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.