Columbia University Paves the Way for West Harlem Expansion

A sign on the side of the Tuck-It-Away self storage facility in West Harlem reads in both English and Spanish, "Stop Columbia! We won't be pushed out!"

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by West Harlem business owners of Columbia University’s use of eminent domain on Monday. This paves the way for Columbia to expand their campus into the manufacturing zone of Manhattanville and means local business owners and residents must move.

In June, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that Columbia could begin condemning private properties in the area using eminent domain—the process by which the government seizes private property for the “public good,” in exchange for payment of fair market value—as justification. The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal this week means there is nothing standing in Columbia University’s way.

After a four-year battle, building owners and tenants will have to vacate the properties in the area to allow for the university to proceed with their $6.3 billion development project of the 17-acre site that sits just north of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus. According to the Columbia University Campus Planning Task Force, the area “consists primarily of the four large blocks from 129th to 133rd Streets between Broadway and Twelfth Avenue, including the north side of 125th Street, as well as three properties on the east side of Broadway from 131st to 134th Streets.”

The university will build mixed-use spaces as well as research facilities and classrooms for their business, arts, science and math and engineering schools. Those in support of the project maintain that this will improve the blighted neighborhood and create thousands of jobs.

“An institution like Columbia, committed to research and teaching, in addition to public service, has enormous value to the surrounding city,” University President Lee Bollinger told the Columbia Spectator earlier this year.

However, Nick Sprayregen, owner of Manhattanville storage company Tuck-It-Away, which will be forced to vacate does not agree. Though calls to Sprayregen were not immediately returned, in a series of YouTube videos about his uphill battle with Columbia University, he says, this condemnation is being used “in an abusive way and in a way that I think is unconstitutional in that the beneficiary is a private school.”

In addition to Tuck-It-Away, a handful of low-rise commercial buildings as well as two gas stations and a McDonald’s will be forced to move.

Tachira Tavarez, a neighborhood resident, agrees with Sprayregen. “I don’t think it’s fair. Where does the school expect us to go? They keep pushing us out,” she said.

This newest development project is not the first time Columbia has come after land in the West Harlem area.

Background:

According to the Coalition to Preserve Community (CPC), Columbia University has “actively pursued a policy of privatizing community facilities and displacing low-income residents in the surrounding communities.” On their website, stopcolumbia.org, they outline what they consider “decades of assaults which lave laid the groundwork for [Columbia University’s] current efforts.”

CPC says they can trace the “assaults” as far back as 1947 when Morningside Heights Inc. (of which Columbia University is a member), initially led and funded by David Rockefeller, sought out to stop “white-flight” and the growth of the Hispanic and Black communities in Harlem.

From 1954-1957, the university demolished 10-acres of land closest to the campus. The residents who were forced to vacate, according to CPC, were almost all low-income families.

The university purchased more than one hundred buildings in the area during the 1960s, in an effort to save the university. Then, according to CPC, as the new landlords, the university raised the rent again, displacing hundreds more minority and low-income residents from the area.

In 1968, Columbia attempted to take part of Morningside Park, in order to construct a private gymnasium for its students and faculty, according to CPC.
The local community as well as Columbia University students, who supported them, started one of the most effective uprisings on any U.S. college campus, taking over campus buildings, forcing the university to shut down for the rest of the term. The protesters sought to stop the project because it would have “privatized parkland that was once open to the public” and had “overtly racist overtones.”

According to CPC, in only eight years, Columbia University displaced over 3,000 Manhattanville residents by purchasing, and in most cases demolishing, the apartment buildings in which they lived.

As a mostly white university at its inception, to this day many see Columbia as a colonist and Harlem residents (the minority and low-income tenants in particular), as the Native Americans it keeps displacing to make room for their expansion.

“Columbia’s presence seems really oppressive,” Tavarez said. “I know it’s a prestigious university, but most people in this community won’t ever even have a chance of going there. It just doesn’t seem fair.”

The present issue:

According to Community Board 9 District Manager, Eutha Prince, who oversees Manhattanville, the issue of gentrification has been a problem for years.

“I have seen countless businesses close and many people leave the area,” she said. “They either can no longer afford to rent or they are forced to move by [Columbia University] expansion efforts. Gentrification is a big problem here in West Harlem.”

Despite the objections, according to the university’s Planning Task Force, the university is committed to creating “a new kind of urban academic environment that will be woven into the fabric of the surrounding community.”

The plan features “new facilities for civic, cultural, recreational, and commercial activity,” according to a statement on their website. “And its improved, pedestrian-friendly streets and new publicly accessible open spaces will reconnect West Harlem to the new Hudson River waterfront park,” the statement said.

While some feel that these improvements are at a great cost, others are looking forward to the changes.

“I actually think [the project] is a great idea,” Anne, an undergrad at Columbia, said. Anne declined to provide her last name, saying her opinion conflicts greatly with the majority of her classmates.

According to the task force, this kind of growth will generate thousands of new local jobs and ensure “Upper Manhattan remains a world center for knowledge, creativity, and solutions for society’s challenges.”

Despite some objections from the community, Columbia University’s 25-year expansion plan is expected to improve the appearance and overall property value of Manhattanville. The plans include major infrastructure improvements, including a renovated 125th Street subway station. In addition, the university plans to build a school for the community (which might be a charter).

These expensive changes are expected to improve the overall “curbside” appeal of the area. Many, however, wonder at whose expense.

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Happy Halloween: A Superhero (Not an Ethnic Minority) is a Halloween Costume

I love Halloween…but I don’t love racist Halloween costumes. And, sadly, it seems like the “go to” Halloween costume is often an “Indian Chief” or a scantily clad “Indian Princess.” When in doubt, wear something brown, cut some fringe, put a headband around your head and attach a feather. Now, you’re an Indian!…??!!

image credit: jenmust.blogspot.com
Click the photo to read a great article at Colorlines.com

What kind of statement are we making when we dress up as a marginalized people? What makes us think we own their culture in this way?

I thought I was the only one who felt sick to my stomach seeing someone dressed up in costume as an “Indian Chief” or “Muslim,” but to my surprise, I’m not! There is quite a bit of buzz online about racist Halloween costumes and how to avoid being racially/ethnically offensive, while still having fun.

As ClayCane.net explained,

I saw people dressed as Mexicans, Asians and sporting the ever popular Afro wig. Putting on an Afro wig or a sombrero is not a costume. Batman or Superman is a costume, being ethnic for a night isn’t—it’s offensive.

"Native American boy" costume

Check out Gawker’s list of offensive Halloween costumes including the “Geisha girl,” “Samurai Warrior” and “Alaskan ‘Eskimo.'” TheRoot.com also has a great slideshow of wigs and masks (and glasses like the pair below) that made my jaw drop.

This is not okay.

Please think critically when you pick your Halloween costume. Just because your friend who is Native American/Black/Asian/Latino/whatever is not offended, does not mean the costume is not offensive to others! Halloween is about fun…not disrespect.

-NativeJournalist

Reconsider Columbus Day

I would normally write something here, but I think the video speaks for itself.

Note: I would love to give credit to the makers of the above video, but the ReconsiderColumbusDay.org website is no longer working. If you find any further information on this organization, please send it my way!

Also, take a minute and check out an article I just found by Aisha Brown about why we should consider renaming Columbus Day.

…So, what are your thoughts about Columbus Day? If you feel we should be celebrating Native American Day instead, you can sign a petition here.

-NativeJournalist

Michael Steele Cancels NABJ Appearance Last Minute

Sign posted outside the ballroom at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego where the plenary pannel discussion was going to take place

SAN DIEGO, CA –

I was shocked not really that surprised to see that RNC Chairman, Michael Steele, was not going to be at this afternoons’s plenary. After spending the early part of my day attending one workshop after another and spending what seemed like forever in the career fair, I really wanted to skip the event altogether and take a nap. But I had a nagging feeling that some sort of drama would ensue – and I wouldn’t miss that for the world! I thought it rather funny (ironic) that Steele backed out and almost hilarious that his people attributed his absence to “food poisoning.” Come on…really?? Give me a break!

Check out the press release NABJ just sent out below:

Michael Steele, RNC Chairman Cancels NABJ Appearance

July 30, 2010 – San Diego, CA – National Association of Black Journalists Convention Convention Chair, Elise Durham was informed by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s advance team earlier that Michael Steele was cancelling his panel discussion scheduled for 4:00 p.m. today because of food poisoning.

The RNC statement reads, “While traveling out West the Chairman came down with a bad case of food poisoning. He is disappointed to miss the opportunity to take part in this valuable dialogue and looks forward to engaging with NABJ in the very near future.”

Steele was scheduled to appear at NABJ one day after former USDA Regional Rural Director Shirley Sherrod indicated that she will take legal action against conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who she said caused her to lose her job. Sherrod, who appeared before hundreds of journalists at the NABJ Convention yesterday, was forced to resign after Breitbart posted a video excerpt of a speech she gave to the NAACP and accused her being a racist.

Steele is scheduled to appear at a RNC fundraiser with Breitbart in California next month.

When asked by Durham if there was any relationship between his cancellation and the fundraiser, Special Assistant to the Chairman, Joey Smith said, “We don’t comment on our finance events and never have.”

This begs the question, “Is Steele really suffering from food poisoning or is he trying to avoid speaking to a room full of hungry journalists waiting to pick him apart?”

Hmm…

-NativeJournalist

Documentary explores Native perspective on health care

Rich-Heape Films, the creators of the documentary “Our Spirits Don’t speak English: Indian Boarding School” (a Native American perspective on Indian Boarding Schools) are working on a new project about health care and Native Americans. It is tittled “AMERICAN INDIAN HEALTHCARE: A NATIVE PROSPECTIVE”.

Check out the teaser…

From the Rich-Heape Films website:

“AMERICAN INDIAN HEALTHCARE: A NATIVE PROSPECTIVE”
Now in production!

Rich-Heape Films, Inc. proudly announces their latest documentary, “American Indian Healthcare: A Native Prospective” will be released soon and we are making the following trailer for your review.

On camera presentation by Peter Coyote

Featuring: Ben Night Horse Campbell -Tim Giago – President Theresa Two Bulls – Principal Chief Chad Smith

If you have any questions, comments, would like to pre-order the DVD or just discuss the film, please feel free to contact us to be alerted to the Summer 2010 Release of “AMERICAN INDIAN HEALTHCARE: A NATIVE PROSPECTIVE.” Running time 60 min feature length documentary

Pre Order: “AMERICAN INDIAN HEALTHCARE: A NATIVE PROSPECTIVE”

Rich-Heape Films, Inc. heape@richheape.com
Toll Free: 1-888-600-2922
Or: 1-214-696-6916

Address:
Rich-Heape Films, Inc.
5952 Royal Lane, Suite 254,
Dallas, Texas 75230

Cost:
DVD with Public Performance Rights $149.95 + $6.95 S&H.
DVD without Public Performance Rights $29.95 + $6.95 S&H

This is the same film and production company that created “Black Indians: An American Story” (as seen on ABC) which “brings to light a forgotten part of Americans past – the cultural and racial fusion of Native and African Americans.” “Black Indians” is narrated by James Earl Jones. It’s a fabulous documentary that I saw back in college. The subject is very near and dear to my heart. “Black Indians” has won the following awards and recognition:

Award of Distinction, Indian Summer Festival
Cine Golden Eagle
Communicator Award
Best Documentary, Native American Music Awards
Aurora Gold Award
Bare Bones Intl. Film Festival Award – Best Documentary
Silver OMNI International Award
Aurora Gold Award
The New York Festivals
Cinevue International Film & Video Competition – Best Documentary
Worldfest Houston – Gold Special Jury Award
Gold Catalyst Award

I hope you will support Rich-Heape Films and check out their newest documentary!

…And if you’re reading this Steven R. Heape or Chip Richie, please get in touch with me…I would really like to collaborate!

-NativeJournalist

New documentary focuses on violent crimes on Indian reservations

A good friend of mine, Ryan Redcorn, has made quite a name for himself with his pro-Native, often (progressive) political t-shirt company called Demockratees and his design and interactive branding agency, Red Hand Media. Both companies are based on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma, where Ryan is from. Most recently, Ryan wrote an article for VotingOsage.org about an alarming issue facing Native people, specifically Native women, today. In it Ryan gives reference to the documentary “Vanguard: Rape On the Reservation” which airs on Current TV. To read Ryan’s article click here. I ask that you also take some time and watch the documentary below. It is really eye-opening!

-NativeJournalist

(Native American) Immigration Law Enforcement

If you haven’t seen this video yet, you really need to take a minute and check it out. It’s so well made and shows the other perspective on the “illegal” undocumented immigrants issue.

If you’re originally from Europe, let me see YOUR papers. You’re being deported for coming here illegally! I know we may not be able to catch all of you, but we can certainly kick most of you out! (And enough with the breeding!)

-NativeJournalist