While Harvard’s Allston situation has been a perennially thorny issue, recent developments seem to suggest a brighter future for the ambitious project. With the economy (and correspondingly Harvard’s endowment) improving, what was once an indefinite postponement appears to have become a realizable future. Although a welcome development for most, many residents remain deeply skeptical of aspects of the new master plan, particularly elements that have yet to be fully articulated by the university.
We commend the administration for addressing the major issues in its new master plan and defining a clear future for the property. The plan is not perfect, but the Allston community should be patient as Harvard tries to realize its goals as an academic institution while simultaneously balancing the needs and concerns of a large community.
We are, of course, aware of the damaging effect that Harvard’s involvement across the river has had in recent years. Much of Allston, Western Avenue in particular, has languished in the years following Harvard’s announcement that it would halt much of its long term plans to develop the area. An empty lot where a McDonald’s or Volkswagen dealership used to stand benefits no one. We understand and empathize with the Allston community’s desire for firmer commitments from the University to their goals.
However, now that Harvard has begun to move forward with a reimagined master plan and a demonstrable goal to develop the land meaningfully, the Allston community should bear with the administration as it proceeds. A project of this scale is by definition constantly evolving—countless factors from technological advancements to legal issues all but guarantee that the final result will differ from the original blueprint. It is also worth remembering that the Boston Redevelopment Authority must approve Harvard’s plans before the University can actually begin pouring concrete.
Ultimately, Harvard has no institutional obligation to prioritize the development of a community over the actualization of its private goals. However, it does have a social obligation to act as a constructive member of the community and do as little inadvertent harm as possible to Allstonians in the pursuit of its objectives. Going forward, Harvard should ensure that the Allston community does not further suffer further harm in this process. The administration should continue working with the Harvard-Allston Task force, giving members voting privileges when selecting developers, and keeping them abreast of major decisions.
The entire Harvard community wants to see Allston flourish, both for our campus and the surrounding community. The two goals have never been mutually exclusive, and we trust and hope the University will accomplish both.