Monday, May 28, 2007

Columbia: Comparatively Less Sensitive

One of the things that we have been emphasizing in our discussion of Columbia's expansion into West Harlem, is the glaring lack of genuine concern for the university's impact on the surrounding neighborhood. This is even more pronounced when Columbia's plan is contrasted with those of Harvard and UPenn, a comparison that we came across in a series of articles that were done two years ago by Emily Schwarz in the Columbia Spectator.

We have previously commented on the difference between Harvard's expansion into Allston and Columbia's into West Harlem, in particular, the Boston school's concern for the issue of affordable housing. In the Schwarz series of pieces we also find a stark contrast between Penn's concern for West Philly and Columbia's for its neighbors.

As the Spectator reports, there had been a series of ongoing meetings between the facilities mangers of Harvard, Penn, Columbia and Yale. At one meeting, chaired by Columbia University architecture professor David Smiley, the contrasting perspectives became clear: "Smiley said that Penn's presentation focused on the university's efforts to improve the community, while Columbia focused more on its physical plans."

And the article goes on to say; "Universities can also achieve positive community relations by learning to consider themselves as a member of the community and not as a separate entity." This appears to be a lesson that Columbia has yet to learn, and the hiring of a highly-paid former Dinkins administration deputy mayor is not a substitute for genuine dialogue and collaboration.

One final note. The Spectator quotes an Allston representative on the need for the university to meet the neighborhood half way. The article goes on to point out, citing a university official, that the Columbia plan (circa 2005) has some congruence with the community's 197-A plan. Yet since that time, it appears that Columbia has been doing more to hire political muscle than to try to really work with the local community and meet it, even somewhat half way.