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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.

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