University as Gentrifier

As NYC campuses meet a growing student population, the ‘need’ for more space arises. The story of university expansion is one of multiple narratives: that of the university administrator, the developer, the student and the surrounding community. These multiple narratives and the power dynamics between them should be acknowledged and investigated in order to understand how the university plays a part in the urban growth machine.

Dominant narratives [i.e. from the university administrator and developer] often promise that campus expansions will work with existing communities to create vibrant centers of not only academic, but civic life and be committed to the economic, intellectual, social and cultural vitality of neighborhoods. However, the stakes for communities in expansion zones are often high and may include rising rents, job loss, displacement and the erasure of community history. It is interesting to note that for those students living off, but near campus, rising rents in the area may push them further away from their campus and into new communities, potentially fueling the displacement of existing residents and continuing the perpetual flow of gentrification.

As students of NYC’s various expanding campuses, we have a unique position in relation to campuses and communities. It is our belief that students should call for greater university accountability that puts the needs of local communities above those of the developer and the university administrator.  Among other things, this might entail setting measurable standards for community engagement, fulfilling those standards, and complete transparency.

To paraphrase Peter Marcuse, professor of urban planning at Columbia, “Developers are private-sector entities whose purpose is to make money. But [public universities] are nonprofit institutions [that receive public benefits] and thus have substantial public obligations as property owner[s]…Of course, those public obligations are hard to define. If a development creates thousands of worthwhile new jobs, mostly for outsiders, while eliminating hundreds of local jobs, has it served the public good?”

The Manhattanville Project, NYTimes Magazine, 2006




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