anti-war and Civil
    Rights activities were just beginning to have a real impact. The threat
    of the draft and the unacceptability of centuries of racism combined to
    give political activism a different profile. Columbia was at the very
    forefront of a national movement to re-construct this society based on
    principles of genuine equity. Professors C. Wright Mills, Daniel Bell
    and James Shenton opened windows to the real world that provoked
    engagement with it. Now more than 40 years later Columbia is about to,
    once again, define its position within the family of educational and
    other social institutions, either as a pioneer in the heartfelt sharing
    of the resources which this world provides, or as another in a long line
    of skillful hoarders and usurpers.

    The insult to the Harlem community, and its own student body and
    faculty, of scheming to arrange, or even just permitting, the Columbia
    plan to be presented, during the Summer, when most Community Boards do
    not even meet, and student bodies are absent, is deep. Since this is
    virtually the only broad-based public debate of this entire plan that
    will take place, scheduling this already slender democratic exercise in
    July and August was cynical and anti-democratic. Four of my siblings
    also attended this great University. All are greatly troubled by their
    Alma-Mater’s refusal to embody the principles it so energetically
    espouses and allegedly teaches . They are all concerned that the
    identity of their University, and their fondness for it, could be
    seriously damaged by a clumsy, self-centered handling of this issue.

    Has Columbia been gulled into a false sense of confidence that students,
    and citizens today are apolitical and not very concerned about these
    issues or the role that this University plays? Does the growing
    society-wide panic over dead colonies of bees and melting ice and other
    frightening unintended consequences of potentially life-destructive
    human activity, suggest that the pendulum has begun to swing strongly
    the other way again? I hope so. Aren’t most of the extreme hazards we
    now all face, a consequence of some institution’s unchallenged
    irresponsibility? There needs to be a huge groundswell of disgust at
    irresponsible uses of power and plain bullyism.

    Climate change is the number one crisis in this society, along with war.
    No planet, no fancy country house, no great pre-school, no plans, big or
    little. Nature is protesting its abuse and will not be denied. If
    Columbia wants to research the extension of /each/ of our lives, and
    claims there is no higher (and perhaps more profitable) calling, it had
    better pay proper attention to the extension of /all/ of our lives too.
    Embracing such coercive and unjust tools as Eminent Domain means this
    school has a lot to learn about the notions of common decency and fair
    play so well understood by their hard-working new neighbors. Failing to
    acknowledge the connection between their august institution and the
    larger community risks grave long-term damage to the integrity and
    reputation of all of its schools and departments, especially Government,
    Law, International and Public Affairs, Social Work, Architecture etc.
    and the University itself.

    The City Planning Commission has a duty to help save this great
    University from is most self-destructive impulses and aid it in
    discharging its proper responsibility to this society as a whole: to
    raise our aspirations and improve our ability to realize our full
    potential. Real Estate developers hardly ever do this. Great
    Universities sometimes do.

    • Zach

      I'm not really clear what your point is, Victoria. I didn't say Columbia was a great landlord, or that eminent domain was some ingenious plan -- but the fact is that trying to keep M'ville exactly as it is right now doesn't help anybody. Not even the people that live there now.

      Eminent domain and the 197-a plan aren't the only two options, either. I'd be surprised if either one came to fruition.

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