Friday, January 25, 2008

Manhattanville’s Forgotten Beneficiaries

Manhattanville’s Forgotten Beneficiaries
By Jonathan Hollander

Hearing about Manhattanville on an almost daily basis, I have come to the conclusion that the reason why it has gained so much political traction is because it is an issue inextricably tied to human welfare. Regardless of whether Columbia proceeds with its current plans, lives will be affected for both the better and the worse. The key to confronting this issue is to determine who the losers and winners are, what the effects will be, and how to value them.

Firstly, I don’t believe that the Manhattanville debate centers on the people living in the expansion zone. As the “Manhattanville in West Harlem” page of the Columbia University Web site states, “There are fewer than 130 occupied residential units on the entire 17-acre area.
Columbia has committed to relocate all residents to equal or better housing in the area.” The page further states, “The University will not under any circumstances request the state use eminent domain on residential properties.” Thus, the only individuals who will truly be negatively affected by the expansion are those living in the surrounding neighborhood, which will likely see rents rise to an unaffordable level as a result of gentrification. This is the real question of debate: does Columbia have the right to fundamentally alter a neighborhood and indirectly displace its previous tenants?

If the only people affected by the Manhattanville expansion were the current residents of the neighborhood, the issue would probably be less complex. However, it is important to recognize that there are other groups involved in the situation. The students of Columbia for instance, have a few ways of viewing the topic. One of them is to consider historical precedent, especially as it relates to the University’s development of Morningside Heights 20 years ago. The current neighborhood that we all know and love didn’t always exist in its present form. It was sorely underutilized, to the extent that it made sense for JJ’s to be a bar and the basement of Furnald to be a grocery store. Ultimately, I believe that most students would agree that the development of Morningside Heights conferred upon them many benefits, and I see no reason why the Manhattanville expansion would not do the same.

Now that we see how the lives of one group of people could be changed for the better, let’s move on to another, much larger segment of the population that stands to gain from the development.
Manhattanville is currently in its underpopulated state for two reasons: zoning restrictions and rent controls that prevent landlords from earning a decent return on their investment. Through its expansion plan, Columbia has the opportunity to rectify both of those problems. First, as the expansion progresses and the neighborhood improves, the area will not only become more attractive to developers, but zoning commissions will also begin to see the merits of further economic development in West Harlem. This fact, combined with rising property values that allow investors to earn a greater return, will lead companies to invest in residential construction in a city that faces a desperate shortage of housing. Why is this important? Because, by taking the initiative in Manhattanville, Columbia has the opportunity to set in motion a redevelopment wave that could affect large parts of upper Manhattan. This would increase the supply of housing in New York City, and would either make the overall pool of housing in the city cheaper, or at least stop it from appreciating at its current rate.

Ultimately, there will be winners and losers from the Manhattanville expansion, both of whom have strong supporting cases. On the one hand, the development will inflict a large amount of pain on a small group of people by raising the cost of living for some and displacing others.
However, it will also provide a relatively smaller benefit to a much larger group of individuals (think in the tens of thousands) through cheaper housing than would otherwise be available in Midtown or lower Manhattan. Which group should have their interests protected? Honestly, I don’t have an answer to this question, and I think it would be presumptuous for anyone to suppose that they do. As a result, the reasonable conclusion that we have to come to is that both sides probably have arguments of similar strength.

If this is the situation though, how are we to move forward on this issue? Here, we need to take a serious look at the founding principles of our society, and use them to guide our decisions.
Fundamentally, America is a capitalist society that has become prosperous because of the power of the free market. Government plays an important role in ensuring general social welfare, but as Milton Friedman writes in Free To Choose, “The burden of proof [for government intervention] should be on its proponents. We should develop the practice of examining both the benefits and the costs of proposed government interventions and require a very clear balance of benefits over costs before adopting them.”

Applying this standard to Manhattanville, we can see that because of the ambiguity surrounding the well-being of the current residents juxtaposed with the immense gain that would result from development, there simply isn’t an adequate justification for interference in the market. Fundamentally, the onus is on the residents of Manhattanville to show why the common good would be impeded by Columbia’s expansion, and if they are unable to do so, then the free market should be allowed to decide the matter.

Naturally, there is ample room for compromise and negotiation between the University and the residents of Manhattanville. However, to presuppose that Columbia is inherently in the wrong because its actions threaten to displace people is shortsighted and doesn’t approach the matter from the global perspective it deserves. Manhattanville is about people, but we need to remember that it is also about people living outside of the neighborhood, and that their interests deserve consideration too.

The author is a Columbia College sophomore.

NB - It still amazes me that supposedly educated people parrot mis-information simple because repeating what others say sounds authoritative. Althoughthe author claims to have heard daily about Manhattanville, he obviously has no grasp of how large and populous Manhattanville is and naively he doesn't believe the debate is centered on the residents of Manhatttanville. He further makes judgement about Morningside Heights residents 20 odd years ago as if they were irrelevant and their displacement some sort of blessing.

So I will again waste ink and space to educate the educated.

First and foremost the area from West 110th Street to West 155th is WestSide Harlem or more commonly and informally West Harlem.

West Harlem encomasess 3 major neighborhood of historical credentials and value, Morningside Heights, Manhattanvill and Hamilton Heights.

Hamilton Heights runs from West 135the Street to West 155th Street and its eastern border is roughly St. Nicholas Avenue/Bradhurst Ave/Edgecombe Ave. with some notable sub neighborhoods such as Sugar Hill and Carmanville to the northern and eastern parts of Hamilton Heights; Vinegar Hill overlapping from Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights roughly from West 133rd to West 139theastward from Amsterdam Avenue and including most of City College.

Manhattanville goes from West 122nd Street to West 135th Street from the Hudson River to St. Nicholas Avenue a heavily populated area heavily African American but with substantial and growing Hispanic and latino presence as well a a growin non-Hispanic White population.

Mornigside Heights covers from West 110th Street to West 122nd Street and yes it is a part of West Harlem.

When referring to Harlem the historic spiritual home of African Americans you are speaking about Central Harlem and not about West Harlem which traditionally has been better known by it 3 historical neighborhoods.

Columbia's support has come mostly from Central Harlem NOT from West Harlem which community has been usurped by the constant referral to Harlem and not to West Harlem.

Now this sophomoric article further obfuscates the issue by making Manhatanvill into 17 acres and totally ignores the rest of the geography and people of Manhattanville as well as ignored the people from Morningside heights and Hamilton Heights immediately directly impacted by the Columbia expansion.

On one had he refers to the CU target area as udnerutilized due to zoning restrictions and rent control - lets talk about zoning, the area is zoned industrial because it was an industrial zone, duh! Regarding Rent Control, none of the buildings in the target area are rent controlled as they belong to the City of New York and those in the TIL Program will become HDFC cooperatives also not subject to rent regulations.

Since the 1950's Columbia has been acqwuiring properties int the target area and little by little got the buildings vacated and has kept them vacan all these years and more so the last few years when the university finally decided to push forward with their expansion plans.

Where more than 8000 industrial jobe existed has dwindled to about 1000 and when Columbia finally starts construction those jobs will also disappear from Manhattanville and Manhattan.

Columbia will creat 6000 new jobs, most scientific, academic, professional, technical and administrative and some 900 "Support" meaning janitorial, security and such which residents will have access to as that is about all they can fill at the present time, very few of the other jobs will go to locals. However many of the over 5000 new employees will want to live near their jobs and will be financially prpepared to pay two or three times the current prevalent market rates which are alrady 5 times higher than five years ago.

So perhaps local current 5000 families or between 20K to 25K people will be displaced for the benefit of Columbia University NOT for the benefit of the West Harlem Communties.

Every one want progress and our communities want it so much more than anyone else, but what is been done is to sacrifice the West Harlem communities for the benefit of Columbia University, for the ew 6000 jobs and the 1200 construction job none of which will go to anyone in the community unless they happen to be members of the construction trades unions and then only according to their seniority.

My opposition and msot people in community was never to the expanison. The opposition has been about the way the expansion is being shoved down out throats and the lack of concern for those things that I pointed above. Neither Columbia University nor the City government gives a hoot aboaut West Harlem

Although there has been literally hundres of meetings, I alone attended more than 900meetings in the 4 years I was Chairman of CB9M and I know Pat Jones, Walter South, Maritta Dunn and Tom Demott, Tom Kappner and Ruth Eisenberg has attended as many or more ans have hundreds of other community residents who have expressed their opinions over and over again into deaf ears.

The last wist at this twisted article really gets me - the author seems to worship at the altar of capitalism and praises the free market yet in some marzist-socialist twisted dialectical excersize he mentions Milton Friedman and then basically asks for government intervention and switches the burden-of-proof to the residents for them to justify their existance in Manhattanville.... Is it me or am I in the Twilight Zone??

City Planning took our 197-a and changed it without consultating us to make it more compatible with Columbia's Plans. City Planning further emasculated our 197-a Plan to the point that it is no longer our plan but City Planning's. I hope that we can recover most of what was lost by making sure that the Borough President's proposed 197-c Plan reflects our original, unadulterated and unemasculated 197-a Plan. - JRM

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