Manhattanville is an area in Harlem where Columbia University wants to build a new, $6.3 billion campus. But the owners of one gas station and two self-storage facilities in the area have for years now refused to sell. So, to invoke the use of eminent domain, Columbia got the state to declare the intended area of their new campus “blighted” – a vague, broad term that under New York law means the area is substandard or “insanitary,” deteriorated or deteriorating, or is “an area which has a blighting influence on the surrounding area.” This declaration was affirmed by the state’s highest court in June, 2010.
Substandard or insanitary, deteriorated or deteriorating – it sounds like it could be just about anywhere in New York City; you’d hardly eat a pretzel off the sidewalk in any of the five boroughs. Is Manhattanville so different from the rest of New York? What does blight mean in a place like New York?
OOTS News sent filmmakers Dan Shor (who may look familiar; he played Billy the Kid in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and Eric Norcross (he didn’t have a role in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) to Manhattanville. They came back with film of an area that, except for the “Get Columbia Out” signs, looks a lot like a lot of the rest of the city – they also stumbled on the possibility that Dan Shor’s pants may soon be condemned.
- Arin Greenwood