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
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