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.