Handling House Renewal

The College seems to be preparing well for swing spaces

One major problem seems to affect almost every aspect of the Harvard undergraduate experience.

This, of course, is the recurring issue of the College’s peculiar social environment, characterized by exclusive organizations and a lack of inclusive student social space. As we have written time and time again, it is our belief that the best way to address this problem is through a revitalization of House life. For this reason, we eagerly await the much anticipated House Renewal initiative slated to begin in 2012—newer, improved living spaces can only strengthen House community spirit. One concern about this Renewal initiative we had raised in the past was the question of so-called “swing space”—i.e., living arrangements for displaced residents of Houses currently under renovation. The first of these designated renovations is due to take place in Quincy House next year, and, from the College’s plans currently available, it is good to learn that swing space will be managed appropriately throughout this transition period to more updated living spaces in the River Houses.

On Housing Day 2012, around 400 freshmen will receive notice that they have been placed in Quincy, and that instead of receiving what is arguably among the worst sophomore housing on campus, they will receive some of the best. Old Quincy will be the first of the River Houses to be renovated, with the 15-month construction on the complex starting in June 2012. The House will serve as a test case for the Renewal project as a whole, which will eventually extend to Kirkland, Dunster, Eliot, Winthrop, Lowell, and parts of Leverett. While this half of Quincy is under construction, the sophomores who would have been housed there will live in interim housing.

Many had feared that this swing space would be located or in an isolated, distant location. Rumors floated, for instance, that dislocated students would be sent across the River to temporary housing near the Business School. Luckily, however, it seems that the swing space locations will be right in Harvard Square, scattered between Plympton and Mt. Auburn Streets. These locations—with a host of amenities that include cable T.V. and kitchen appliances—are frankly only matched by current overflow housing in DeWolfe. Most importantly, they are all reasonably close to Quincy House and seem very well equipped to fulfill their temporary role. After the widespread concern over the disruption House Renewal would cause, these options for temporary housing come as something of a relief.

This is not to say that there are not small concerns that still remain about these swing spaces. It is unclear, for instance, whether wireless internet service will be available in all these residences, and we hope that the College will ensure that proper security measures are taken in preparing these buildings for undergraduates. In many other campuses where students live in apartment buildings such as these, and in an urban environment, it is often customary for security personnel to staff permanently building entrances. Since Harvard will have to convert these buildings rapidly for undergraduate dorm purposes, it is worth considering implementing a comparable security procedure.

Of course, one other worry is the effect that this disruption will have on Quincy House community spirit. Ultimately, however, the tradeoff of having a revitalized infrastructure is worth a temporary hiccup in House community life.