The State of M’Ville

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Remember when campus was in uproar on Thursday because of the NY State Court’s ruling on eminent domain? It was sort of like 1968, right?! Well, no. Columbia’s long, slow battle for Manhattanville is crawling into its toddler years and we understand the story can feel a little stale to the wizened among us.

But the situation has changed, and recent comments from key players in the process aren’t exactly what you might expect. To clarify the situation and introduce 13’s to the new and the old of the controversy, Bwog brings you an up-to-date roundup.

First, here’s a bit of basic (Columbia endorsed!) background. Briefly:

  • Manhattanville is a 17-acre site that includes 129th to 133rd Streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue, the north side of 125th Street, and three properties on Broadway from 131st to 134th Streets.
  • While SAT 2s were just a far-off nightmare for fresh-persons, Columbians were hunger striking over, among other things, the fate of these 17 acres.
  • Nicholas Sprayregen and the Singh family are the last two property owners resisting expansion. A good profile of Sprayregen, one of the drama’s most important characters, can be found here.
  • Columbia’s main community opponent was/is Community Board 9, whose 197a rezoning proposal was defeated by Columbia’s own 197c rezoning.

What it means to…

PrezBo: Students in El Presidente’s class on Monday reported that he expressed hope about the potential appeals outcome. He suggested that if the state’s highest court upholds Thursday’s decision on appeal, Columbia will be unable to build the envisioned Manhattanville campus, forcing the University to look elsewhere to expand. Bollinger stressed that critical facilities are planned to be built where Sprayregen and the Singhs own property and, without that land, the future of that campus is very much up in the air. He also expressed optimism that the Court of Appeals will rule in favor of Columbia based on the Court’s recent decision about Atlantic Yards that upheld the use of eminent domain in a similar situation.

Ramon Diaz, owner of Floridita: “A victory is a victory even if its short lived. I personally feel like I’ve been lied to and used throughout this whole process by Columbia University. They created the blight that they claimed was a precursor to eminent domain.”

More quotes and photo tour after the jump…

Brett Murphy, former anti-M-Ville activist, current high school history teacher in Manhattanville, BC ’07: “The glass buildings and trees might look awful pretty, but the expansion will be destroying people’s lives.  I encourage all students to learn about what’s going on and join the discussion.  Make Columbia’s name stand for something good for the city, instead of just your own resume booster.”

Pastor Earl Kooperkamp, Pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Manhattanville: “Yesterday I mentioned this decision during sermon.” There was a “Long, loud, sustained ovation. Members were extraordinarily pleased. There were shouts of ‘Amen’ and ‘Halleljuah!'” Kooperkamp hopes the ruling will truly benefit “all people in West Harlem, not just an elite few.”

Andrew Lyubarsky, hunger strike negotiator and former SCEG bigwig, CC ’09: “At the end of the day, Columbia will likely expand. The question is whether the administration is able to push through an exact vision of what it wants, when it has been made abundantly clear that both the methods it has utilized and the nature of the campus it wants are not what is wanted by the community.”

The Class of 2013: Bwog Daily Editor David Hu reports that freshmen feel there is some presumed knowledge on the part of their elders about the process that first-years haven’t been privy to during their first semester.

What does Thursday’s ruling actually change?

According to Lyubarksy: “For the first time, we have a document coming from an official source that essentially accepts all of the critiques that the community has been leveling towards Columbia since 2003. This is a major vindication of a struggle that the university likes to paint as being irrational, quixotic, and opposed to progress and development (or selfish on the part of one or two business owners).”

Manhattanville hasn’t always looked the way it does today…


  1. Unbelieveable  

    One of the most biased postings I've ever seen. There are so many students and regular people who are pro-expansion, but you never see them quoted. They're not chaining themselves to trees and starving themselves, but Bwog still has a responsibility to find them out and give them some say.

    • Uhhh  

      Prezbo doesn't count at pro-expansion? And no, sorry, there aren't any equally vocal people who are pro-expansion, because they have nothing to fight against and thus no reason to be vocal. There are no pro-columbia-expansion activists, dumbass.

      Also the pictures are cool, but why so smallllll? I don't want to open each individually! Dusty, bwog, very dusty!

      • whaaa?  

        Unbelievable never said there are pro-expansion 'activists,' but rather than there are people who are pro-expansion. Nor did Unbelievable say that they are 'vocal,' hence the point that, "They’re not chaining themselves to trees and starving themselves, but Bwog still has a responsibility to find them out and give them some say." Finally, on Prezbo, a few things: first, Unbelievable is talking about 'students and regular people,' not the president of Columbia. Second, in contrast to the other people quoted, PrezBo's remarks aren't really making an argument for the expansion, so it doesn't quite balance out the people whose quotes make the case against.

        After all of this, call Unbelievable a 'dumbass.' I suggest you learn to read.

  2. Marshall Bermann (CC '62)

    The prince of darkness departs gracefully, like the gentleman he is; but he laughs before he leaves. Faust has been pretending not only to to others but to himself that he could create a new world with clean hands; he is still not ready to accept responsibility for the human suffering and death that clear the way. First he contracted out all the dirty work of development; now he washes his hands of the job, and disavows the jobber once the work is done. It appears that the very process of development, even as it transforms a wasteland into a thriving physical and social space, recreates the wasteland inside the developer himself.

    • an  

      excellent post, Marshall. And you, Bwog, as well, for a clear recap of this story. I encourage Unbelieveable to check the other bwog posts about the expansion if he wants more information. And no, students were and are not mobilizing in numbers because they want an expansion. They did mobilize two years ago, and it's a shame many of us didn't sense the significance of the moment and get more involved. I want to use this education for more than personal profit.

  3. Eric


    Expansion is fine, but the idea that Columbia has to expand exactly according to its plans -- taking the property of people whose properties aren't for sale -- is bunk. And why does Bwog have any responsibility to give voice to pro-expansionistas? Start your own blog if you want to shill for the land grab.

  4. Sarcasm

    Yeah Andrew Lyubarsky, Columbia will figure out a way to expand just like the during the protests in the 1960s. The Dodge Fitness Center is "state-of-the-art" bomb shelter...wait a minute, it's a gymnasium? Aren't gyms supposed to above ground? Just like almost any other building that isn't a bomb shelter?

    Well, at least we have sports fields nearby...sort of...over 100 blocks away...I mean, I would go, but sometimes the subway takes too long, and I don't care about supporting my fellow students in athletics, and I have anti-Columbia protests and other liberal shindigs to attend.

  5. anonymous  

    I would support a pro-expansionist cause. I know a lot of other students would too.

  6. pro-columbia expansionist supreme  

    i know that bollinger wants all the land because of the 7 stories of utility, energy, lab, and storage space necessary for this thing to happen. the bathtub will need to build out the areas occupied by the remaining 9% still privately owned, which, I might add, is really just 2 buildings.

    the plans require a bus facility inside the tub to replace the MTA bus depot that would be demolished in its place. additionally, support space is definitely going to be necessary for an expansion.

    about the people living there: last time i checked in to this raging debate, there were less than 400 people living in manhattanville. As people's leases come due, it's the lessor's right to not offer a re-contract. It's just the way that a lease works. it's the same everywhere, in chicago, in l.a., in london... people just regularly don't get re-contracted. it's a fact of life for people that don't own 3 car garages and 5000 sf mcmansions in the suburbs.

    perhaps you all may be reminded that the remaining 2 buildings that is required for the plan is owned by one maniac person who wants to essentially stall columbia so that he can profit from columbia's position (i.e. he is blackmailing us all and using you as his puppets), and the other, possibly piggybacking on the same idea.

    please be reminded that those purchases that columbia made were NOT hostile. Indeed they were reasonable. The ones who put some opposition in the bucket got more out of the deal; one got a whole block of buildings in washington heights. We can only assume that Sprayregen and the Singhs just are waiting out till columbia coughs up the big bucks.

    so, puppets, what say you?

    i think 30 rock puts it best when jack donaghy and tina fey engage in real estate dealery in New York. \With real estate there are no rules. It's like check in at an italian airport\

    silly non-manhattanites.

    • Slushfund  

      If Columbia doesn't expand it's their own damn fault. When the community planning board came up with its guiding principles for the area, the 197-a plan, they were giving Columbia much of what it asked, and far more than many in the community approved. Now there were some tough pills to swallow: no bath tub (aka a giant 7-story contiguous basement under much of the property), no eminent domain, and that's basically it. But Columbia would have been able to meet most of their space needs. If the buyouts were as friendly as you say they were , then we're really only talking about the space beneath the streets and the 10% that the Singhs and Sprayregan still own. And the bus depot.

      So let's say 80% of the entire space needs of the current plan would have been achieved; is that so bad? Here's another thought: Nick Sprayregan has a personal grudge against eminent domain. What if the school had agreed not to use it from the beginning? Would he honestly have refused to sell on the gamble that he could spend millions and be the first to win an appeal against the ESDC in the entire city? Doubtful.

      Meanwhile Columbia made its own gamble to collude with the ESDC and try to beat Sprayregan in a kind of legal king of the mountain (for eminent domain law is truly like an Italian airport). They lost, against the odds, but the decision was good for America. We should learn to except it instead of rehashing the same tired arguments against the two businesses. We should take responsibility for our mistakes and move on. We should return to the community board and accept the 197-a plan, and get on with the construction, which really should have begun by now. We are going to cure Alzheimers in that new campus, are we not?

  7. The ends may not justify the means, but  

    I support the expansion and while the use of eminent domain is unfortunate, there are valid logistical reasons why the entire site is needed, intact, in order for Columbia to create an actual campus rather than a hodgepodge of disparate buildings. (See the Spec article on the 7 level subterranean "tub" which must underlie the site to provide parking, HVAC, and other vital support services and which would be impossible without the holdout parcels). It does seem like the ESDC and Columbia may have worked together to justify the "blighted" designation in possibly unethical ways, but the fact remains that the area is badly deteriorated and consists mostly of empty warehouses. The development does have the potential to provide huge economic benefits to the community, as well as a new public school. Furthermore, as most students realize, Columbia's Morningside Heights campus is very badly cramped, with far less space than its peer schools, and the university's seriously inadequate facilities have played a major role in impeding its development, resulting in a campus which cannot provide an educational experience or community which comes anywhere close to that enjoyed by students at Yale or Harvard. For the sake of Columbia's future, a new campus is essential in order to relieve the space crunch.

    • Columbia is Columbia  

      Part of the problem here is that the board of trustees, in true capitalist fashion, feel so threatened by the so-called Peer institutions. Columbia will always be as good as Yale or Harvard in some ways, not in others. These sweeping generalizations are what got us here. Good post by the way. It does capture the essence of the pro-expansion argument.

      Now here's where I disagree with you: the ends justify the means. Did your parents not teach you better?

      The law is the law for a reason. I don't deny that Forest Rattner is doing it. But that doesn't make it okay. We're a multi-billion dollar institution. We have admissions standards that are almost as high as Harvard's. And yes, we do have a shortage of space. If I didn't know better I'd guess you were the director of facilities, the way you're thinking about our future like that.

      But just because we need something doesn't mean we can take it by any means necessary. Instead, we can apply some critical thinking. What kind of comparative advantage do we have over Harvard and Yale? How about working actively with the community, setting up business school internships in the public sectors of Harlem, the Bronx, etc. How about expanding funding for social science research? Does Harvard have a bio-lab? (I'm actually asking; I don't know). Why must these properties be so close to the other campus? Is Manhattan really the place to plant a second mega-school, in this day and age of rising rents and rampant gentrification? What about working on public interest campaigns for preserving affordable housing, especially in West Harlem, recognizing the role we play in the process of gentrification.

      Good ideas, never gonna happen, right? Well, I'm telling you that we may not have much choice. Because the ends don't justify the means. Justice is an end unto itself.

  8. fucking activists  

    If Columbia doesn't expand, some real estate developer is just going to buy up the land in that area. Hedge fund owners are already buying up harlem land, the prices are going to skyrocket and people will be kicked out. You simply cannot preserve the "culture" and vibe of the neighborhood, if that depends on keeping land values low. Harlem at the moment is half as expense as comparable neighborhoods, natural market forces are driving prices up, people will be kicked out. Nice sob story bwog, short on analysis.

    Your precious people in Harlem are fucked either way. I'd rather see Columbia take over than some capitalist real estate developer.

    • ...

      ding ding! we have a winner!

      sprayregen has a history of converting storage facilities into luxury condos. stopping columbia won't stop gentrification.

      that said, these days i have little love for columbia and i do think that using eminent domain for this is a stretch. based on my experience with columbia's supposedly generous and deep pockets, i hope sprayregen et. al take them to the cleaners.

  9. Wow

    This is an incredibly one-sided piece against the expansion. It doesn't discuss Columbia's space constraints, the fact that the expansion will create thousands of jobs for the community, or that the <400 residents of the neighborhood will be given equal or better housing.
    2013s, this is not a good explanation of the expansion at all. Google "Manhattanville Expansion" and at least look at is what is on the Columbia and SCGE websites. You will get a much better take on the situation if you do that rather than read the half-baked analysis of some hipster writing for Bwog.

  10. schmonz

    If I want to buy something you have, and you don't want to sell it to me, I don't get to have it. Doesn't matter why either of us wants it. Doesn't matter who's David and who's Goliath. Doesn't matter what the neighbors hope we'll do. The moral philosophy involved is straightforward. Certainly anyone acting on behalf of Columbia ought to know better than to try to pull this eminent domain bullshit.

  11. Thanks Amitai...  

    Agreed: no amount of rationalizing the act of theft makes it anything other than theft. It doesn't matter why the guy doesn't want to sell, nor does it matter whether he might be playing a game, intending to sell to speculators who'll turn around and offer it to Columbia at a jacked-up price. None of this matters: it's his property.

    One can justify *any* atrocity with high-flying excuses based on "higher purpose."

  12. Alum

    Aside from PrezBo, *everyone* quoted in this article is anti-expansion, or at least anti-eminent domain. And when the article purports to answer the question "What does Thursday’s ruling actually change?", it expressly turns to one of the opponents for the answer instead of aiming for objectivity.

    How can anyone consider this an unbiased piece. If the author had asked only a supporter to answer that question instead of an opponent I'm sure the commenters who say the current version is fair would have a different opinion.

    • False objectivity  

      Your insistence on "aiming for objectivity" sounds a great deal like an appeal to false balance. There's plenty of pro-eminent domain opinion out there, the best that Trustee money can buy, in fact. By which metric do you measure "objectivity"? Word count? Adherence to your own pro-takings bias?

      • haha nice  

        I find those "fair and balanced" shenanigans hilarious. Unfortunately, as Jon Stewart told us, it's hard to do that when the facts aren't fair and balanced. The global warming skeptic is not equal to the scientist. Joe the Plumber is not equal to Paul Krugman on economic policy.

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