Columbia University's Expansion has Major Effects on the Surrounding Area

Written By Kerby Marcelin | November 02, 2016 | Published in Neighborhood News
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Columbia University highlighted the progress of its $6.3 billion project in Manhattanville a few weeks ago, following years of community opposition. Yet, the question remains — Is the state-of-the-art addition set to harm or benefit the district?

“A well-crafted building is a good thing to do, it’s a promise of something good,” said Renzo Piano, project architect. “It’s not just aesthetics—making things well is more than aesthetics—it’s ethics.”

The Ivy League institution announced the plan for its expansion in the territory running from 125th to 133rd street, between Broadway and Riverside since 2003. However, it received massive backlash from residents and leaders due to the project’s obtrusive traits of gentrification. In fact, a 2007 draft environmental impact statement found that nearly 3,584 residents will be forced out of their homes between 2015 and 2030, and around 85 businesses will be displaced.

Despite its contentious nature, the plan to confiscate privately owned businesses was approved by New York’s highest court in 2010. One year later, buildings on the expansion site were dismantled and the first scaffoldings of the new campus were erected in 2014. The zoning change was expected to displace about 298 residents from 135 affordable housing units. The neighborhood, home to a high population of racial minorities with a median household income of just $33,463, has already seen remarkable increases in rent. Therefore, landlords aim to target affluent tenants, striving to match the neighborhood with Morningside Heights, site of the university’s main campus.

The university stressed the benefits of the project not only for the school, but the community. The new, glassy development, stippled with ultra-futuristic tech, will allow the elite institution to compete with other colleges of the same stature. Unlike the original campus, this one will be “gateless,” painting a welcoming image to locals.

Based on formal agreements with the West Harlem Development Corporation, the university is required to provide West Harlem residents with jobs and a health & wellness center, as well as funding affordable housing projects. Columbia promised to invest $160 million in the needs of the neighborhood and $44 million has already been spent.

Spread over 17 acres and home-to-be for six LEED-certified facilities — the new campus will open two buildings in Spring 2017 — the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, a 450,000-square-foot edifice for neuroscience research labs and the Lenfest Center for the Arts, a 60,000-square-foot art gallery and performance space. A new building for Columbia Business School is scheduled to be completed by 2021.


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