Opinion | Letters to the Editor

Letter to the editor: SWS is right about Manhattanville

To the Editor:

As a community resident and member of the Columbia family who spent five years negotiating with the administration to ameliorate the negative impact of Columbia’s expansionary drive in Morningside in the sixties, I must take exception to your staff editorial on the Manhattanville expansion (“New activism for Manhattanville,” Nov. 24).

I find its tone to be condescending, its intent misguided and naive, and the historical view of the expansion area to be factually incorrect.

You state that Student-Worker Solidarity plans to research and explore the issue of Manhattanville with the intent to “build a student movement.” And you go on to say that “this is vague and SWS needs to find a clear direction to orient activism.” But isn’t that precisely the purpose of the research to be conducted? Further on, you admonish SWS, saying “protesting the expansion itself is nothing but foolish, and we sincerely hope that is not how SWS intends to direct its effort.” And you go on to lecture that SWS should find “pragmatic goals and look to solve problems­—of which there are many—that can realistically be fixed.” 

I chaired a group composed of tenant organizations, representatives of all the elected officials, and two University vice presidents that met at Riverside Church on a bimonthly basis to attempt what you propose SWS should do. After being stonewalled for five years, we disbanded the Advisory Board on Residential Housing Policies. We found that good faith efforts to reason with the administration were futile and our only achievements came through protest. It was the student strike of ’68 that put an end to Columbia’s campaign of mass evictions (in the thousands) replaced by the policy of deregulation of vacated apartments—gradual instead of instant displacement.

You state that the expansion area “once consisted mostly of vacant warehouses and manufacturing facilities, and where long blocks with few residences made for unsafe streets.” This was not the case before Columbia proceeded to buy up all the properties using the threat of eminent domain and then keeping them vacant. As a member of the community board at the time, I can assure you that our studies showed around 2,000 jobs in that manufacturing zone and an upswing in economic activity after the depression of the ’70s and ’80s. A very low proportion of jobs generated by Columbia’s expansion will actually be filled by community residents, and almost all of them will be on the lower earning scale, not anywhere near the jobs lost to community residents. Moreover, Columbia will not be paying taxes in an area that would by now be filled with tax-paying enterprises.

Tom Kappner, CC ’66
Coalition to Preserve Community  

To respond to this letter, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

Tom, your editorial is highly inaccurate and embarrassing. Having an ivy league research institution in this neighborhood is by all accounts the best possible thing to happen to this neighborhood. It means jobs, students, research, security, and a thriving economy that will withstand recessions because it is education based.

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Anonymous posted on

Stop trolling.

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ree4 posted on

It's not a troll; it's Low Library speaking. This is straight out of one of their press releases.

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Elliott Grieco posted on

Please point out where Mr. Kappner is inaccurate. Maybe you have a difference in opinion, but every fact is a fact. Columbia did turn Manhattanville into a high-vacancy zone in its decade of real estate grabs. Many participants in the (early years of the) CBA process were disappointed at the results and frustrated at the process. The deregulation of vacated apartments has had the effect of completely changing demographic (especially race and class) composition in New York City. Mass student action was the main cause of the Morningside gymnasium ceasing construction, which was an effective strategy even as the destruction crew arrived. The rest is opinion: but many doubt that the local work opportunities in the university will directly contribute to neighborhood betterment. Everyone knows New York is a commuters' town, yet somehow we justify giant real estate projects for neighborhood job creation? There is a very small skills alignment between the University and Harlem/Manhattanville unemployment. Stop believing that building a school expansion is the solution to any of New York City's poverty woes. Of course Columbia can't fix all of this, but that's precisely my point. They can't, and yet they commit doublespeak by saying "we are part of the solution." No, Columbia is part of the problem. Massive displacements of community residents is part of the problem. The intense market shock that a giant construction inevitably produces is part of the problem. Race-based gentrification, which goes hand-in-hand with systemic housing segregation, is part of the problem. Depopulating and deindustrializing an entire neighborhood through massive real estate buyouts is part of the problem. This is further demonstrated by the fact that their legal proposal (blight removal) is completely disjoint from their political mission (community betterment through employment). Columbia didn't make the legal case that they were going to make the community better; they only had to show that they fit the federal standards of blight removal, even though much of that blight was caused by leaving vacant buildings to deteriorate.

I am a Columbia alumnus. What should Columbia do about its space issues? Until they deployed an entire police force, Columbia understood that its open campus design was unsafe for New Yorkers and for students. It looks good in a guidebook, but is completely antithetical to the essence of city life. It looks like Columbia has again forgotten these lessons and has chosen to pursue yet another giant construction project. The Columbia space problem, while constantly petitioning students with "but don't you want more seminar rooms?" is actually a problem of building more and more research facilities with proper waste management. The humanities are always pushed into a constant "crisis" (of space, of money, etc.) when really it means there are more opportunities for Columbia to build more science research facilities. Yes, this means more research for humanity, but I don't want a New York-turned silicon valley. Columbia is being consciously manipulative when it presses students to discuss space usage, as classroom space is actually very easy and cheap thing to provide for. One of the many buildings Columbia has purchased could have been renovated and filled with chairs and tables (what else do you need?) as is to provide for learning needs. I don't care that Columbia produces X number of Nobel prize winners. This is the kind of Columbia I still want to see. It is a personal, political commitment. You can't fact check that.

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Anonymous posted on

Why is it a negative for Columbia to build academic, research, and arts buildings? Why is it a crime to have a school? How does this "hurt" the neighborhood? Having storage units, gas stations, warehouses, and a couple apartments are better? They bring in money and jobs, and safety to the neighborhood? Columbia did not bring all the crime and drug lords to the surrounding apartments. Columbia is already more than doubling the apartments that were displaced by its new high rise on 148th under construction. Yes, Harlem has lagged behind the rest of New York economy, for exactly this lack of innovation. So, basically none of your arguments have any merit.

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Jack posted on

You aren't very smart. Construction costs in Manhattan are astronomical. Fundrasing and purchasing land or a building takes decades, and that is if something is even available. Getting plans, approvals, certificates, variances, building permits, etc takes years. This is why Stanford pulled out of building an engineering school in New York because the red tape would take decades to lay a brick and get approvals. Then all the neighbors have protests every time Columbia wants to change a window in a building they already own. So, no, you cannot just slap together a few chairs in room. But thanks for the suggestion.

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Jack posted on

You aren't very smart. Construction costs in Manhattan are astronomical. Fundrasing and purchasing land or a building takes decades, and that is if something is even available. Getting plans, approvals, certificates, variances, building permits, etc takes years. This is why Stanford pulled out of building an engineering school in New York because the red tape would take decades to lay a brick and get approvals. Then all the neighbors have protests every time Columbia wants to change a window in a building they already own. So, no, you cannot just slap together a few chairs in room. But thanks for the suggestion.

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Elliott Grieco posted on

Is this guy just upvoting his own comments and down voting the Ines he disagrees with daily from different browsers? Anyway, "drug lords" are everywhere, it is street crime I am talking about. Two, Jack: let's say that if all base costs for construction or renovation (land plus permits) are the same, my point is that the humanities will have the lowest space costs (when it comes to facilities). That's what I mean by "cheap."

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Anonymous posted on

the correct term for this process is "gentrification"

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