The Future of Allston

The Work Team report is out: The ball is in the University’s court

Last week the Harvard Allston Task Force, a neighborhood advocacy group, released a wish list in connection with the construction of Tata Hall, a new Harvard Business School complex that will serve HBS’s Executive Education program. Their suggestions included preferential hiring of Allston residents for construction jobs, continuation of the Harvard Allston Education Portal past its possible expiration in 2018, more green space in the area, and clearer access to the Charles River.

These complaints mask the larger issue at hand. The truth is, neither a more Allston-friendly Tata Hall, nor any of Harvard’s community relations efforts—most prominently the Allston Education Portal and the HBS Innovation Lab—will really solve Allston’s problems or appease Allston residents. Instead, what is needed is a holistic plan for Allston development, moving forward.

Harvard-Allston tension has continued for so long that it is easy to forget where it started, and who was to blame in those initial interactions. From the late 80s to early 90s, Harvard bought up significant tracts of land in Allston, under the name of proxy companies, likely so it would not have bargain with the inflated prices that come with its name. In the late 90s, Harvard announced its acquisitions, to the dismay of many in Boston community, including longtime Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Then, the University made amends and announced construction of a massive, $1-billion Science Complex across the river. The Science Complex, it said, would revitalize Allston and bring the community better jobs and a higher standard of life.

However, in 2009, hard-hit by the recession, the University announced it was slowing down construction of the Science Complex, and eventually halted it altogether. Now, the barren space where the erstwhile Science Complex would have been is called the “Western Avenue” foundation in University communications, indicating how much times have changed.

With this history in mind, it is easy to understand why many Allston residents continuously complain against every University action. What they want, as articulated in the Tata Hall letter, is “a clear understanding of how and when future planning, development, and land acquisition by Harvard might occur.”

And why shouldn’t they have it, by now? In mid-June, the Harvard Allston Work Team, an advisory group comprised of University deans, faculty, and alumni, released much-anticipated recommendations for Allston development. The group suggested that Harvard, “develop a commercially oriented research park, expanding faculty and graduate housing, and constructing a redesigned Science Complex.”

Now that the brightest of the brightest have had their say, how much more research is needed? Will the University undertake significant construction in Allston in the near future? Or is now just not the right time, financially, for the University to commit to further building? Whatever the case, the Allston and Harvard communities deserve a clearer response to the Work Team report—which came out during the summer, when much of the community was away on summer vacation—and a fuller understanding of the University’s ability and will for Allston construction.

These questions will likely have difficult answers. But the surveying, polling, consulting, and advising, has gone on for a sufficiently long time. It has been nearly three years since the demise of the original Science Complex plan. What is the future of Allston?

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