Wednesday, September 19, 2007

'Columbia's Astroturf'

In today's Post, I take a look at how Columbia is managing its campaign to cultivate grassroots support for its planned expansion into West Harlem:
COLUMBIA University is making great efforts to pre vent community objections from derailing its plan for a massive expansion in West Harlem. But its methods seem to rely more on big-money power politics than on listening to the folks who live and work where the school wants to build.

At a meeting held last month by West Harlem's Community Board 9, for example, a good chunk of the school's "local supporters" looked to be patients from an East Harlem drug-rehab clinic.

Several people were outside handing out pamphlets castigating area business owner Nick Sprayregen, the expansion's most vocal critic. Visnja Vujica -- a recent Barnard grad and member of the anti-expansion Student Coalition on Expansion & Gentrification -- says she discovered that the pamphleteers were patients from East Harlem's Addicts Rehabilitation Center (ARC).

"I talked to one man, J.R., I think, who was wearing one of the 'Future of Manhattanville' stickers. He said he was paid; wouldn't tell how much, but said something like, When you're given pretty much a blank check, you don't ask questions," she said.

Read the rest here.

Accompanying is another piece look into Columbia's dealings with AKRF, an environmental consulting firm with a rich, storied history with the city:
TO realize its planned expansion in Man hattanville, Columbia University will need the power of eminent domain -- that is, the ability to force property owners to sell at a "fair" price, below what they'd otherwise hold out for. The prospect of such takings has probably caused more resentment than any other part of the school's plan.

Technically, the power would be exercised by the state-run Empire State Development Corp. (ESDC) -- which must first reach a formal finding that the area is "blighted."

But the ESDC has subcontracted the study that will make that determination to the consulting firm of AKRF -- which Columbia itself has already hired to help sell its overall plan to city officials.

Here's the piece.

Tonight, Manhattan borough President Scott Stringer will hold a hearing on the expansion. More fireworks no doubt to come.

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