Monday, January 08, 2007

Columbia Contrast

Unlike the situation in Brooklyn where small businesses are poised to take advantage of the incredible residential boom that will be initiated by the AY development, the impact of the proposed Columbia expansion in West Harlem is a horse of an entirely different color. In today's NY Daily News, Columbia's president Lee Bollinger offers a glowing vision of all that the university (and he manges to include all of the other institutions of higher learning as well in an attempt to gild the lily) contributes economically to the city.

Bollinger, as is usual from cheerleaders in these kinds of situations, talks only of the collateral benefits of Columbia' expansion, waxing eloquent about the 6,00 jobs (projected) that wil be created by the development scheme. Nowhere does he talk of the jobs that will be lost or the small businesses replaced through the seizure of their property.

In particular, neighborhood businesses such as the C-Town on 135Th Street that is owned by the Collardo family and the similarly Dominican-owned Floridita restaurant on 126Th Street, will be expunged in the university's expansion plan. There is no question that an expansion of the university can be of great benefit to the community but that does not mean that Columbia should be given carte blanche to develop in any way it chooses.

As we have said elsewhere, when eminent domain is being used to displace existing businesses there should be a great effort to either overcompensate these stores and property owners (as some in the AY footprint were), or they should be made integral to the new development. There is nothing that says that Columbia, and Columbia alone, should determine the entire scope of this project.

In addition, there is another glaring omission in the Columbia expansion: the lack of affordable housing-the very thing that became the linchpin of the Atlantic Yards development. Not only is there no affordable housing in the Columbia plan the university, adding injury to insult to injury, is actually planning to evict hundreds of low-income tenants through the use of eminent domain.

This entire development needs to be thoroughly scrutinized, re-evaluated, and brought into alignment with the existing constituencies-businesses and tenants-of West Harlem. We need a win-win, not a "Hail Columbia" rhapsody that ignores the needs of folks that have a stake in the community.