Wednesday night’s cheers in Allston were met with frustration in Cambridge. Flooded with concerns from the community and complaints that residents hadn’t had enough time to review the plans, Harvard decided to hold off on its plans to build an art museum across the river.
The delay shows just how wide the gulf between Harvard and the Allston community has become. Both sides should, however, realize that their interests are not so disparate and work to find consensus within the compelling vision set forth by Harvard’s Allston Master Plan.
Wednesday’s meeting was the climax of a month of tension between Harvard and Allston residents. On top of discussions about proposals for an art museum, a science building, and the overall master plan, Boston City Councilor-at-Large Felix Arroyo introduced an ordinance last month that would institute a moratorium on construction by universities in Boston. In order to continue expanding, Harvard would have to continually shell out payments equivalent to the property taxes Harvard would pay were it not a nonprofit as well as receive City Council approval. Arroyo’s bill—effectively a poison pill for Harvard’s future development—is the most extreme product of the community’s uproar.
Local residents opposing Harvard’s expansion have valid concerns. They fear that the Allston they know will be transformed into an astronomically expensive yuppie paradise in which they could no longer afford to live. They are also concerned that Harvard’s plans emphasize the enhancement of the institution over the benefit of the community as a whole. Classrooms and laboratories, they say, will take up space but provide little benefit to those unaffiliated with the University.
Residents should, however, realize that their priorities are not as divergent from Harvard’s as they tend to think. Aside from providing the community with an aesthetic face-lift and introducing tremendous new public resources, Harvard’s expanded campus will bring an estimated 14,000 to 15,000 jobs to the area by the time it is completed and bolster the local economy. It is in the local community’s interest for Harvard to succeed in creating a vibrant campus and community in Allston.
Harvard’s vision for Allston as outlined in its Master Plan will do just that. The University has shown that it has put tremendous thought into how it can best develop the land it has acquired in Allston, balancing the needs of faculty, staff and students from several schools with the needs and desires of the community. The coherence and focus of Harvard’s overall vision should not be violated merely to cater to one of the many factions with a stake in the future campus. Doing so would create a piecemeal campus that would prevent Allston from coalescing into a unified whole.
Harvard should work with residents to fill in the broad brushstrokes of the Master Plan without compromising its vision. The University has appropriately recognized that much can be gained from the community besides building permits. Residents who know the area often provide valuable input that can improve the quality of Harvard’s plans. Cooperation will create a symbiotic relationship between campus and town.
Constructive development within this framework, however, can only occur if residents and local politicians stop trying to thwart Harvard and instead decide to work with the University. In the future, we sincerely hope that the paradigm will be a collaborative process whereby Harvard and the Allston community work together within the context of Harvard’s overall vision rather than continue the antagonism that seems to have prevailed of late.