Pushing the city towards a prosperous future

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November 20, 2019 - 4:07pm

Critical Commentary

By 2003 Columbia announced its plan to expand into Manhattanville, justifying it as necessary since it is the smallest of all Ivy Leagues with 32 acres of property. Columbia asserted that research conducted in the Expansion would serve the broader public good, “directly, by researching cures for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, and, indirectly, by helping to usher the city into a knowledge-based economic future.” Following a review of the Manhattanville area to deem it blighted, Columbia obtained exclusive control over the land.[1] Most elected officials supported the use of eminent domain. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed that the “knowledge economy” produced by this Expansion would promote urban economic growth, and that eminent domain was the proper tool to push the city towards a prosperous future.[2] The knowledge economy was imbued with greater value than the mixed-used redevelopment plan promoted by critics, which included the creation of more affordable housing. Despite opposition to the use of eminent domain, Columbia proceeded with the plan. As one resident lamented, the battle over Manhattanville was “between David and Goliath, and David lost.”[3] By asserting the Expansion was for the “greater good,” Columbia identified itself as an institution at the “center of a web of global commitments,” reformulating itself as a world-renowned institution with obligations reaching outside the neighborhood.[4] The Expansion was an articulation not only of Columbia’s contribution to the knowledge economy, but their perceived dominance and power to subject residents to its will.


[1] Steven Gregory, “The Radiant University: Space, Urban Redevelopment, and the Public Good,” City & Society 25, no. 1 (2013): 51. 

[2] Steven Gregory, “The Radiant University: Space, Urban Redevelopment, and the Public Good,” City & Society 25, no. 1 (2013): 63. 

[3] Ibid: 67. 

[4] Stuart Hall, “The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity,” Culture, Globalization and the World-System: Contemporary Conditions for the Representation of Identity, ed. Anthony D. King (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 1.