Columbia's latest expansionary drive into the community has exacerbated long standing tensions with the neighborhood over resource allocation and the provision of goods and services. Columbia has always relied on its public relations apparatus and its clout over public officials to gain whatever it deemed necessary at the expense of the most vulnerable in the surrounding community. Once again, Columbia has dictated what its needs are, made it clear that they must be met, and insisted that those of the community are expendable and indeed must be sacrificed for the greater good of humanity. Continuing on this path can only intensify the conflict with its neighbors in the years to come. In the short run, it may be the cheapest way for the University to get everything it wants, but in the end, it will prove to be much more costly. The alternative, while it may be more complex, will produce more satisfactory results and a better future for all concerned. The community's 197-a plan charted this path in great detail. Columbia chose to ignore it, immediately raising the enmity incurred over its past disregard of the community. But the issues addressed by the 197-a cannot be wished away, and ignoring them will only continue to intensify existing antagonisms. To improve its relations with the community, Columbia must adopt a change in its approach and policies. It must cease relying on PR to sugarcoat the disastrous impact on the community and stop dealing with intermediaries who make agreements in exchange for some token self-serving concessions. Instead, Columbia must work directly with the community to ensure that the real needs of both sides are addressed substantively, as was proposed by the 197-a and carried out by the initial West Harlem Local Development Corporation before Charles Rangel and Robert Jackson insisted on derailing real community input. Here are the issues that remain to be addressed if Columbia wants to move forward with the community rather than against it: Stop legal harassment and reliance on forceful expropriation. Work with Nick Sprayregen, Gurnam Singh, Parminder Kaur, and Ramon Diaz to accommodate their needs with safe, uncontaminated, appropriate space within the expansion zone. Allow all existing community residents to remain in place. Share space rather than displace and destroy the existing community. Permanently set aside the remaining rent-regulated units in University Apartment Housing as affordable community housing, as proposed in the 197-a. Work actively with the community to preserve public housing, other subsidized housing such as 3333 Broadway, and all existing low-income and rent-regulated housing in the area. Stop reneging on past commitments to mitigate the damage from decades-long displacement of the neighborhood, such as the promised community retail space in the School for Social Work, which the administration now refuses to honor. Make sure that 7,000 permanent jobs promised for community residents are in fact delivered for community residents. No biotech laboratories, power plants, or any other facilities that are environmentally harmful or connected to military research. No bathtub on a flood plain and earthquake fault line. Underground construction only between adjacent buildings and not under the street. Allow new construction only if it respects the historical and architectural integrity of the surrounding community and is contextual in size and bulk. Columbia's reneging on its lease to Floridita Restaurant particularly reflects the trustees' approach to the 197-a community plan and to the greater Harlem community in general. Floridita had a long-term lease which, in the eyes of the administration, made it an obstacle to the expansion. Instead of viewing it as a community asset, an affordable ethnic restaurant with a diverse clientele worth preserving, Columbia approached it as though it was another hurdle in the eminent domain condemnation process. Instead of sharing and accommodating, the University used harassment and intimidation. Is Columbia a part of the community or against community? The author is a Columbia College '66 graduate and a long-time local resident in rent-regulated housing.
Columbia Spectator Staff