I-Lab Spurs Excitement and Distrust in Allston

Allston residents expressed both excitement and distrust at last night’s Harvard Allston Task Force meeting which focused on the Harvard Business School’s plan to build an Innovation Lab in the neighborhood.

At the meeting, Gabe Handel, managing director of Business School Dean Nitin Nohria’s office, presented a timeline and highlighted the benefits local businesses and entrepreneurs will gain from the I-Lab—a space where locals and University affiliates could discuss and realize their business plans through collaboration.

Handel noted that the Lab—which will occupy the currently vacated 125 Western Ave., a building that housed the radio station WGBH until 2007—will not only provide a coffee shop and a 24/7 public meeting space, but will also connect  faculty and students across Harvard’s schools.

“The problem with the modern university is that resources are separated into discipline silos, but the Innovation Lab will help bring these resources together,” said Handel. “We need to make this a vibrant place ensuring it gets students and faculty from across Harvard working together.”

But some Allston residents were skeptical of the plan and said that they were concerned Harvard affiliates would be given precedence over community members when accessing I-Lab resources, such as mentoring, training, and academic opportunities.

Several community members voiced a lack of trust in the University and concerns that Harvard has a history of breaking its promises.

Many noted that the University’s plan to aid residents was vague.

“This community deserves specifics, goals, and a structured institutionalized plan so this project can deliver as the Education Portal has,” said Allston resident and Task Force member Bruce E. Houghton, referring to the Harvard Allston Education Portal that provides academic mentoring to local youth.

But many locals expressed excitement about the possible benefits the project will offer the community. Allston Civic Association President Paul Berkeley suggested that this project has the potential to compensate for the businesses lost in the past decade as a result of Harvard’s decision to halt construction on the Harvard Allston Science Complex, a $1 billion  project that was indefinitely put on hold  in Dec. 2009 due to financial constraints and left many properties on Western Ave. vacated.

“Harvard can help create new benefits through the I-Lab by creating businesses that were lost,” Berkeley said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu

—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at nmiraval@college.harvard.edu

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