The creation of Morningside Heights

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Contributed date

February 17, 2020 - 1:18pm

Critical Commentary

The present circumstances of gentrification in West Harlem can be traced to the very origins of the Grant and Manhattanville Houses, a case in which public housing was utilized to manage the residents in the community surrounding Columbia University. Grant and Manhattanville Houses were built to house low-income families as part of a plan developed by Morningside Heights, Inc. (MHI, renamed Morningside Area Alliance), a conglomeration of local educational, religious, and residential institutions seeking “to promote the improvement of Morningside Heights as an attractive residential, educational, and cultural area.” According to Christiane Collins, a resident and unofficial historian of Morningside Heights during the mid 1900s, MHI aspired to an ideal “American suburban-like environment, draped in an academic gown: economically and culturally homogeneous, free of ‘undesirables’ and implying discrimination along both economic and racial lines.” This particular image portrays the very population deemed acceptable by the Columbia administration: light-haired, white children, the likes of whom are conveyed as the idealized residents who will remove the present "blight." By representing these white children as the ideal citizens, Columbia and the city of New York reaffirm antiblackness. By encouraging residents of Grant and Manhattanville to "better" themselves, representing the white children as idealized, innocent, and antithesis to "blight," the implication is that to "better" oneself is to engage in antiblackness.

Photo taken by author in the Columbia University archives.

Group Audience

  • - Private group -

Cite as

Anonymous, "The creation of Morningside Heights", contributed by Isabelle Soifer, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 25 March 2020, accessed 18 May 2022. https://centerforethnography.org/content/creation-morningside-heights