Building Cities, Bridging Gaps

Brass Tacks

Across the street from the Brattle, sharing the floor above Sage's Market with Rizzo Custom Tailors, is an appendage of Harvard which few passers-by would notice, but which draws enthusiastic praise and equally enthusiastic damnations from officials in Washington and from politicians, academics, and journalists around the country.

Fed by large unrestricted grants from the Ford Foundation and by contracts from private and government agencies, the Joint Center for Urban Studies of Harvard and M.I.T. gets its analytic hands into basic research and policy problems ranging from traffic engineering to the design and construction of a new city in Venezuela with a projected population of 500,000. And it has been ruffling a good many conventional political and administrative feathers in the process.

The Joint Center's stated purpose is threefold: to improve fundamental knowledge about cities; to build a bridge between basic research and policy; and to enrich the teaching programs and research opportunities at the two universities.

To these ends, the Joint Center grants pre-doctoral fellowships to graduate students in the field of urban studies, provides part of the salaries of faculty associates with the Center, and brings in visiting associates from other agencies and universities. In its six years of operation, the Joint Center has come to be considered by many urban experts the best institution of its kind in the country.

Burying the 'Bulldozer'

But equally reputable authorities have recently charged it with gross irresponsibility for publishing The Federal Bulldozer, a controversial treatise by a fellow of the Joint Center which concluded that renewal efforts in cities should be left to private business. And the Center has had the distinction of being wished back into the harmless realm of fine arts departments by Robert C. Weaver '29, administrator of the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency.

James Q. Wilson, director of the Joint Center and associate professor of Government at Harvard, answers the recent flare of criticism by attributing it to "a confusion of my personal values and views with those of the organization. The Joint Center as a whole, of course, doesn't have any values, any more than Harvard as a whole has values."

The Joint Center "had nothing to do with the policy recommendations of The Federal Bulldozer," Wilson emphasizes. The only thing that would have kept the book from publication is "a factual statement that showed its assertions to be inaccurate."

But the issue is not so easily settled. In the first place, the line between scholarly objectivity and biased selection of facts is all but impossible to draw in underdeveloped academic areas such as urban studies.

In the second place, the Joint Center is at a turning point. The "laissez-faire approach" of the first six years under which graduate students and faculty were given maximum freedom in research projects will in the future be resolved into one of "limited oligarchy," according to Wilson.

So far, the Joint Center has kept a loose rein on its collection of faculty and students from economics, engineering, city planning, political science, law, sociology, architecture, history, and business administration. And the 14 books and 30 monographs which have been for the most tangible result of this curious collage have been for the most part the products of individual minds.

This intentional flexibility has meant that the scholar engaged in pioneering research on the impact of the visual form of the city has felt little influence from his colleague conducting experiments in computer simulation of city travel. And a housing expert who concludes that government must speed its efforts to increase city housing supply feels no friction from the researcher in the next office who has just put the finishing touches on a tirade against government interference in city renewal efforts.

Meyerson First Director

Since Harvard and M.I.T. merged their centers for urban studies in 1959 at the suggestion of the Ford Foundation, and Martin Meyerson, now Acting Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, became director of the new Joint Center, "we have been building up intellectual capital," Wilson explains. "Now I think we are ready for something more."

A first giant step toward that something more is the Joint Center's cooperation with the Venezuelan government in the development of a major new city in the Guayana region of Venezuela. The first attempt in Latin America at comprehensive regional planning based on heavy industry, the Guayana project challenges the Joint Center with linking national, and local planning in confronting social, physical, and economic considerations.