Monday, February 12, 2007

Harvard Expansion: A Model for Columbia?

We have been contrasting the Harvard expansion initiative with that of our own Columbia Lions, and have raised questions whether the Harvard plan could be used as an informed critique of Columbia's. In a quest to answer this we have taken a cursory look at the elaborate plan that was unveiled by Harvard last month.

We still aren't sure that the Harvard plan can be seen as a model, but it does appear that the Cambridge-based university is at least talking a better game. For instance; "The university has for many years worked in good faith and on an ongoing basis with the neighborhood leaders, and has sought to incorporate community goals within the overall plan." Among the goals cited is "new housing to reduce pressure on the neighborhood."

Here we at least see that the university recognizes that its expansion could act to push longstanding residents out of their own neighborhood. In addition, Harvard is in negotiation with the board at Charlesview apartments, a 213 unit complex that is in the middle of the expansion footprint. According to the Boston Globe, the university has plans to relocate and rebuild the entire complex. What about the similar size housing on 134Th-135Th Streets that will be eliminated by Columbia's plan? Nothing seems to be forthcoming, certainly nothing that will guarantee that the tenants will be made whole.

In addition, as the Harvard Plan points out, "Unlike more traditional collegiate settings that clearly delineate between campus and community zones, Harvard seeks to create an open relationship that integrates academic development with civic, neighborhood and public functions." The details here aren't spelled out but this is not language that we have heard from our friends on Morningside Heights.

It is clear to us that the Harvard process is moving forward with more true cooperation between the university and the Alston community than we have seen so far in West Harlem. The Harvard plan, unlike Columbia's, appears to directly engage the community. The awareness of the impact of gentrification and the emphasis on new housing also seems to differentiate the Harvard planning effort. Hopefully, some of the Boston spirit will find its way into New York.