Harvard: Bad Neighbor


IT HAS BEEN a full year since Harvard announced its plans to build graduate student housing on Mt. Auburn St. Community opposition has forced Harvard to hang fire for this long. It is time now for Harvard to learn a few lessons about dealing with a community that has grown understandably hostile to any suggestion of new construction by the University.

From the very beginning, the University's proposal to build 50--and then 40--apartments has been stymied by Cantabrigians fed up with the University's seemingly unending expansion into the Riverside section of the city. As Leverett Towers, Mather House, and Peabody Terrace were completed, 87 homes and many more families have been pushed out of that neighborhood one after another.

And then there was 8-10 Mt. Auburn St. When Harvard announced its plans to tear down a 93-year old structure on the site to make way for yet another dormitory, local activists mounted an effective counterattack.

At the Cambridge Historical Commission, Harvard was told to reconsider its demolition plans; the University later agreed to reduce the number of dorm rooms and preserve the turreted building. At the Rent Control Board, Harvard planners were most recently ordered to place three apartments under the city's stringent housing laws.

Today, all the small shops and residential tenants have been relocated. The graffiti-scrawled building--an architectural anchor in the neighborhood--stands empty, an eyesore to the community and a potential safety hazard. On top of that, the University is losing thousands of dollars each day that site remains inactive.

The city's largest landlord, Harvard has consistently withheld information and bullied its less powerful neighbors. No wonder the future of the site is firmly in the grip of the city of Cambridge.

University officials recently said that they knew all along that the plan would encounter substantial community opposition. The question remains, then, why didn't they negotiate in good faith right from the start?

IT SOUNDS LIKE a broken record, but maybe if the University approached the community with, an attitude of compromise rather than confrontation its proposed graduate student dormitory wouldn't find itself in this tangled web of controversy. Certainly, Harvard can balance its legitimate housing needs with the desires of the rest of Cambridge.

The same town-gown cooperation which Harvard capitalized on in the planning of University Green should be a model for the proposed dormitory and any other building projects on the drawing board. If the University is not prepared to be a good neighbor, then any future building plans will head in the same direction as the ill-fated Fogg Bridge Connector--another long planned Harvard structure that has yet to be built because of community opposition.

The community has played out its turn on 8-10 Mt. Auburn St. The next move belongs to Harvard.