Can Urban University Expansion and Sustainable Development Co-Exist?: A Case Study in Progress on Columbia University

62 Pages Posted: 20 May 2010 Last revised: 18 Dec 2013

See all articles by Keith H. Hirokawa

Keith H. Hirokawa

Albany Law School

Patricia Salkin

Touro College - Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center

Date Written: October 12, 2012


This Article employs sustainability as a framework to analyze the recent proposed physical expansion plans of Columbia University for the purpose of illustrating the complexities that arise in urban development and higher education practices, as well as the problems of trying to simultaneously implement both. Governments and courts traditionally provide a high level of deference and leniency in the application of land-use laws and regulations when it comes to siting and expansion issues for educational institutions, yet institutions of higher education, particularly those located in urban areas, create unique dilemmas for sustainability. For example, available land for expansion is often a physical and political challenge, and the institutional business model behind expansion plans can overshadow the educational purposes that the expansion is intended to serve. Further, the acquisition of new land needed for expansion can result in a “university creep” into neighborhoods where the scale of the proposed development may not be in keeping with past and present community character. Part I of this article offers a framework for defining and evaluating sustainability in the higher education context. Part II further explores the roles of higher education in sustainability, and Part III applies these concepts in the context of the Columbia University expansion by exploring public participation and community engagement issues, including the controversial use of eminent domain in this case. The community benefits agreement developed as part of the expansion plan is examined, as are the impacts of displacement and gentrification resulting from the expansion.

Keywords: sustainability, higher education, university expansion, eminent domain, community benefits agreement, public participation

JEL Classification: K11, K32

Suggested Citation

Hirokawa, Keith H. and Salkin, Patricia E., Can Urban University Expansion and Sustainable Development Co-Exist?: A Case Study in Progress on Columbia University (October 12, 2012). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 37, p. 637 (2010), Albany Law School Research Paper No. 6 of 2010-2011, Available at SSRN:

Keith H. Hirokawa

Albany Law School ( email )

80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
United States

Patricia E. Salkin (Contact Author)

Touro College - Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center ( email )

225 Eastview Drive
Central Islip, NY 11722
United States

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