Th e exte rior of n e ig h borhood fav orite, Flordita
a local mcdonaldâ€™s, in the center of aged architecture
a v i e w faci ng north, to wards 3333 b road way
harlem heights billbord
on th e w est si de h ig h way b ri dg e
storage sign on empty warehouse
a v i e w faci ng north, u n de r w est si de h ig h way b ri dg e
3333 from hudson riverside
a view facing north, from hudson riverside
a view facing south, from hudson riverside
stop columbia sign adjacent to moving signs
Manhattanville was incorporated as a neighborhood in Harlem’s western edge in 1806 as a site for commercial trade and goods manufacture.1 The onset of transportation hubs such as the rail station, ferry terminal, and IRT subway station stimulated industrial growth and economic productivity in the area, turning its waterfront into a thriving site for industry and commerce.2 However, after the Great Depression of 1929, the stock market suffocated the neighborhood’s commercial growth, resulting in the loss of businesses, jobs, and desirability. Today, Manhattanville is primarily a residential area, home to approximately thirty-five thousand residents. The population is primarily Hispanic and African American3, whose apartment rental prices range between $950-$1650, in order of studios to two-bedroom apartments respectively.4 Village Voice author Christine Lagorio describes the neighborhood as being stuck in “an awkward phase,” in which “people are buying, but [the neighborhood] is still forlorn, full of dingy, poorly zoned lots and subsidized apartment towers that (almost impossibly) keep their foothold in Manhattan.”5 Columbia University, which currently dominates sixty-five percent of West Harlem in the Morningside Heights area,6 sees Manhattanville as their next frontier for
Columbia University. "Manhattanville in West Harlem." neighbors.Columbia.edu. http://neighbors.columbia.edu/pages/manplanning/west_harlem/index.html (accessed March 1, 2009). 2 Columbia University. "Manhattanville in West Harlem." neighbors.Columbia.edu. http://neighbors.columbia.edu/pages/manplanning/west_harlem/index.html (accessed March 1, 2009). 3 "Manhattanville neighborhood in New York, New York (NY), 10031, 10027 detailed profile." Stats about all US cities - real estate, relocation info, house prices, home value estimator, recent sales, cost of living, crime, race, income, photos, education, maps, weather, houses, schools, neighborhoods, and more. www.city-data.com/neighborhood/Manhattanville-New-York-NY.html (accessed February 27, 2009). 4 Lagorio, Christine. "Close-Up on Manhattanville." The Village Voice, May 31, 2005. http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-05-31/nyc-life/close-up-on-manhattanville/ (accessed March 1, 2009). 5 Lagorio, Christine. "Close-Up on Manhattanville." The Village Voice, May 31, 2005. http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-05-31/nyc-life/close-up-on-manhattanville/ (accessed March 1, 2009). 6 Williams, Timothy. "In West Harlem Land Dispute, It's Columbia vs. Residents." The New York Times, November 29, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/20/nyregion/20columbia.html?_r=1&fta=y&pagewanted=all (accessed February 20, 2009).
campus expansion and neighborhood renovation. In fall 2002, Columbia described their intentions to expand as a response to their “urgent need for additional space,” as well as, “the commitment to the communities of Upper Manhattan and [their] belief that this effort will bring economic and other benefits to [their] neighbors.”7 The university outlined their intentions for the space in their Columbia 197-c Plan. Harlem residents do not object the expansion of Columbia University into their neighborhood, but find the school’s 197-c Plan ignorant of the community’s need for affordable housing, job opportunities, environmental protection, and historical preservation.8 In response to Columbia’s plan, the community’s Board 9 outlined a comprehensive description of their demands in their Community 197-a Plan.9 A compromise between each plan is yet to be reached, and in turn has provoked much controversy in the area and media. Columbia University released in a public statement, “Columbia is focused on meeting the unique needs of New York City and the Upper Manhattan community as it continues to negotiate the purchase properties needed for the proposed expansion. The
"The Expansion Timeline: 2002 and Beyond.." http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/expansion/flyers/Expansion%20Timeline.pdf. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/expansion/flyers/Expansion%20Timeline.pdf (accessed February 4, 2009). 8 Schrodt, Paul. "Columbia Expansion 101: Wealthy University Devours West Harlem." the indypendent, September 4, 2007. http://www.indypendent.org/2007/08/31/columbia-expansion-101-wealthy-universitydevours-west-harlem/ (accessed February 13, 2009). 9 "Columbia vs. the Community, and Introduction." Stop Columbia: a website of the Coalition to Preserve Community. www.stopcolumbia.org/content/view/40/63/lang,en/ (accessed February 16, 2009).
decision to use eminent domain is the State’s and it remains a last resort.”10 The school’s right to eminent domain threatens the neighborhood’s homes, jobs, and properties, reaffirming the suspicion that “if Columbia succeeds, bodegas will become bookshelves.”11 Of the many social tensions surrounding the dispute between Manhattanville’s 197-a Plan and Columbia’s 197-c Plan, residents are most infuriated by the idea that their socio-economic status renders them powerless in the matter. At a Manhattanville public hearing in 2005, picket signs read, “Poor People Have Rights, too!”12 as participants fumed about the school’s history of obtaining their desires through money and status. Residents pronounce their intolerance of eminent domain abuse, and seek their own source of power to raise attention to the matter through public demonstration, online and print forums, and various media platforms such as YouTube® and news stations. In trying to understand how it could be possible to lose her home and property for students to have more classrooms, Luisa Henriquez speaks for the Manhattanville community in asking, “What about us?”13 Manhattanville residents are not the only ones who are frustrated by Columbia’s anticipated plan of action. Student groups within the university, such as the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification, says, “We find it impossible to stand aside as
NY1 News. "West Harlem Residents Voice Opposition To Columbia Expansion Plan." NY1. www.ny1.com/Default.aspx?SecID=1000&ArID=54997 (accessed February 23, 2009). 11 Lagorio, Christine. "Close-Up on Manhattanville." The Village Voice, May 31, 2005. http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-05-31/nyc-life/close-up-on-manhattanville/ (accessed March 1, 2009). 12 NY1 News. "West Harlem Residents Voice Opposition To Columbia Expansion Plan." NY1. www.ny1.com/Default.aspx?SecID=1000&ArID=54997 (accessed February 23, 2009). 13 NY1 News. "West Harlem Residents Voice Opposition To Columbia Expansion Plan." NY1. www.ny1.com/Default.aspx?SecID=1000&ArID=54997 (accessed February 23, 2009).
our university actively ignores and evades the rights of the West Harlem community.”14 Even some faculty members do not share Columbia’s enthusiasm for the 197-c Plan. Columbia Professor Susan Fairstein says, “I think Columbia desperately needs to expand, but I’m not necessarily for the expansion as it’s currently designed.”15 The issue of non-compromise between Columbia’s 197-c Plan and Manhattanville’s 197-a Plan has aroused several tensions and forms of social activism. The pivotal social tension surrounding the dilemma is that Columbia’s money, power, and status are the driving variables threatening to push through Columbia’s plan without acknowledging Harlem residents’ demands. Since Manhattanville’s socio-economic condition is not as favorable as Columbia’s, the neighborhood has utilized various platforms to direct attention and public dialogue to the matter. Upon visiting Harlem, I arrived with a set of questions concerning how the platforms and mediums of vocalization affected the Harlem/Columbia expansion issue in the area. Will people be handing out flyers on the corner, or leading rallies and soapbox protests by the gates of Columbia? How are the residents and students of Harlem utilizing media and technology to get their point across? Have residents and students employed advertisements to voice their cause? Will this issue even be visible once I arrive? I began my trek from the subway exit that let me off around the entrance to Columbia University. The subway ride was considerably longer than I expected, and led me to think my destination would be fairly sparse of people and activity. However, after walking up the stairs to the street level, I was surprised by how many people I saw in the
"Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification." Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification. www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/expansion/ (accessed February 1, 2009). 15 NY1 News. "West Harlem Residents Voice Opposition To Columbia Expansion Plan." NY1. www.ny1.com/Default.aspx?SecID=1000&ArID=54997 (accessed February 23, 2009).
area. There were students congregating before class, local residents running errands and talking on their cell phones, even small families traversing from point a to point b. The weather was overcast and chilly, potentially reducing the amount of people who sought outdoor activity, inferring the area is even more bustling on different occasions. Observing the people in the area, I could cleanly divide them into three groups: students, residents, and commuters. The students aged anywhere from eighteen to fiftyfive, and tended to congregate with other students on the lawns of the university. The residents appeared to pay little attention to the university and students, seemingly unfazed by the bustling area of academics as they went on with their daily errands. The commuters flew out of the subway station with direction and determination, talking on their cell phones and grasping their briefcases as they trajected to their anticipated Point B. After heading west on Broadway towards the restaurant Flordita, I noticed that the amount of students and commuters lessened, as if crossing an imaginary border. Lawns and public parks melted into businesses and storefronts, and bustling groups of people dwindled into the occasional resident on their errand. In absence of public space for residents, people tactically
sought the street as a place to congregate. There appeared to
only be a couple street hangouts, primarily outside restaurants and by the West Side Highway, each location attracting no more than five people (primarily male). As I passed these street hangouts, I was given looks that made me feel a bit uncomfortable and out of place. Perhaps it was my attire or curious expression that gave me away as an "outsider," but the groups of men I passed looked at me with a gaze of judgment and isolation that I wasn't familiar to. It was as if I was being looked at as an
outsider, in which my purpose in the area was yet to be identified. Perhaps I was perceived as a Columbia student whose intentions were deemed impure by the Harlem residents. Whatever the reason, the mood of the streets had gotten cooler and a bit crueler since the gates of Columbia, and I wondered if this was the byproduct of the 197-A/C issues. The ethnicities of Harlem shifted in majority as well on my trek from Columbia into the heart of Manhattanville. When I was getting out of the subway, the people around me were mostly Caucasian men and women students, with roughly one quarter of other ethnicities mixed into the bunch. However, closer to 125th Street and Broadway there were very few Caucasians I crossed paths with, and a great deal more African American and Latin Americans. I was most concerned with how people in Harlem were voicing their opinions on the Harlem vs. Columbia issue. I was surprised to find no one freely speaking out about the issue, no guerilla advertisements plastered on scaffolding, not even flyers passed out to raise awareness on the issue. Some residents and students did not even know about the issue. When I asked Sarah Gold, a ten-year resident of 125th Street, about her thoughts on the issue, she replied, "I really don't know that much about the present standing of the [Columbia versus Harlem issue]. I've done my best to follow it on the news, but there aren't nearly enough community meetings and update systems to keep me notified." When I looked towards advertisements, I found only one sign that was related to the issue. It was plastered on the side of a building, adjacent to a car wash, and read, "Dear Columbia, No Forced Displacement." The irony in the matter was that this sign was placed next to advertisements for storage and moving signs, as if marketing to the
same crowd that risks displacement. Another sign about seven blocks away reads, "STOP COLUMBIA! WE WON'T BE PUSHED OUT!" and again in Spanish, "PARE A COLUMBIA! NOSOTROS NO SEREMOS EMPUJADO AFUERA!" It's stark black and red letters on the white vinyl made the message loud and clear, but when viewed next to the subtle and bleak surroundings of the area, appeared almost radical and violent. A dichotomy of voice emerged: either the space of Harlem let the issue sat idle and unnoticed, or it was loud and aggressive. One billboard in particular really drove home the tension between the perceived space and conceived space of Harlem. It was an advertising billboard for "Harlem Heights," a television sitcom that follows the "working hard, playing harder" crowd of black-tie professionals in Harlem. It portrays Harlem as an area of thriving business, class, money and beauty, yet the billboard is placed in one of the more dismal, unproductive areas of Harlem. Neighbored by "Do Not Enter" signs and the Cotton Club, a club that once abided by a whites-only policy in attempts to attract a downtown crowd, the advertisement creates a funny friction between spatial practices and representations of space. 3333 Broadway is a building that has offered affordable housing to residents for decades, and now risks being absorbed by the state if the expansion is carried out by Columbia's plans. It is often cited as the prime example of how Columbia threatens to unfairly displace residents, and then market the units for three to four times the price. When I approached James Bosley, a seven-year resident of 3333, and asked him about the looming threat of displacement, he answered, "It's just unfair. I cannot understand how the government can say to someone who has been living in the same unit for over
twenty years that they no longer have a home. Elderly men and women who have been living in this building have nowhere to go. It's just wrong." In my map, I charted the locations I felt individuals were voicing themselves about the expansion issue. The only visible vocalizations I crossed paths with were billboards and flyers. Blue Flags indicate a billboard, and Green Flags indicate a flyer. After further research, I found that Tuck-It-Away Storage, a moving and Storage Company with various locations in Harlem funded the billboards. After walking through the Harlem area, I noticed a few things. The first being that considering how charged the issue is, the visibility of the issue in the area was not nearly visible enough. Tensions were illustrated through dirty stares and sparse, aggressive advertisements. Communication was only provoked through awkward approach and even once achieved, the knowledge on the matter was limited. Residents of Harlem were clearly angry with the issue at hand, but had few outlets to voice their concerns and questions, and thus turned to muted aggression. In lecture, we discussed how media- and digital-scapes create an opportunity for self-empowerment among the otherwise underpowered. In the Harlem/Columbia issue, I have seen residents utilize platforms such as YouTube® and Vimeo® to vocalize their opinions. However, when their strides are in a constant digital, immaterial realm, then the results are just as invisible to the eye. While the Internet and media are fantastic resources for creating a platform for “questioning, subverting and undermining decisions made by structures from above,” I am fascinated by how the immaterial can translate into the material.
I propose a website for the Harlem and Columbia community that embraces dialogue between students, residents, and commuters while encouraging a collaborative energy among the various populations of the area. Whether individuals are for, against, or neutral to the expansion, there should be a mediated space that offers platforms to be active for their cause in safe, constructive ways. The first issue the website would address is the growing divide between students, residents and commuters. In light of the recent situation, more social tensions have arisen between each population, stifling the opportunities for collaboration or spacial peace. On the website, there will be a two-part solution for this issue. The first will be an interactive map, in which individuals can click on their address for their residence, workplace, dorm, etc. and create a brief profile. Within this profile will be information that ranges from name, age, occupation, to "reason for moving to harlem," or "biggest hope/fear for the area." As more people plot their coordinates, the fuller the map becomes and the more visually aware people become of the integration and gentrification of lives in the area. The second solution is a social network interface, whose model could be likened to Facebook(r) or Myspace(r). An account for this social networking service would be automatically created upon plotting their coordinates on the map, and users can fill their profiles with their business information, personal information, and thoughts. The second issue the website would address is the fear of residential displacement and job loss. The natural condition of space is to change, at the hands of time, society, business and ecology. There is a reality that many jobs and homes may be forfeited for the benefit of expansion, and rather than stressing on how to STOP this possibility, the website addresses how to BETTER this possibility. The website's solution for this issue is
to create an extensive, region-driven Classifieds section. Here users can post available listings, jobs, and opportunities for people that risk displacement. Sensitive to the issue of expansion, these opportunities will buffer the risk being "left out in the cold." These Classifieds will also serve as an excellent opportunity for networking and building relationships with others. The third issue this website seeks to address is proper advertising and vocalization of the populations' causes. After my trek around West Harlem, I counted a total of three signs that addressed the Harlem/Columbia expansion issue. Each was styled with the same stark palette of black, white and red, and the tone was all-in-all negative. To be honest, the design and tonality is so poor it could transform an anti-expansionite into a pro-expansionite. Nobody wants to be talked down to, and while the energy is there, the advertisements do not delivery it properly. The website seeks to address this issue by creating an interactive Voice section. There will be two subpages for The Voice section, one for Pro-Expansion, the other for Anti-Expansion. Within each of these subpages, each will be comprised of three parts, The Three F's: Flyers, Facts, and Funding. The Three F's will address how to be vocal with your cause in a constructive way, where the power of design and information is emphasied. The flyers section will be a utility that allows users to upload and download designed flyers, posters, and deskjet-printer sized posters. With simple upload/download interfaces, nearly everyone who has access to a computer and printer could benefit voicing their concerns through this function. Upload submissions will be reviewed by the board of the website before being posted to the website, to deflect any possibility of
hijacking this platform for a poor cause. Harlem has a rich history of artists and creativity, so the results for posters could also be an opportunity for creative talent to be recognized and publicized. The Facts section would be an information section, in which users can get their facts straight. Often times surrounding issues like this, facts get muddled and distorted, and in turn generate miscommunications and aggression. This section gives space for the facts to breathe, and really inform users about the condition of the present situation. This also branches itself as an opportunity for opposing causes to inform themselves on what the facts for the other are. The Funding section will be a ideation/donation system, where users can collaborate ideas and collect money for their cause. Set up as a discussion board, people can share and nominate ideas on how to raise awareness and money for their cause. Elected ideas will be carried out with raised money. Donations can be made through a PayPal feature adjacent to the discussion board. The website will at first need to be marketed to individuals in the area as an approachable, user-friendly asset to their cause. This will be done through print campaigns in local newspapers, magazines, and scaffolding. Flyers and promo materials will also be generated and passed out on the streets of Harlem and the Columbia Campus. Finally, a handful of computer stations programmed for solely surfing the website will be stationed in popular Harlem/Columbia hangouts to stimulate usage.
Works Cited Columbia University. "Manhattanville in West Harlem." neighbors.Columbia.edu. http://neighbors.columbia.edu/pages/manplanning/west_harlem/index.html (accessed March 1, 2009). "Columbia vs. the Community, and Introduction." Stop Columbia: a website of the Coalition to Preserve Community. www.stopcolumbia.org/content/view/40/63/lang,en/ (accessed February 16, 2009). Lagorio, Christine. "Close-Up on Manhattanville." The Village Voice, May 31, 2005. http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-05-31/nyc-life/close-up-on-manhattanville/ (accessed March 1, 2009). "Manhattanville neighborhood in New York, New York (NY), 10031, 10027 detailed profile." Stats about all US cities - real estate, relocation info, house prices, home value estimator, recent sales, cost of living, crime, race, income, photos, education, maps, weather, houses, schools, neighborhoods, and more.. www.citydata.com/neighborhood/Manhattanville-New-York-NY.html (accessed February 27, 2009). NY1 News. "West Harlem Residents Voice Opposition To Columbia Expansion Plan." NY1. www.ny1.com/Default.aspx?SecID=1000&ArID=54997 (accessed February 23, 2009). Schrodt, Paul. "Columbia Expansion 101: Wealthy University Devours West Harlem." the indypendent, September 4, 2007. http://www.indypendent.org/2007/08/31/columbia-expansion-101-wealthyuniversity-devours-west-harlem/ (accessed February 13, 2009). "Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification." Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification. www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/expansion/ (accessed February 1, 2009). "The Expansion Timeline: 2002 and Beyond.." http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/expansion/flyers/Expansion%20Timeline.pdf. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/expansion/flyers/Expansion%20Timeline.pdf (accessed February 4, 2009). Williams, Timothy. "In West Harlem Land Dispute, ItĂ˘â„˘s Columbia vs. Residents." The New York Times, November 29, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/20/nyregion/20columbia.html?_r=1&fta=y&pa gewanted=all (accessed February 20, 2009).