The Columbia University campus, with its main gate at 116th Street and Broadway, is the geographic center of Morningside Heights. Most of the student housing in Columbia Residential is within walking distance of the historic entrance to campus.
The neighborhood is home to a unique constellation of institutions, most of which date back to the turn of the 19th century. Six institutions of higher learning – Bank Street College of Education, Barnard College, Jewish Theological Seminary, Manhattan School of Music, Teachers College and Union Theological Seminary – are within a few blocks of the Columbia campus. Eight churches and synagogues, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Riverside Church, are also located here, as is a major medical center, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.
Four subway stations on Broadway at the following cross streets – 103rd, 110th, 116th and 125th – as well as numerous bus stops and the West Side Highway, provide Heights residents with access to the rest of New York City and the metropolitan area. Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue are the main commercial streets in the area, offering a variety of food markets, restaurants, shops and bookstores.
Morningside Heights is one of the safest neighborhoods in New York. All University-owned buildings are managed and operated by campus employees and the University takes special measures to provide a secure living environment for all residents.
The University's Department of Public Safety instructs and oversees all building personnel on security and safety procedures. All buildings have superintendents residing either in or very near the building. Columbia University's Department of Public Safety provides car and foot patrols for the entire neighborhood. The Department also maintains strategically situated guard kiosks and provides emergency call boxes located throughout the area.
The Morningside Area Alliance, a community service organization founded by the major institutions in the Heights, also provides security patrols. During the academic year, evening and night shuttle and escort services to locations throughout the neighborhood are available to all Columbia students.
Arising in a onetime industrial area that in recent decades has been largely characterized by warehouses, parking lots and garages, the Manhattanville Campus was made possible by a rezoning plan for academic and residential mixed uses overwhelmingly approved by New York City's Planning Commission and City Council in 2007. The new campus includes more than 17 acres of property on the blocks from West 125th Street to 133rd Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue, as well as several properties on the east side of Broadway, from 131st to 134th Street.
The Morningside Heights and Manhattanville neighborhoods that encompass the Columbia University campuses of Upper Manhattan are separated by just a handful of blocks, but also by a century of historical transformation by the University. Today the neighborhoods embrace the main campus and the emerging Manhattanville campus, as well as much of the Columbia Residential housing available to students, faculty and staff.
Columbia’s move to the neighborhood in the late 1890s was followed by the establishment of both Teachers College and Barnard College, which moved near Columbia’s new properties not long after they were founded, and soon became affiliated with Columbia. By the 1930s, the neighborhood had acquired the physical form that it has largely retained to this day. Morningside Heights became not only a home for a university, schools, seminaries and churches, but also a largely middle-class residential neighborhood.