Allston Residents Call for More Creative Plans

Allston residents provided detailed feedback regarding the city’s development designs for the neighborhood at a community-wide planning meeting last night.

Architects hired by the city of Boston emphasized creating more open spaces, small-scale structures, and pedestrian-friendly walkways, leading some residents to criticize what they saw as a lack of creativity in the vision.

“What I see here is the same old thing being proposed...[and it] doesn’t create excitement,” said Harvard Allston Task Force Chair Ray Mellone.

Mellone added that a “striking architectural feature”—such as a pedestrian bridge—should be incorporated in order to turn Barry’s Corner, which is currently an unremarkable intersection at North Harvard St. and Western Ave., into an Allston landmark.

In addition to plans for Barry’s Corner, city representatives also unveiled proposals for other Allston areas, including the Holton Street Corridor and the Riverview Triangle. Planners pitched the possibility of turning Smith Field into a residential park.

“Some of the ideas you see tonight may be captivating, some may be controversial, and that’s okay,” said Steven G. Cecil, a principal architect at the Cecil Group, an urban planning firm that is advising the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

“I think we’re starting to see how the pieces can fit together,” he added, referring to the task of figuring out how Harvard’s master planning meshes with the city-led community-wide planning.

According to task force member Harry Mattison, the appropriate creation of open space is a critical issue for campus-community integration. He noted that some of the open spaces presented by Cecil, such as Smith Field, would be surrounded by Harvard-owned buildings.

“It’s not accessible to a lot of people. It’s not getting used by people in the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s getting used by people who live around it.”

Cecil said that his group is cognizant of this issue and is focusing on making sure “the edges of campus are fuzzy so that there is a high degree of integration.”

In addition to the logistics of how spaces should be used and created, community members expressed frustration over the lack of concrete dates for the accomplishment of these plans.

In a letter e-mailed to the Harvard community on Monday about the implications of the economic crisis for the University, President Drew G. Faust wrote of “assessing all aspects of our ambitious capital planning program, including the phasing and development of our campus in Allston.”

In the very final minutes of the meeting yesterday, Harvard’s Chief Planner for Allston Kathy A. Spiegelman said that she thought “the letter spoke for itself.”

“Everything is being assessed, but the priority is to continue at pace with projects that are under construction,” she said.

In terms of setting a timeline for projects in Allston, she added that the economic downturn “just makes it more difficult to know how soon we’ll have real answers.”

—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.