West Side Story: CCSC’s Committee on Manhattanville Panel
Written by Bwog Staff
Now that Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion plans have been approved by the city, the topic has largely disappeared from most students’ minds. But for those who’ve checked out since late December, the plans are entering a new phase. Specifically, the What-Are-We-Going-to-Put-There phase.
Tonight, at the CCSC’s Committee on Manhattanville Expansion’s panel on the subject, several professors joined Provost Alan Brinkley and Vice President of Facilities Phil Pitruzzelo to discuss the remaining ethical concerns surrounding displacement and gentrification and to largely ignore the question of what’s going into the Manhattanville site. This is because, Pitruzzelo explained, except for some of the buildings in Phase I of the plan—which includes moving the Business School, SIPA, and the SoA, and building the Mind, Brain and Behavior Center—Columbia hasn’t decided what to do with the northern portion of the site. But no matter, on to what the professors had to say.
Brinkley began the evening with a sweeping statement: “The Manhattanville project is the most important event in the Columbia’s history since the University moved here from midtown in the 1890s.” (And to think that this whole time we’ve been lead to believe it was the ’68 protests.) He continued, “We have to find room for expansion or we have to accept that Columbia will not remain among the leading universities in the world as we are today.”
Following Brinkley was Elliott Sclar, a professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, who said that development would happen regardless of whether or not Columbia expands. Sclar doesn’t see the school’s expansion as a matter of gentrifying West Harlem, given that Columbia needs cheap housing around it, too. “Gentrification isn’t something that’s in Columbia’s interest,” he said. “Columbia doesn’t need to be surrounded by investment bankers…”
Urban Economics Professor Brendan O’Flaherty also offered his opinion on the expansion—a rare occurrence, he noted. “I’ve never said anything about Manhattanville before and I probably never will again.” O’Flaherty went on a bit of a rant about how Columbia doesn’t pay property taxes (it’s a non-profit organization) and he thinks it should. But on the expansion itself, “this is dropping a pebble into a river as far as New York is concerned.”
The evening’s discussion, much to this viewer’s chagrin, remained rather staid. There’s something passé about debating the morality of the project, given that preliminary construction and utility work will begin this summer.
For more on professors’ reactions to the Manhattanville expansion, check out this article in the February issue of The Blue and White.