Harvard Shows Revised Allston Plan to Residents

In response to suggestions from residents and city officials, Harvard planners made connectivity, permeability, and sustainability the focal themes of their revised master plan for development in Allston, which was presented to the community at a packed task force meeting last night.

Although residents said that they appreciated the changes, some questioned the practicality of Harvard’s refinements and suggested that planners incorporate the knowledge of those who actually live in the neighborhood when forming Harvard’s vision for the future of Allston.

“We think that this should be an integrated city, and I look at this plan and I don’t see anything towards that end,” said task force member Harry Mattison, who has been critical of Harvard’s plans in the past. “Every time you talked about your plans and said ‘Oh, maybe there will be some community there too,’ it is sort of an afterthought.”

The city of Boston requires large institutions to submit institutional master plans for extensive developments. Harvard submitted its master plan framework for the next half-century in April, and the city released its scoping determination, a document containing feedback and suggestions, in July.

The scoping determination included a call for Harvard to consider ways to expand open spaces, improve transportation and create connectivity throughout the Allston neighborhood.

In the new version of the master plan unveiled last night, Harvard’s architects addressed the need for more green space by adding a “Greenway” that runs east-west across the neighborhood and extends to the Charles River. In addition to several small parks, the swath of land may also include an urban farm and an orchard.

“Now, this farm may seem a little farfetched, but its something many universities around the country are doing right now,” said Adam Gross, a design principal at Baltimore-based Ayers Saint Gross, one of the architecture firms that Harvard has hired.

“It can be sizable enough to create food that can be used in the dining halls,” he added, “so it could have an educational as well as practical purpose.”

The updated master plan also includes more open space in the form of an “academic commons” that will feature a large lawn facing Western Avenue. The commons will be surrounded by a mix of academic buildings that will be devoted to Harvard’s schools in business, engineering, and education.

Harvard’s chief planner for Allston, Kathy A. Spiegelman, said that the design of the commons would allow not just for collaboration across subjects but also for interaction between the campus and the community.

“It will serve as a nexus for things in the public domain, and a crossroads for interdisciplinary research,” Spiegelman said in an interview before the meeting.

In addition to the greenway and the academic commons, Harvard’s planners also promised to improve transportation and increase permeability through the neighborhood by creating new streets and paths for pedestrians.

Harvard’s architects also stressed the importance of tying together the two halves of Harvard’s future campus by creating foot and bike paths across the river.

The plan calls for a pattern of interwoven streets through the new campus that the architects said would be a “gentle grafting of the campus and the neighborhood, in a supportive way.”

Harvard’s planners also emphasized the important role that new retail will play in livening up the area, prompting some residents to ask for more specifics and others to offer suggestions.

“If you build food service areas deep into the campus, they detract from Barry’s corner,” task force member Brent Whelan said, referring to the large intersection at North Harvard Street and Western Ave. that Harvard has promised to revitalize as part of its expansion. “I’m thinking about retail as squares of compressed areas where it’s all accessible.”

But though residents did not express complete satisfaction with the revised plan, at least one said that he was eager for development to begin.

“Everyone’s always talking about Barry’s corner, but nothing’s getting done,” said Allston resident Leonard W. Kelliher. “Well, build the damn thing and build the rest of Harvard around it!”

—Staff writer Nan Ni can be reached at nni@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.harvard.edu.