At a regular Allston community task force meeting last night, neighbors responded with little fanfare to Harvard’s ecstatic announcements, repeating long-held reservations that the University’s vision might overlook their worries about affordable housing and congestion.
The reports’ strong emphasis on undergraduate housing in Harvard’s future campus also took some by surprise and stoked concerns about an influx of students in a neighborhood already bordered by two other universities.
Clutching a colorful Harvard Gazette heralding the University’s proposals, resident Jeff Bryan was ambivalent about the news.
“It’s hard to react to. They [had] talked much about their principles, their graduate and affiliate housing, but there was never much talk about undergraduates,” he said, referring to past presentations by Harvard at Allston community meetings. “Allston already has a lot of undergrads; this isn’t quite what we thought we were getting.”
Ray Mellone, chair of the task force gathering community concerns, echoed Bryan’s concerns.
“We weren’t thinking much about undergraduates at this point,” Mellone said. “This is a little bit of a surprise, but I’ll get over it.”
Mellone said the influx of undergraduate dorms in Allston is a pivotal issue in the lengthy planning process. On the one hand, undergrads bring with them a variety of cultural amenities like student centers and clubs—a top task force recommendation. On the other hand, more students potentially puts stress on an already tight housing and traffic situation in the neighborhood, a concern often expressed by residents and top city officials alike.
“Some of the folks at meetings were surprised about the Quad [Houses] moving,” Mellone said. “For the most part we didn’t have an idea bout how many students would come, where they would be put—those are still key questions.”
How those questions will be incorporated into the University’s planning is an ever-present issue for residents eager to have a say.
“The community wants to have as much input as Harvard does,” Bryan said.
The concerns of Allston residents will become a larger part of Harvard planning come summer, when the draft report of the community task force’s findings is released and the University chooses a long-term master planner.
As usual, transportation was a major topic at last night’s stakeholders meeting, held at the Allston Public Library.
Residents watched as Harvard representatives presented an animated computer model demonstrating the various traffic problems in the North Allston road network—including the tendency for backups along the road to Home Depot and congestion leading off the Massachusetts Turnpike into the neighborhood.
If Allston is to have its own version of Harvard Square—minus the headache of more traffic—planners say any long-term development will need to focus heavily on making neighborhood transportation easier.