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The Radiant University: Space, Urban Redevelopment, and the Public Good


In 2003, Columbia University announced its plan to expand its Morningside Heights into a 17-acre area of West Harlem known as Manhattanville. The University’s expansion plan called for the acquisition and demolition of all but three buildings in the project’s footprint and the construction of a state of the art campus over a roughly 30-year period. This article examines the discourses, debates and politics surrounding the project and, in particular, the University’s demand for exclusive control of the site and ultimate pursuit of eminent domain. To that end, university officials claimed that the expansion would bolster the city’s knowledge based economy and, as a conse­quence, serve the “public good”— a requirement for the exercise of eminent domain. By contrast, critics of the project argued for a mixed-use redevelopment plan that would include affordable housing and other community-deined amenities.