Stop Columbia’s Gentrification of Harlem!

  1. Demands
  2. Petition: Demanding Columbia cancel its course “Co-Designing Smart Cities”
  3. Media coverage


For decades, Columbia University has been gentrifying Harlem, displacing entire communities in order to pave the way to further its corporate control of the neighborhood. We DEMAND that Columbia immediately:

1) Pay for all necessary repairs at the NYCHA Manhattanville and Grant Houses projects

  • Columbia has profited immensely off of its predatory expansion into Harlem and the related gentrification and displacement it has caused. Columbia’s endowment has ballooned to sickening levels over recent years and currently is over $14 billion (about the size of the GDP of the country of Jamaica). As a first step for reparations for the lives and communities of Harlem that it has attacked and ruined, Columbia should cover all the costs of repairs of Grant and Manhattanville, with NO STRINGS ATTACHED.

2) Use its enormous power and influence to stop the privatization of NYCHA

  • Columbia University has immense power and influence in this country. Unsurprisingly, this is generally used for maleficent purposes, such as colluding with the government to use eminent domain for land grabs in West Harlem. Columbia should (for once) use its influence to benefit the people instead of itself and the corporate elite who run the university. Leveraging its immense influence to stop the privatization of public housing, especially here in NYC, would be a small but meaningful step in the right direction. For starters, the university should immediately issue a strongly worded and unequivocal public statement on the matter.

3) Immediately cancel the PUAF U6249 Class “Co-Designing Smart Cities”

  • This collaboration to “Redesign Harlem” with the Adams administration is a blatant effort to further gentrify Harlem. With no real input from the common people of Harlem, it aims to transform the neighborhood according to the needs of wealthy capitalists. In particular, the class is working to use controversial cutting edge AI surveillance technologies to expand the already sprawling repressive apparatus of police and the security state in Harlem, which will directly lead to a further expansion of mass incarceration.

4) Renew the lease of the Red Balloon preschool in Harlem WITHOUT a rent increase

  • This summer, Columbia announced it would evict the Red Balloon Learning Center in August 2023 from its location at 560 Riverside Dr, where it has been since 1972. In a fashion all too typical of one of the biggest landlords in Manhattan, Columbia is using its largess to crush and displace an important pillar of the community.

5) Give a raise to match inflation to all Columbia workers

  • The ruling elite (many of them Columbia graduates) have led this country into economic ruin. Inflation is now officially over 8.5%, and yet Columbia is doing nothing to increase workers’ pay to match. This amounts to functionally cutting pay, often by 5% or more each year. Columbia has ample financial resources, while many of its workers struggle with rent and grocery bills. This situation is a typical example of how Columbia University operates. Inflation-matching raises would be a small step towards fixing this gross injustice.

United Front Against Displacement
Student Worker Solidarity
Housing Equity Project

Groups can sign onto the demands using this form:

Petition: Demanding Columbia cancel its course “Co-Designing Smart Cities”

The United Front Against Displacement is deeply disturbed to hear about the “Co-Designing Smart Cities” course which Columbia University is running in conjunction with the historically corrupt and incompetent Eric Adams Mayoral Administration. In a typically arrogant fashion, Columbia imagines that they have a free hand to remake Harlem and the city in their own image. The course, while claiming (in typical corporate speak) to partner with “community stakeholders,” in fact has no real plans to engage with the broad masses of people in Harlem, especially not NYCHA residents. Columbia has historically been a major driver of gentrification and displacement in Harlem, including through their recent collusion with the government to illegally use eminent domain for land grabs in West Harlem. The people of Harlem are deeply disturbed to hear about this course, and correctly see it as the latest in a long series of Columbia’s unrelenting assaults on the communities of Harlem. It seems that Columbia University will not be content until it has entirely devoured Harlem, destroyed its rich history and culture, and regurgitated a hollow corporate wasteland in which the elite can comfortably distract themselves with various forms of luxury consumption.

In a disturbing and dystopian euphemism, the course description notes that smart cities assist in “increases in crime management.” Behind the veneer of this sleek wordplay is the reality that such policies massively expand surveillance, police brutality, and mass incarceration. To those familiar with the history of gentrification, this will come as no surprise, as expanded policing has historically been essential to displacing populations deemed “undesirable” by the wealthy power elite who run institutions like Columbia University. It is well known that so-called “smart cities” are initiatives to expand surveillance and policing to unprecedented degrees, including especially through the use of AI and machine learning technologies to track people’s every movement at all times. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has noted that the “smart city” data collection efforts of many cities already violate “multiple privacy protections in existing law.” In a 2020 article, US News quoted Vincent Mosco, a smart city expert, who noted that “Smart cities are, above all, surveillance cities that enable close monitoring and management of large populations.” In China, there has been popular outcry in recent years about the Chinese Government’s unprecedented use of smart cities to surveil the population, and how this technology violates basic human rights. However, many in the US are not aware how elite universities like Columbia are on the cutting edge of deploying this repressive technology here in the United States.

Perhaps aware of the growing public outcry over the expansion of mass surveillance in this country, the course description notes “Without public trust and confidence in smart cities, they will not succeed.” But the question is succeed for whom, and succeed at what? Despite empty platitudes about a “human centered approach,” the course clearly is part of Columbia’s long-standing policy of aggressive expansion in Harlem. One would have to be incredibly naive to honestly claim that Columbia’s efforts to transform the neighborhood of Harlem into a “smart city” is anything but maleficent. Sadly, those who make such claims are not generally naive, but deeply cynical and committed to furthering Columbia’s fundamental agenda of expanding corporate power.

We demand that Columbia University immediately cancel the class and issue an unequivocal apology to the people of Harlem for creating such a nefarious course. We encourage all the students currently enrolled in the course to drop it as soon as they can.

Photos and videos of September 22 protest:

Media coverage

Students and Harlem residents protest gentrification on Low Steps
Isha Banerjee, Columbia Spectator, September 23, 2022

Viral tweet about SIPA course to ‘redesign Harlem’ incites backlash, dean calls it ‘mischaracterized’
Isabella Ramírez, Columbia Spectator, September 26, 2022

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