Allston Residents React to Purcell’s New Post

Though Allston residents say they have been displeased with the level of communication they are receiving from the University about its intentions to expand into their neighborhood, the revelation that Director of the Institute of Politics Bill Purcell–who announced his resignation this week–will take on a role in the Allston planning process was cause for more frustration among community members.

Purcell announced on Tuesday that he would be stepping down from his job at the IOP to dedicate himself more fully to advising University Executive Vice President Katharine N. Lapp on development in Allston and to further his involvement on the Allston Work Team.

“I really know nothing about Purcell’s new position other than what I read on a blog post by some guy in Tennessee,” Allston resident Harry Mattison said. “We know very little about Purcell. The whole thing continues to be an enigma, and the sooner Harvard starts collaborating with its neighbors about our shared future the better.”

But the debate in the community over Harvard’s role has encompassed more than Purcell’s recent appointment.

Mattison added that he would like to have a better understanding of the goals and plans of the Work Team, a faculty-led group charged with recommending strategies for Harvard’s expansion into Allston. The committee was created in December after construction on the Science Complex ceased.

“There is no communication about what the Work Team is doing with the Allston community,” Mattison said, adding that Allston residents have not had a chance to meet as a group withthe team since an initial meeting in February.

Allston resident Bruce Houghton echoed these sentiments.

“We had one meeting a couple of months ago—and I never heard anything again,” Houghton said. “It seems sort of inadequate, doesn’t it?”

Mattison added that he took issue with the vagueness with which the University has communicated its vision for Western Ave. and North Harvard St., which he said Allston residents hoped would be a “main street” for the neighborhood.

Mattison said that while the University’s recent leases to non-profits such as the Earthwatch Institute–a citizen science organization–and the Silk Road Project–an organization that promotes artistic innovation–would have certain benefits for the community, they do not necessarily “fit into a plan to revitalize the community.”

Mattison added that he would like to see greater opportunity for the community to weigh in on the University’s choice of tenants for its Allston properties.

“What they are doing is showing up after they’ve signed a lease and sending us an e-mail about it,” Mattison said. “It’s certainly not a collaborative, joint-planning process.”

But some Allston residents disagree, countering that the vision of Western Ave. as the “main street” of Allston is overly simplistic.

“I think Western Avenue and North Harvard Street are really going to be unique,” Allston resident Paul Berkley said, referring to the mix of academic and commercial buildings he said he hopes will one day come to Allston. “I hate to put a label on it like ‘Main Street.’”

He added, “Any time Harvard finds a good tenant for any their vacant buildings I’m happy to see that.”

—Staff Writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at segroopm@fas.harvard.edu.

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