The reaction to Wednesday’s City Council approval of Columbia’s 17-acre expansion into West Harlem is varied and robust, as expected. (Curbed runs down a lot of it here.)
The Observer‘s print edition this week looked back on the university’s oft-controversial efforts to win support from Harlem residents and leaders for the expansion. It was not always pretty and never easy:
From Columbia’s perspective, the move would be historic, comparable to the decision to move to Morningside Heights over 100 years ago. The new campus would address a severe space deficit that Columbia says it suffers compared to other top schools, and add enough floor area to grow for another 30 years.
But in this case, Columbia’s history with the community, the nature of the opposition it faced and the awkwardness with which it stated its case conspired to make the expansion a particularly difficult sell.
It was clear from public hearings that the memory of the university’s attempt to build a gym in Morningside Park lives on strongly, even though it happened almost 40 years ago. “Don’t trust Columbia University,” Councilman Charles Barron, an East New York Democrat, proclaimed at last week’s City Council meeting. “History has shown that they cannot be trusted.”
On top of that, Harlem’s well-organized tenants groups, already upset about gentrification that it could not control, saw in Columbia an enemy it could recognize and fight. They launched a no-holds-barred assault on the plan, booing Mr. Bollinger, and even former Mayor David Dinkins, a Columbia professor, when they spoke in support of the expansion at a public hearing in August.
But enough of all that now. With the City Council approval, the rezoning for the expansion can move forward and the historic transformation of West Harlem can get underway. But Columbia’s triumph is not total and did not come without a price–literally.