Allston Residents Call for Construction Priorities

Relations between Harvard and the neighboring city of Allston remain tense after residents and a neighborhood task force called on the University to not begin any construction projects in Allston while work on the Science Complex—a $1 billion development project—continues to be stalled.

The latest expressions of discontent came at a Wednesday meeting of the Harvard Allston Task Force, a group of neighborhood residents appointed by the City of Boston to give Harvard feedback on its development projects. At the meeting, the University presented designs for a Business School construction project called Tata Hall.

Though a few residents were dissatisfied with the design of the building, many more objected to the project due to Harvard’s prior construction and development efforts in Allston.

"Personally, I can't support this project not because of any particular demerits—though we've heard some—but because this developer has dirty hands," said Task Force member and neighborhood resident Brent Whelan '73 . "They've paralyzed development in our community."

Harvard halted construction on the Allston Science Complex, envisioned as a mecca for stem cell research, in Dec. 2009 due to financial constraints brought on by the economic recession. But last fall, the Business School announced that it would construct Tata Hall—which will house classrooms and living accommodations for professionals in its executive education program—after receiving $50 million from Tata Trusts and Companies, the philanthropic arm of India’s Tata Group, a large Indian conglomerate.

“It is time for this community to stand solid and say no more,” community member Ed A. Kotomori added to much applause. “No more buildings, no more plans. It's got to stop now.”

Task Force member Harry E. Mattison echoed Whelan's sentiments and said that Harvard should make good on its "broken promises" before embarking on another construction project—receiving applause as well from many of those in attendance.

Kevin A. McCluskey '76, Harvard's senior director of community relations with Boston, said that the Unviersity has achieved many of the short term goals, such as leasing Harvard’s vacant property, set when construction was halted in 2009. McCluskey added that the University is still in the process of analyzing its position in Allston and charting a path forward.

The Harvard Allston Work Team’s mid-2011 recommendations—which will suggest strategies for resuming construction in Allston—will be released later this month, according to Work Team Co-Chair Bill Purcell. The Work Team, a fourteen person group comprising Harvard deans and other faculty, has spent the past year and a half speaking to residents, development consultants, and other experts in order to formulate a strategy for how to proceed with the development.

Wednesday’s meeting was intended to focus on Tata Hall, but residents’ comments shifted the discussion to Harvard’s overall relationship with the community.

Several attendees said that they feel that Harvard has excluded Allston residents from its planning process, a complaint often voiced by residents.

“This project should be tabled, and we should wait until [Harvard] is willing to address this community's actual concerns,” Whelan said. “The Allston community needs to be invited to the table to talk about more development, not to be informed of it. How many times have they done this before?”

At the meeting, architects presented the Task Force with a three-dimensional model of the Business School's campus that included a rendering of the projected plans for Tata Hall. Task Force member and community member Bruce E. Houghton said that the model—which he claimed left out the walls surrounding the Business School—was reflective of what he characterized as Harvard’s general attitude of disregarding community input and needs.

He likened them to the Berlin Wall, saying, “Take down your walls, Mr. Gorbachev. Take down your Berlin walls, Harvard.”

Despite the anger that characterized the meeting, as it drew to a close some residents and Task Force members expressed a reluctant acquiescence to the construction.

“The building's already done and planned,” Houghton said. “There's been no inclusiveness. What can we do?”

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

Tags