Is Columbia University Snubbing Harlem Architects?

Arch527, a coalition of African-American architects from Harlem with an impressive portfolio, says Columbia University is failing to include them in its $6.3 billion campus expansion into West Harlem, in violation of a community benefits agreement.

December 24, 2012, 9:00 AM PST

By Erica Gutiérrez


Though Arch527 has worked on million dollar projects, alongside international architectural firms, and can boast having the highest certifications by the American Institute of Architects, their bids to work on Columbia's 17-acre billion dollar campus expansion, have been largely ignored. “'It's like training for the theater and someone offers you a part in your daughter's school play. It's insulting work,' explained architect Zevilla Jackson Preston, who said she was asked by the university to submit a bid to move [a reception] desk," writes Jeff Mays. "'This is a $6.3 billion project in our community, and we are not getting to participate,' said another architect, Mark Barksdale."

In exchange for permission to build its controversial expansion, Columbia signed a community benefits agreement stipulating that it apply affirmative action guidelines. But critics claim it has failed to adequately meet these requirements. The agreement "require[s] 25 percent participation by minorities, women and local businesses” and also sets "a goal that 35 percent of non-construction contracts go to  minority-, women- and locally owned outfits, and that large contracts be broken into pieces so that smaller contractors can compete,” reports Mays. According to a university spokesmen, however, the agreement does not mandate it to hire minorities for anything other than construction work. The university also claims it has made a concerted effort to fulfill its obligations.

“Critics have long complained that Columbia has not lived up to the promises of the $150 million community benefits agreement, including objections it has left African-American architects out in the cold,” writes Mays. Community representatives such as Larry English blame local politicians, as well as the West Harlem Local Development Corporation [WHLDC] for failing to enforce the community benefits agreement. Recently, State Senator Bill Perkins wrote a letter to Columbia President, arguing that the university is failing to meet the terms of its commitment. In a recent interview, Perkins stated, "Columbia is expressing an interest in being inclusive, but we need to find out why they are falling short." He expressed optimism, however, saying he is facilitating an imminent meeting between Arch527 and the university.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 in DNAinfo.com

Twin Cities

Minneapolis Housing Plan a Success—Not for the Reason You Think

Housing advocates praise the city’s move to eliminate single-family zoning by legalizing triplexes on single-family lots, but that isn’t why housing construction is growing.

May 13, 2022 - Reason

Single-Family Housing Construction

New White House Housing Initiative Includes Zoning Reform Incentives

The Biden administration this morning released a new program of actions intended to spur housing construction around the United States.

May 16, 2022 - The White House

San Francisco Houses

‘Mega-Landlords’ Threaten Housing Stability for Renters

As institutional investors buy up a larger share of single-family homes, the families renting them are increasingly vulnerable to rent increases and eviction.

May 15, 2022 - The Hill

Puente Hills Landfill as seen from the air

More Funds to Transform the Puente Hills Landfill into a Regional Park

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors just approved an additional $28 million to support the development of the Puente Hills Regional Park at the landfill site.

May 23 - Supervisor Hilda Solis

Denver, Colorado

Denver Freeway Widening Plans on Hold

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s plan to widen the Interstate 25 freeway through Denver is one of a few plans to widen urban freeways under consideration in the United States.

May 23 - The Colorado Sun

Fringe Development

Public Perceptions of Sprawl and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Urban density has a bad reputation.

May 23 - Greater Greater Washington

HUD’s 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Expanding HUD’s Eviction Protection Grant Program

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.