Gowns Avoid Town

In Post-Expansion Era, Harvard and City Reach a Superficial Peace

When Harvard officially launched its $2.1 billion capital campaign last month, Director of Physical Planning Kathy A. Spiegelman gave a series of talks extraordinary for what they didn't say.

Spiegelman said, to the delight of Cambridge residents, that the University would not use funds from the campaign to expand into the city's neighborhoods.

Some civic leaders and the Cambridge press hailed the presentations for their candor and friendliness. And Jane H. Corlette, Harvard's acting vice president for government, community and public affairs, said the lack of rancor over the announcement of the campaign showed improvement in town-gown relations.

But both sides may have missed the point. The move towards a friendlier surface obscures a deeper evolution in the relationship between Harvardians and Cantabridgians.

The two groups are getting along better and better because--with University expansion into the city locked on ebb--they have fewer and fewer opportunities to fight.

Few wars start without a flashpoint.

But while Harvard's leaders talk of achieving closer cooperation with the outside world, Cambridge is slowly becoming an even more distant neighbor.

"The only time Harvard is concerned with Cambridge is when it wants to get something," says Jack Martinelli, former president of the Cambridge Civil Association.

Still, just by being in the city, Harvard puts Cambridge on the map. And many of the University's cultural and educational events provide important resources for the city at large.

In addition, Harvard maintains it is trying to do more for the city by intergrating its academic mission with the needs of the people of Cambridge.

The capital campaign plans, for example, set aside money for interdisciplinary study of public education, the environment and other subjects that would seem important to the civic-minded.

But fundraising for these purposes is reportedly lagging, and Harvard lacks a formal structure for turning research that would be useful to the city into reality.

The campaign "provides no specific benfits" to the city, charges Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72. "$2.1 billion should aid the city and children and families in a more specific way."

In fact, most of the dealings between Harvard and the city still occur during disputes over University construction or expansion.

And any efforts made by the University to minimize such disputes has largely been the result of pressure from the city, according to David R. Leslie '69, the former executive director of the Cambridge Civic Association.

"Harvard is much more sensitive and aware of what the community is, partly because the community has forced them to be," Leslie says. "It's much harder for Harvard to get away with doing whatever it wants."

Cambridge has set up a number of laws designed to restrain the University from trampling on city interests. For example, a zoning law now prevents Harvard from converting residential space in the city for University use.

Malcolm L. Kaufman, a member of the Cambridge Tenants Union, campares the University to a dog that the city needed years of legislation to house-break.

"They obey laws, but you have to impose laws, on them", Kaufman says. "You can't leave it to their sense of doing their own thing. They're a business. If you take the limits off, they'll go crazy."

A Low Point

In 1969, city and state police used billy clubs to crack student heads and break up the occupation of University Hall.

That marked an all-time low in relations between Cambridge and Harvard, according to Reeves.

So in the aftermath of that conflict, President Derek C. Bok created the office of government, community a vehicle to facilitate communication with the city.

Now, partly as a result of this office, University officials insist all is well between Cambridge and its largest landowner.

"Relations have gotten better in recent years," Corlette says. "We try to touch base with our neighbors before making a change."

Reeves, who meets periodically with Rudenstine, says friendliness is fine, but more concrete outreach by Harvard is needed.

And the mayor says Corlette's office has not always been helpful.

"I think [Harvard-Cambridge relations] have drastically improved," Reeves says. "But the University has not, in government and community affairs, been as effective as it could be."

Part of the problem was that for the past 18 months, Harvard did not have a permanent vice president for government, community and public affairs.

And when the University finally named one, it tapped James Rowe '73. Some say the appointment of Rowe, a Washington insider,demonstrates that Harvard is more concerned withusing the public affairs office for lobbyinggovernment than maintaining relations withCambridge.

"As far as I'm aware [Rowe] has no ties toCambridge," says John R. Pitkin, president of theMid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association, "and Idon't know how well he'll do."

The office's biggest failure residents say, hasbeen its inability to initiate substantiveoutreach in the city by Harvard.

"There is no particular place in Cambridge tosay the institution was something that was a giftof Harvard to the people of Cambridge," Reevessays.

But the mayor praises the work done by undergraduate volunteers of Phillips Brooks House.

"Students do a tremendous amount now thoughservice activities through PBH," says Reeves, whois a member of PBH's local board. "The studentsare a tremendous asset.

In addition, Corlette says Harvard sponsorsseveral community service program, in which theUniversity grants scholarships to teachers fromBoston and Cambridge to come to study at theGraduate School of Education.

Cambridge city councillor Francis H. Duehay '55also says Harvard's participation is vital to theCambridge Partnership for public Education. Andthe Medical School's Health of the City Programfocuses resources on improving the health of Blackmen and children.

Some activists suggest the larger problem isarrogance on the part of the University. Harvardthey feel, thinks it's too for Cambridge.

"Harvard considers itself more important thanthe U.S. Senate and probably more important thanGod," says Martinelli.

And relations with Cambridge, he charges, are"number 975 on [Harvard's] priority list."

That attitude shows itself whenever Harvardplans to renovate buildings, civic leaders say.

Pitkin, who was a member or the mayor'scommittee on University-community relations threeyears ago, calls Spiegelman's recent series oftalks "an honest attempt...to deal with thepossible problems."

But he adds: "Some of the new building onexisting property will cause problems."

Specifically, Pitkin says he is worried aboutthe effect the renovation of Memorial Hall into astudent center, which is scheduled to be completedby September 1995, will have on city streets inthe area.

"Mem Hall is creating a new center of activityon campus," he says. "The change of circulation oncampus will spill over into the city streets."

Harvard accepted little community didn't have achance to review the design," Pitkin says, "andthey are going to go ahead."

The mid-Cambridge activist also says theUniversity needs to take more responsibility forthe actions of what he calls "satellites" thatHarvard has attracted to the area. He cities theColegio Real Complutense and the Lincoln LandInstitute on Brattle street as examples.

But Pitkin is not hopeful.

"Institutions are unavoidably bad neighbors,"he says.

One source of lingering tensions between theUniversity and the city has been Harvard Square.

Kaufman, for one, charges that Harvard hasturned the Square into a "mall" by leasing isproperty for top dollar without sufficient regardfor the historic character of the area.

Former Cambridge Mayor Alice K. Wolf agrees.

"Harvard Square is not what it used to be," shesays. Taller buildings such as Holyoke Center have"changed the character of Harvard Square."

Even Duehay, the city councillor who isgenerally most supportive of the University notesthat a few years ago Harvard was instrumental indefeating a zoning proposal to reduce developmentand prevent the construction of high-risebuildings in the Square.

Duehay says small shops and shorter buildingsare "essential to the quality of life" in theSquare.

Howard D. Medwed, vice president of both theCCA and the Harvard Square Defense Fund, says theUniversity is no different than than any otherdeveloper.

He says the University's recent purchase of ahotel on Mass. Ave., which was converted into theLaw School dormitory North Hall, is a primeexample of how Harvard still encroaches on thecity.

"One expects better of Harvard," Medwed says,"and one doesn't get any better."

Medwed says his greater expectations for theUniversity stem both from Harvard's status as anon-tax paying, non-profit organization and fromits "tremendous amount of resources and power."

New construction

While expansion has all but stopped, newconstruction on Harvard buildings near residentialareas remains a source of tension.

"Real estate encroachment on residentialneighborhoods, while slowed for the moment,remains a potential source of anxiety," says citycouncillor Kathleen Leahy Born.

"Development and the congestion it brings arethe major source of contention between Harvard andresidents," adds Duehay.

The city takes two key financial hits forHarvard, one because of the University'stax-exempt status and another because if Harvard'sinfluence in escalating Cambridge rents, accordingto Duehay.

The councillor says Cambridge used to belargely blue collar, but it became more businessand service-oriented as skilled, specializedgraduates of Harvard and MIT settled down in thecity.

"The housing market in Cambridge is so hotbecause of Harvard and MIT," Wolf says.

Duehay says rent control was imposed inCambridge to protect blue collar workers as wellas artists who wanted to live near the University.

As for its own property, the University is notrequired to pay taxes on any property used foreducational or research purposes.

"Buying more land--and not paying fulltaxes--is a problem," Duehay says. "Institutionsare like business-except in regards to taxes."

Duehay says the $1.2 million payment Harvardmakes annually to the city in lieu of taxes isinsignificant compared to the approximately $30-40million Harvard would pay if it were a for-profitcorporation.

Still, Harvard's payments represent an unusualcommitment for a university. Most with theexception of MIT do not give their cities anymoney in lieu of taxes, according to Duehay, whocalls Harvard's payments "revolutionary."

In part because of Harvard's cooperation inproviding money, the city may actually hold theUniversity to a higher standard.

"We have very high expectations," says Duehay."The more that is done, the more we expect."

Jeffrey N. Gell contributed to the reportingof this story.Mayor KENNETH E. REEVES '72