The building of Manhattanville within the past decade inevitably points back the failed gym proposal of the 1960s, which involved the same community and faced similar backlash.
Student activists against the building of Manhattanville today primarily joined two prominent groups: the Coalition to Preserve Community and the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification. Community Board 9 is an advisory group for neighborhoods in the Upper West Side and the northern part of Manhattan Island, which unanimously approved a detailed document that outlined the community framework meant to manage and combat the potential tenant displacement provoked by the building of Manhattanville—this document is Plan 197-a. The plan was then approved by the Department of City Planning. However, Columbia responded to this plan with their own 197-c rezoning plan, which besides expanding the campus size, disregarded student, faculty, and community support for the 197-a plan. The Department of City Planning later approved Columbia’s 197-c proposal as well. Activism continued with CPC, SCEG, and Nos Quedamos/Project Remain (a larger umbrella group made up of CPC, Harlem Tenants Council, and other community groups) as the main actors against Columbia’s expansion plans. The bullet points highlighted in yellow are the major activism events held against Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion plan since its conception.
The protests of 1968 were started by student activists on campus who opposed the proposal to build a gym in Morningside Park. Not only would the proposed gym have disrupted the surrounding community, but Columbia’s weak attempt to win over the community by opening the lower floor of the gym to the public was also seen as extremely controversial. To fully understand the opposition to this unsuccessful gym proposal, it is helpful to see the fluctuations of the black student population at Columbia College as well. These changes speak to how Columbia University sought to use its own student demographic as a way of combating and responding to the controversy over the gym and also to respond to the progress of the civil rights and Black Power movements.