Symbolic gesture symbolically stomped on
Written by Bwog Staff
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.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.