"Building Blocks"

An editorial from Columbia Daily Spectator (Oct. 1996)

Several Amsterdam businesses will be evicted this fall by the University - the main landlord in Morningside Heights - in order to clear space for Business School and Law School classroom use. According to Associate Director of Planning and Project Development Geoffrey Wiener, a clause in the contract which Columbia holds with every business stipulates that the University can cancel the lease whenever it feels the need for redevelopment. Presently, the University believes it needs more classroom space, and the buildings lining Amsterdam Avenue between 114th and 115th Streets are the most suitable for development. However, zoning laws regulate the heights of buildings in the area; therefore, if Columbia wants the classroom sapce, the existing businesses must go.

The Law School and SIPA already line a great deal of Amsterdam with concrete walls, making much of this avenue desolate and unsafe. One block away, Broadway is crammed with people at any hour of the night, and safety is much increased by the all-night shops and restaurants. Yet Amsterdam remains a virtual wasteland, and University plans to remove the few existing businesses will only add to this atmosphere. For the undergraduate students housed in Plimpton, as well as the many graduate students living off of Amsterdam or those in the Teacher's College dormitory, the walk home can be very dangerous. Recently, a female student was raped on Amsterdam and 121st Street. Despite the guards posted along the way, the area is deserted.

A more concentrated planning effort that takes students' needs into consideration would greatly enhance Amsterdam Avenue. The University has the power and the resources to make Amsterdam into a viable, thriving commercial center. More commercial enterprises would benefit existing businesses, as well as make the entire block safer and more pleasant for students. Columbia must keep in mind that it should give something back to the community.

If the classroom space is such a necessity, and no alternative option exists, then the University should attempt to get a zoning variance - as they did with the construction plans for Alfred Lerner Hall - in order to build a structure that will meet all the needs of the University while keeping in mind the fact that this area is home to many. Not only will the surrounding area improve, but a public board is most likely to approve a variance if it felt that Columbia was making an effort to do something for the community.

The revitalization of Amsterdam will not happen overnight, but it should happen, and including commercial space in the ground floor of the new Business and Law Schools' classroom space is a necessary first step.

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