Menino Blasts Allston Slowdown

In a sharply-worded letter sent to University President Drew G. Faust yesterday, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino expressed his “grave disappointment” at the University’s decision to slow construction of the Allston Science Complex, and listed a set of community concerns that he expected Harvard to address in the near future.

“The University may not make unilateral decisions [regarding construction in Allston],” Menino wrote, emphasizing that Harvard’s actions inherently affect the local neighborhood.

“The City’s ability to review and approve steps going forward in this process will require direct and open dialogue between the parties,” he wrote.

University spokeswoman Lauren Marshall said that Harvard understands the issues the Mayor raised in the letter, and that the University “looks forward to working with the City and the Allston neighborhood to address the concerns highlighted by the Mayor.”

Menino has engaged in an on-going dialogue with University officials regarding construction in Allston, and he met with Faust last Tuesday to discuss a possible slowing of construction.

Many of the actions and discussions he requested in the letter mirror demands made by local residents at the Harvard Allston Task Force meeting on Monday.

The letter called for Harvard to provide details within roughly two weeks about the budgetary quandary that forced the construction slowdown, as well as an outline of the slowdown’s impact on contracted workers. Menino also wrote that within 30 days, Harvard should provide a community impacts mitigation plan for the construction slowdown, as well as a proposed schedule for the development of the Institutional Master Plan for the Allston campus that identifies a “transformative project for the community.”

At a task force meeting in early February, Chief University Planner Kathy A. Spiegelman said that it was unlikely the University would file an updated IMP in early 2009 as planned, due to financial stress.

Longer-term requests from Menino include an inventory of the University’s property holdings in Allston not being used for institutional purposes, a report on the interim uses of such property, a memorandum detailing conditions under which Harvard may purchase more property, and an outline describing “the immediate development of a more active involvement of the university in the North Allston community.”

Task force member and long-time Allston resident Paul Berkeley said everything in the Mayor’s letter is doable within the specified time frames, but whether or not Harvard will agree to proceed according to the schedule is another issue.

“It’s up to [Harvard] to either agree to do it, or to go back to [the Mayor] and tell him if they need more time for some issues,” Berkeley said. Nevertheless, he said he appreciated the new-found tone of Menino’s letter.

“I see a shift here where the city is kind of stepping up and saying, ‘We’re going to take some control of this process here,’” Berkeley said, noting that in the past residents “had to sit back and wait” to react to Harvard’s construction plans and goals. He added that he thought the Mayor was “not being a bully,” and appreciated the Mayor’s recognition of the on-going working relationship between the City and University.

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.


Harvard Menino Ltr to Faust