Because of ignorant people like me, Columbia’s selfish and corporate interests are destroying the authenticity of nearby communities. This was the accusation I faced from a group of activists after I asserted that I undoubtedly supported Columbia’s expansion into Harlem. I was being accused of being an accomplice to the latest social sin: gentrification.
The controversy began in 2003 when the University announced a plan to construct a new campus in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattanville. The Manhattanville campus, a 17-acre site located just north of the Morningside Heights campus, will consist of more than seven million square feet dedicated to teaching and cutting-edge research. It will also feature facilities for cultural, recreational, and commercial activities.
And yet, there are people—some of whom are Columbia students—who are vehemently opposed to this plan. Their arguments are based on an urban social phenomenon called gentrification. The term was defined by the British sociologist Ruth Glass as the “arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, and a related increase in rents and property values.” The activists stress that this socioeconomic shift will inevitably produce a cultural change in the area. This immoral and artificial process would, in turn, strip Harlem of its authentic character and cultural heritage.
By Christian Zaharia | February 19, 2015