Allston Residents Demand Benefits

University pledges physical improvements; community wants more

Allston residents said last night that Harvard’s proposal for community benefits was insufficient and demanded that the University commit to providing the neighborhood with a community school and health center before the construction of its multi-building science complex commences this spring.

“This is a billion dollar project and it ought to come with a large infusion of support into our community,” said Harvard Allston Task Force member Brent Whelan. “Harvard has the resources to do it.”

Before Harvard can begin construction on the science complex—the first part of its 350-acre Allston campus—it must sign a legally binding document that outlines how it will allocate $21 million of benefits to the community over the next decade.

In a draft that the University presented last night, Harvard pledged to provide physical improvements of the neighborhood, free math and science tutoring, and conduct a survey to guide its future educational offerings for Allston residents.

Harvard officials said that the benefits outlined in the 11-page document would serve as “building blocks” for a discussion of longer-term benefits that will be provided to the neighborhood as the University expands into the area over the next 50 years.

But Whelan, who is also a member of the Allston Brighton North Neighbors Forum, emphasized that quick steps are necessary to revive his neighborhood.

“We’re saying why wait 10, 20, 30 years to slowly integrate benefits?” he said. “Why not really make the community revitalized quickly?”

Task force member Harry Mattison also said that if planning for the school and health center didn’t begin now, he doubted that the projects would get off the ground. “There are things we can start now,” said Mattison, who is also a member of the neighborhood forum. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, these are big and complicated, let’s wait and talk about them later,’ let’s get started. Let’s move forward.”

Gerald Autler, senior project manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority—the city agency charged with overseeing development projects—said that although the city sympathized with the residents, rushing the University to commit to projects without coordinating with other city agencies first did not make good planning sense.

“That’s really not a fair way of framing what we’re doing here,” he said. “The very kinds of questions that have come up tonight show why it is not necessarily in anyone’s interest, including the community, to move forward in a hasty way.”

Harvard’s director for community relations in Boston Kevin A. McCluskey ’76 said that the draft committed the University to continuing talks with the neighborhood.

“This certainly commits us to continued discussion of all the goals and aspirations that have been spelled out through the neighborhood forum, through the matrix that’s been developed, and through our discussions with the neighborhood,” he said.

—Staff writer Laura A. Moore can be reached at lamoore@fas.harvard.