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Manhattanville redevelopment plan, Columbia University, New York, United States

Friday 23 Nov 2007

A town and gown row

Renzo Piano 
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Piano and SOM plan for Columbia University causes unrest with local residents 

It’s a familiar tale. A university needs to grow and the town in which it is situated fears expansion. But that tale is particularly onerous when the University in question is one of the leading in the Country and the town is New York City. Such is the case with Columbia University, which has launched an ambitious plan to develop 17 acres of land near its Morningside Heights campus in order to meet its pressing need for more space. The plan, which has been developed by Renzo Piano with SOM and envisions 6.8 million square foot of space housed in transparent towers on tree lined streets, has been met with much resistance, particularly from the residents of Mahattanville, a historically black neigbourhood in West Harlem. While the University will try to negotiate with residents to acquire the property it needs, it will if necessary use its financial and political muscle and the power of eminent domain to gain control over the four block area. Supporters of the plan, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, maintain that the University needs more space to maintain its position as one of the top University’s in the country. At present, Columbia has much less space per student that its peer universities. Yet, opponents of the plan argue that the project will displace residents and eliminate manufacturing jobs in the neighbourhood. In response to the plan, the community has formed its own Corporation and has put forth its own plan, which has a large preservation component. Columbia’s proposal is currently moving through the City’s approval process, but the local community board has voted against it. The City Planning Commission will decide the project’s fate on 26 November.

Sharon McHugh
WAN US Correspondent

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