In a walking tour of Allston and Brighton Saturday morning, local residents reiterated their concerns about the slowdown in construction of Harvard’s Allston Science Complex, but also said the University should focus on finding “creative solutions” to improve the current state of the neighborhood.
Tim and Jane McHale, Allston residents and members of the Allston Brighton North Neighbors Forum, emphasized the need to connect the Allston and Brighton neighborhoods—currently separated by empty industrial facilities and the Brighton Mills Shopping Center—perhaps by building small-scale housing and parks. And Anne C. Lusk, a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Public Health and a Brookline resident, said that Harvard and the city should take advantage of the economic downturn to focus on other aspects of Harvard’s development plans—such as reducing automobile usage and facilitating bicycle transportation.
“I think especially with the downturn in the economy, we need hope, some forward movement in creative ways,” Lusk said, suggesting that University and city planners look at constructing European-style, barrier-separated, bicycle tracks with a parallel sidewalk in Allston. She noted that because Boston is sorely lacking in bike lanes and cycle tracks, such a development strategy would make Allston a model for alternative transportation.
Lusk said that Harvard and city planners have been receptive to including bike paths and cycle tracks in their development plans, but that budgetary restrictions may be forcing the University to prioritize other initiatives.
Zakcq Lockrem, a member of the Boston Planners Network which advocates for socioeconomic justice through urban planning, said that one inexpensive and short-term project that would increase foot-traffic in Allston would be to install public art—possibly in cooperation with the Graduate School of Design—on vacant Western Ave. storefronts.
“We now have opportunities...to start thinking about [community development] from perspectives that aren’t as time-crunched,” Lockrem said.
Harry Mattison, an Allston resident and founding member of the Allston Brighton North Neighbors Forum, echoed his long-standing concerns about Harvard’s vacant property holdings in the neighborhood, and lamented that Barry’s Corner—the intersection of North Harvard St. and Western Ave, envisioned as a center of commerce akin to Cambridge’s Harvard Square—is still largely defined by an abandoned Harvard-owned Citgo Station.
While he acknowledged that finding “the right kind of tenants” in order to attract customers and foot-traffic is difficult given Allston’s current state, he said that filling property vacancies is crucial to improving the existing neighborhood and would not require expensive new construction projects.
“[Harvard] needs to start thinking creatively,” Mattison said. “Something has to jump-start this, some sort of stimulus.”
The walking tour, coordinated by Mattison, aimed to provide Harvard students and Allston residents with an opportunity to see the University’s impact on the community first-hand. For several residents—and the three Harvard students that attended—Saturday was the first time they saw the massive “hole in the ground” at the Science Complex site.
—Staff writer Bora Fezga can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at email@example.com.