Two Sides of the City


Walking through Cambridge, visitors to this "college town" may get the impression that the people, buildings and stores all look alike. Harvard Square around 5 p.m. contains quite an assortment of individuals, but most have some academic affiliation. Whether it is the coffee shops that cater to students seeking a place to discuss their intellectual pursuits, the movie houses offering intellectual entertainment or flashers attmepting to expose themselves to unwitting Radcliffe women, everyone--or most everyone--appears to be seeking intellectual fulfillment.

This community of scholars, predominantly located in central Cambridge, is largely the result of the presence of the country's two richest universities, Harvard and MIT. And the Real Paper's cover story last week demanding an answer to the perennial question, "Who runs Cambridge?" arrived at the obvious answer: the universities.

But there is another part of the population of Cambridge that few visitors see or acknowledge. That part is the longterm residents, many of whom make their livings from Harvard and MIT, but nonetheless do not take part in scholarly pursuits offered by the universities.

Students, for the most part, do not take seriously or involve themselves in Cambridge politics or activities. Less than 15 per cent of the eligible student voters are registered in Cambridge. This represents a jump from the four per cent who registered in the last city election, but to most students, Cambridge is merely a college playground.

There is, however, a small core of Harvard administrators who come into daily contact with Cambridge citizens. The administrators are appointed to ensure that Harvard can continue expanding, creating, in the words of former President Nathan M. Pusey '28, small communities within the larger community, assuring that "Harvard can continue to be Harvard for a long time to come."

The strongest forces the University must face are these residents. Most of the various neighborhoods-ranging from the Italian and Portuguese sectors of East Cambridge to the more affluent Brattle Street neighborhoods and up to the Irish populations in North Cambridge--have met the University head on in one fight or another.

Harvard's relationship with Cambridge is difficult to define. From the ninth floor view of the Harvard Planning Office, in Holyoke Center, Cambridge would not in fact exist if it were not for Harvard's existence. City Councilor Saundra Graham, however, is continually annoyed by the ways Harvard has moved into the community, taking away its tax base and increasing the rent. "I have always been against Harvard," Graham said at a speech last week, adding, "The University has allowed its students into Cambridge and they've pushed out our working class."

There is statistical evidence to support Graham's argument. Household rents in Cambridge increased 70 per cent during the 1960s when Harvard had Harvard had the money to buy up large portions of the city's residential areas. Rents skyrocketed, largely because there was demand for land, and little available housing. Harvard's familiar practice of land-banking--buying up land with apartment buildings and then razing them to build university facilities--is another sign of the scarcity of land in Cambridge. "There is little open space in Cambridge, so we are forced to buy housing as sites for potential buildings," Russel Hill, director of the Harvard Real Estate office, says.

Harvard officials justify their role in the Cambridge community by pointing to Harvard and MIT, the city's largest employers. It is estimated that the two universities spend more than $80 million each year and rank as the third and fourth largest tax payers. Harvard pays $1,533,000 in property taxes and $507,000 in lieu of taxes. The figures may rank Harvard as one of the top ten tax payers, but it is not enough for those who see nothing but Harvard buildings sprawled over the some 20 acres it owns in Cambridge.

For the most part, Cambridge residents have dealt with Harvard on an issue-by-issue basis. The city is zoned for some commercial businesses, but whatever the zoning regulations are in the city, all academic institutions are not required to conform to the rules (courtesy of the 1975 state Dover Amendment). The last time Cambridge successfully confronted Harvard was in 1975, when Graham led her infamous crusade to halt construction of the Kennedy Library complex on the MBTA yards. City Councilor David Clem recalls this instance as the first time Harvard really lost a fight, but the issue was more complicated. The emotional impact of placing the memorial to the late John F. Kennedy in an unfriendly environment finally forced the Kennedy Corporation to take their project out to Columbia Point, where its reception would be more welcome.

Graham, however, is currently involving herself in another community fight against Radcliffe's proposed gym on Observatory Hill. Her objectives is to get a piece of legislation before the state legislature by December 1, which will change the law and make Harvard conform to zoning regulations. Though the squabble appears to be missing the same venom which surrounded the Kennedy Library fight, the outcome is undetermined.

President Bok says Harvard may take the residents' case to court, if the city council should approve the down-zoning petition submitted to them in September. Harvard officials staunchly defend Harvard's right to build in Cambridge. It is really too late, they imply, for Cambridge to alter its collegiate, intellectual atmosphere. Muffin houses will continue to open and close in Harvard Square probably forever, but whether Cambridge will be able to accept its fate and work out an arrangement with the universities whereby they too can have some say in what happens to their city, is still unclear