On the Edge

The Crimson treks to Harvard's borders to ask the people who live ther if the University is growing too large

Over the past 350 years Harvard has grown from grazing fields in a village north of Boston to an international university that dominates the geography of West Cambridge.

Over the years the University has expanded across the Charles River into Allston and north into Somerville. But in pursuit of this Manifest Destiny, Harvard's expansions have prompted people living at the edge of Harvard's property to join in angry debates over Harvard's land purchases and building projects.

Harvard's prestige and size presents the community with a paradox--they enjoy its resources and revenue but at times bemoan the monstrosity it has become.

"A lot of people who are not from around here think that Cambridge is Harvard," said area resident and schoolteacher Lisa Marie Shaler. "But of course living here we know that there is much, much more to the city that just the University."

The Crimson trekked to the edges of Harvard--although not as far as the villa in Italy--to find out what people living just past the University's edge think of their fair neighbor.

East Side Intellectuals

The Broadway Starbucks is a place where town and gown mingle. Students--from Harvard and the nearby Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School--dash in for a cup to go, while grad students and locals linger to read and chat.

At Harvard's eastern edge a neighborhood of modest row houses bumps against the University Art Museums, offices and the Law School's parking garage.

Residents in this central Cambridge neighborhood have been in a number of heated debates with Harvard over its expansion plans.

By 2003, the Government Department plans to move into the new Knafel Center for International Studies, which will unify all of the department's offices in one building.

Harvard's original proposal sparked an angry reaction from community members, worried that the building would be too large to blend into their residential neighborhood. Harvard is working with the community to develop the final plans.

In the early 1980s, the museums proposed building a skyway to connect the Fogg and the then-new Sackler museums. The community opposed the bridge, fearing it would be an eyesore, and it was never built.

"I'm sorry there are these types of misunderstandings between the University and the city," says long-time Ware street resident Joanna Soltan. "Basically I feel Harvard's buildings are beautifully designed and maintained. It's a privilege to live nearby."

People interviewed on the eastern edge of Harvard earlier this week did not feel threatened by Harvard's expansion, perhaps because they have had a voice in recent building projects.

"I don't have the sense that Harvard is overbearing," says Allie Lie, who lives just off Broadway Avenue on Cambridge Street. "One kind of accepts, when living in Cambridge, the Harvard presence."

Residents approve of Harvard's size and just ask that the University not expand into their neighborhood.

"If a building goes up and displaces a family, or if they displace a local business, I don't like that. They can find other places to expand, the local flavor must remain intact."

Overall, Soltan says Harvard's size is an asset to local residents.

"I think the size of Harvard is a good thing, living nearby Harvard is great. I can utilize its vast resources. I often go to lectures, films, etc.," she says.

Maybe Being Quadded Isn't So Bad

Quad residents often brag that the grass is greener and the air is cleaner on the northwestern extreme of campus. Maybe that's why houses in the neighborhood behind Pforzheimer House fetch prices well into the millions.

In the late 1960s, Harvard built "Faculty Row" behind Pforzheimer House. It is now difficult for Faculty to find affordable housing close to campus, as property prices in West Cambridge skyrocketed in the 1980s. Faculty Row and other affordable housing is available for University affiliates, but more people request units than are available every year.

At least one resident of West Cambridge feels like Harvard encroaches on her life. Laurie Clark was among a group of parents picking their children up at the Peabody School on Linnean Street next to Pforzheimer on Wednesday.

"I do think Harvard's gotten too big. It's intruded on our living style, it affects everything. The rents have gone up because of [Harvard's expansion], the stores are overcrowded during the school year with both students and faculty," says Clark, who has lived three blocks from the Quad for the last seven years.

And Harvard shuttle driver Timmy O'Sullivan, waiting near a shuttle at Currier House, says there seem to be more people at Harvard every year.

"Harvard needs to expand," O'Sullivan says. "It gets more and more kids every year. It never can never be too big."

The Peabody Syndrome

Down by the Charles, a very different dynamic has developed in the neighborhood beyond Peabody Terrace, also University-owned affiliated housing.

The dark, concrete buildings face toward campus. Out the proverbial back door, is the Riverside neighborhood, one of Cambridge's most low-income areas.

Former Peabody Terrace resident Jaylaan N. Ahmad-Llewellyn '00 says the only negative recollection he has of local residents is teenagers who would occasionally harass residents walking into Peabody.

"But I think they probably would do this regardless of whether they were Harvard students or not," Ahmad-Llewellyn says. "Most Peabody residents don't go past these buildings."

Otherwise, the people who live, work and go to school in the area around Peabody Terrace seem to appreciate Harvard's presence and the economic advantages it brings to Cambridge.

"Harvard is fine, it creates a lot of business in all things because of Harvard people have more jobs," says Sylvester Mabry, who lived in the area for years until the mid-1980s and now works at the Charlesbank Cleansing store at 151 Putnam St.

"The area hasn't really changed since I lived here," Mabry says. "The Peabody Terrace has always been there, but they've expanded it a lot."

Many Cambridge Rindge and Latin students, like 16-year-old Leroy Brown, walk home through this neighborhood. Brown says he enjoys living at the edge of Harvard.

"They have good programs to help the community. I've never had problems with the students or anyone from Harvard," Brown says. "But I've seen how Harvard is always trying to expand, just getting a little bigger."