Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Columbia's Turf Toe

Every knowledgeable football fan knows the dangers that astroturf can pose to the health of the players on the field. This unnatural surface yields a wide range of knee, foot and back injuries because of the unyielding nature of the field's composition. Which is why the term astroturf has been applied to phonied up efforts to generate grassroots support for projects that, well, don't really have any. And, just as with the manufactured imitation grass football field, unnecessary harm can come to the players when this tactic is employed.

Which is just the case with the Columbia expansion effort, and the work of Bill Lynch to cultivate some kind of community coalition in support of the university's plan. In today's NY Post, the paper's Tom Eliot slices and dices the Lynch led Potemkin village-like effort to generate grass roots support for Columbia. As Eliot writes: "COLUMBIA University is making great efforts to prevent community objections from derailing its plan for a massive expansion in West Harlem. But its methods seem to rely more on big-money power politics than on listening to the folks who live and work where the school wants to build."

Eliot goes on to describe how folks from a neighborhood drug treatment program were dragooned to a recent community board meeting in order to give some kind of community face to the big money effort that the university is using to inveigle support for its expansion. It transparent phoniness was exposed by, who else, members of the real community coalition that opposes what Columbia wants to do in West Harlem. As the Post points out:
"Visnja Vujica - a recent Barnard grad and member of the anti-expansion Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification - says she discovered that the pamphleteers were patients from East Harlem's Addicts Rehabilitation Center (ARC).
"I talked to one man, J.R., I think, who was wearing one of the 'Future of Manhattanville' stickers. He said he was paid; wouldn't tell how much, but said something like, When you're given pretty much a blank check, you don't ask questions," she said."

Which leads us to wonder whether Columbia is only able to garner community support from those neighborhood residents who are so unaware of what's going on because they might be in a drug-induced haze. Kidding aside, the university opens itself up to these criticisms because it has put itself in the hands of consultants who clearly don't know what the hell they're doing-so much so that we might speculate that the university could be in a position to sue for theft of services.

What this means for the expansion plan itself is still up in the air, with the borough president's hearing on the plan is scheduled for tonight. Stringer has already begun to voice reservations. It does appear, however, that the university would best serve its own interests by looking to accommodate some of the community concerns in ways that the community itself (the actual one) will appreciate.