Columbia University West Harlem Expansion
In the spring of 2004, Columbia University first unveiled its plans for creating a north campus on this 17-acre area to the west of Broadway and north of 125th Street. The plan was the embodiment of a vision by Columbia president Lee Bollinger to increase Columbia's international stature, in part, by expanding the size of its campus. From the perspective of a developer, this site seems optimal with its stock of (relatively) inexpensive low-rise industrial buildings and proximity both to the Hudson River and to mass transportation on the IRT #1 Broadway subway line - one stop from Columbia's main campus. There is also a civic government delighted to see every possible square foot of Manhattan rebuilt with luxury buildings for the well-to-do.
Understandably, there was a significant amount of opposition to this bold act of gentrification. Around 1,600 people were employed in this area and around 400 people live there. Development would ultimately push skyrocketing housing costs even higher, replacing longtime community residents with well-heeled students and midtown yuppies. It also conjured visions of Robert Moses' Urban Renewal projects of the 1950s and 1960s (as well as the Atlantic Yards abomination) where eminent domain is used to force owners to relinquish their property against both their will and the will of the community.
From an aesthetic point of view, there is also the loss of an old, gritty vestige of Manhattan's manufacturing history bequeathed by previous generations. So I decided to spend a few hours up here documenting what will undoubtedly soon be just a fading memory.
For further reading:
- NY Times Magazine piece on the area
- Forgotten-NY page on Manhattanville
- Official Columbia University expansion web page
- City Planning Commission page on the site
- NY Real Estate News article on the site