Columbia Expansion Approved In NYC

CORRECTION APPENDED

Columbia University has won approval for a $7 billion, 25-year expansion of its Manhattan campus just as Harvard enters the first phase of its even more ambitious plan to enlarge the University’s presence in Allston.

The Columbia plan, approved by the New York City Council last month, offers ammunition to local critics who say that Harvard isn’t doing enough to provide benefits to the Allston community that will be affected by the expansion.

As part of a deal to build a state-of-the-art, four-building science complex in Allston, Harvard has pledged $25 million in benefits to the community. Meanwhile, Columbia’s entire 25-year plan is accompanied by a $150 million community benefits agreement including a new Columbia-assisted public secondary school.

“In the Columbia plan, there is no question of public or private—it is very clearly public space that is much more welcome to use,” said Harry Mattison, a member of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, which was created by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

In Harvard’s plan, Mattison said, “you put the walls on the outside and keep the nice grassy courtyard for people that are part of really only the Harvard community.”

Harvard officials say they are taking the Allston community’s concerns seriously. “There have been more than 70 community meetings both on the master plan and on the first science buildings,” said Lauren Marshall, a Harvard spokeswoman. “All of that discussion and dialogue goes to inform our planning as projects shape.”

Columbia’s project will rezone part of the Manhattanville manufacturing zone in West Harlem into a 17-acre addition to the university’s main campus. Plans call for it to include more than 6.8 million square feet of space for education, research, and cultural facilities.

Harvard’s Allston expansion, by comparison, will cover about 200 acres of Allston. “Universities all over America are now finding they have to plan expansion and growth, particularly in science,” said Kathy A. Spiegelman, Harvard’s chief Allston planner.

Despite its large benefits package, Columbia has also faced opposition from community groups as it lobbied New York for approval of its plan. Columbia says it will not use the power of eminent domain on residential properties but reserves the right to request the state to consider using eminent domain on commercial properties.

Mattison claimed that Columbia is making a more tangible investment in the community than Harvard is in its expansion. He said that the secondary school to be built by Columbia will enroll an equal number of children who live in the community and children whose parents are affiliated with Columbia. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW] He also pointed out that Columbia’s Web site offers an explanation of the expansion in both English and Spanish, while Harvard’s does not. According to a 2007 survey by the Boston Public Health Commission, 8.5 percent of Allston/Brighton residents speak Spanish at home.

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION: The Jan. 3 news article "Columbia Expansion Approved in NYC" incorrectly stated that Columbia University would build a secondary school that would enroll an equal number of community children and children of Columbia affiliates. In fact, the university has committed to help build a secondary school for math, science, and engineering as part of its expansion into Harlem, but it will not determine which students are admitted.