Allston Meeting Becomes Heated

Residents criticized Harvard's plans for new roads in the neighborhood

Uncertainties abounded and voices were raised as residents grilled city and Harvard planners about the specifics of the University’s plans for development at a tense meeting of the Harvard Allston Task Force last night.

Residents questioned everything from the merits of adding density to the neighborhood, to effectiveness of the discussion and feedback process itself.

“We’ve lived through these last eight years and looked at these master plans changing like a motion picture,” said Allston resident Tom Lally. “But when I have objections, I don’t even know where to address them.”

The University presented revisions to its 50-year Allston development master plan at the previous task force meeting last Wednesday, showing off a plan that will increase green space, create an academic common, and add two major roads through the neighborhood.

This third change incited a heated discussion as residents reminded Harvard’s representatives of their objections to constructing new roads in the neighborhood, which University planners said were necessary to handle the increased traffic flow brought by the development.

“I cannot believe that [even though] we were opposed to additional roads, [that] now there are two,” said Allston resident Paul Alford. “It doesn’t appear that the community’s input is being listened to at all.”

Kathy A. Spiegelman, Harvard’s chief planner for Allston, said that although the new roads were needed to keep traffic off residential streets, the University would continue to solicit resident feedback and amend the plan.

“I have found that you all know a lot more about the traffic here than anyone on our team,” she said. “I hope that you will continue to challenge whether there are problems with our design or better solutions out there, but our common objective is the same.”

Spiegelman’s comment sparked criticism from several residents who questioned the University’s familiarity with the traffic problems that Allston denizens face daily.

The meeting took a more optimistic turn when Kairos Shen, Boston’s popular chief planner, asked residents to not just criticize Harvard’s plan, but to also specify an alternative vision.

“Rather than just saying what you don’t like, tell us what you would like to see in its place,” he said. “We are much better when we know what you think rather than have to guess what you think.”

Although several attendees said that they agreed with Shen’s suggestion, others said the onus to design acceptable plans on Harvard, which they said has still not provided details about the specific components of its Allston plan.

In particular, residents complained about what task force chair Ray Mellone called “nebulous” plans for the Holton Street Corridor and a proposed housing complex for Harvard affiliates in the South District. Some residents also questioned how Harvard’s master planning would fit in with the community-wide planning efforts lead by the city.

“This seemed to me like it was a quick study of how to prepare for changes in that area without really knowing whats best,” Mellone said. “These are not the characteristics of the neighborhood we imagined.”

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