‘By Default’: Harvard Proposal Sparks Doubt in Allston, Praise Elsewhere

When the time came for Harvard to launch its plan to build a sleek, new Allston campus across the Charles River, the University sought to develop the neighborhood surrounding its construction projects.

Last October, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved Harvard’s Institutional Master Plan for Allston. A month later, the Harvard-Allston Task Force, an advisory group to the BRA made up of Allston residents responsible for reviewing and shaping elements of Harvard’s vision for the neighborhood, approved a benefits package totaling $43 million in payments to the City of Boston for housing and workforce development and educational programs for the surrounding community.

The proposal stemmed from an initiative announced more than a decade ago by then-Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to encourage Boston universities to create community benefits packages when launching large development projects, according to John A. Bruno, a member of the task force. Indeed, in recent years, area universities have begun providing community benefits that would have been unthinkable only a decade ago.

But with construction beginning in Allston this spring, the verdict on Harvard’s multimillion dollar investment in the neighborhood across the Charles is still out.

Critical residents and task force members have juxtaposed Harvard’s benefits package with those offered by peer institutions and come to the conclusion that the University could do far more to appease the community. Others, however, see the benefits package as an important step toward fostering a productive relationship between institutions of higher learning and the communities that host them.

“Spoonfuls of Sugar”

Some Allston residents argue that Harvard, which boasts the largest university endowment in the world, has the resources to bring about lasting improvements to the Allston area but has thus far failed to meet expectations.

“The stuff they could be doing for the community could be on a massive scale,” said Allston resident Thomas Lally.

Some task force members, including Harry E. Mattison and Christina Marin, were disappointed after negotiations last November yielded a benefits package that they felt was less ambitious than they had anticipated.

Mattison and Marin wrote an op-ed published in The Crimson last November calling for Harvard to invest more to further Allston education and housing projects.

When the task force voted to approve the proposed benefits package later that day, Mattison voted against it and Marin abstained.

Mattison, who has called the Harvard-Allston relationship “transactional,” said that he has concerns that Harvard’s development does not directly benefit the community.

The “campus expansion is just an encroachment into our neighborhood,” he said, later adding “[Harvard offers] a spoonful of sugar of community benefits to wash away the bitter taste of a project [we] didn’t like. In my ideal world, [Harvard] would do projects that...inherently had a mutual benefit.”

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