The move into Allston will probably be the most significant development for Harvard in the 21st century. The University’s crossing of the Charles and southward expansion promise to produce valuable opportunities for scientific research, graduate education, and arts and culture. Allston’s impact on undergraduate life, however, is less certain.
The Allston planners’ interim report, which was released in June, suggests several potential sites for up to four new undergraduate Residential Houses (ostensibly to replace Quad and DeWolfe housing sometime in the next 10 to 20 years). If the shift into Allston is to benefit all parties, including the College, the new undergraduate Houses must be located directly across the river (on the other side of Weeks Footbridge) from existing river Houses; locating these houses west of North Harvard Street would disrupt the contiguity and community of the College.
In order to maintain and enhance the indispensable spirit of unity among undergraduates at the College, Houses in Allston should be as close as possible to the existing river Houses. Though some administrators may be enamored of the ideal of an integrated University with seamless transitions among the various schools, we believe that a distinct and unified College is necessary for a positive undergraduate experience. We value interaction between undergraduates and members of other parts of the University, but we also believe that College community is stronger and more valuable to undergraduates than any University-wide sense of community can be.
The forthcoming Allston Houses will only be an improvement over the current Quad if they are better linked to the river Houses and existing centers of undergraduate activity than Cabot, Currier, and Pforzheimer are today. The report mentions several potential locations for the new Houses, including west of North Harvard Street, where College athletic facilities stand today. This plan would leave Allston-residing undergrads only tangentially connected to the rest of the undergraduate community. And such a layout would lack even the positive qualities of the current Quad. The Quad Houses are clustered around a beautiful grassy field, which helps to symbolically connect the Houses. The aforementioned alternative plan, however, lacks a unifying focal space and simply strings the houses along the river, hurting any possibility of common place for Allstonners to rally around. If this plan is adopted, being Allstonned will be tantamount to being Quadded.
The right place to situate the new houses is directly across Week’s Footbridge from the currently existing river Houses. The erection of these new Houses in view of already-vibrant river Houses, coupled with the establishment of improved transportation across the river, will allow Allstonners to be connected to the rest of the College community. The obstacles to execution of this plan are not negligible, as the desired space is currently occupied by Harvard Business School buildings. The questions of transportation, decking over Soldiers Field Road, and the construction of a new bridge are also challenging. Still, this space is too well-suited for undergraduate housing to pass up.
If the Allston Houses are aligned with the rest of the undergraduate Houses, the north bank of the Charles will be the firmly established social and geographic center of College life. As such, we see this as the perfect place to build a student center. Though we, along with many others, had formerly believed that Allston would be an appropriate site for a student center, a careful examination of the proposed plans has made it clear that this is no longer the best option. Rather than trying to create a second center of undergraduate activity across the river, we hope the development plans will embrace the natural center that exists on the Cambridge side of the Charles.
The ideal location for a student center is midway between the two poles of the campus, Canaday in the north and the forthcoming Allston Houses in the south. We see the intersection of Mill and DeWolfe Streets as the crucial focus of our campus in the future. Any student center should be built as close to this focal point as possible in order to be successful. Several locations for a student center have been floated, including the conversion of Dillon Field House into a mini-student center. But this plan would only be feasible were there undergraduate Houses in the athletics area, an option we oppose. To this option we would like to add another—the conversion of one or both DeWolfe apartment buildings into a student center, which would have the crucial advantage of location. They would help create one unified nucleus of undergraduate activity rather than fracture the campus by creating separate mini-hubs on both sides of the river.
In short, we are pleased to see Harvard’s plans for Allston continuing to develop. We appreciate the work of University planners and believe that one of their proposals for undergraduate housing in Allston is close to perfect. At the same time, we strongly warn against adopting alternate plans that will disrupt or fragment the College community. Though the movement into Allston promises to be a long and somewhat painful process, we are confident that it will be remembered as a great triumph for Harvard University and each of its branches.