As Harvard begins construction in Allston after a four-year pause, Allston residents have begun to question the role and make-up of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, an advisory board the Boston Redevelopment Authority charged with acting as a liaison between the neighborhood, the city, and the University.
Residents say that while they commend the efforts of the task force, which was originally convened in 2006, going forward into the next phases of Harvard’s development they would prefer to see the task force better reflect the diversity of ethnicities and ages that make up the Allston neighborhood.
“The Task Force is doing good in the community, but we have to be careful to make sure that those who do not live [in Allston] are really representing us,” Allston resident Renny McKinney said.
McKinney stressed that he believes all the task force members have the best interests of Allston in mind, but Allstonians must remain active in task force discussions to keep the discussion rooted in the community.
Many residents said that meeting that goal will require greater efforts by the BRA to increase the diversity of the task force to better reflect the racial and ethnic groups as well as age ranges that make up the Allston community.
“The demographics of the Task Force make Allston seem older and whiter, but when I look at my neighbors and my community, that’s not the case,” resident Galen Mook said.
Long-term resident Joyce Radnor also called for a greater mix of people on the task force, which meets with varying frequency throughout the year as BRA prepares to review new Harvard development.
“Our neighborhood has been ethnically diverse for over 100 years,” Radnor said. She called the task force “heavily white and heavily male.”
The issue of representation does not stop with the age, gender, or skin color of residents who sit on the task force. Some members of the community have said that where members of the task force reside could influence their ability to represent the neighborhood.
“The Allston Task Force should be made up of Allston residents or people that have an interest in this neighborhood,” Radnor said.
She added, however, that current members of the task force, including Newton resident Bruce Houghton, have shown a dedication to the concerns of the community.
The Harvard-Allston Task Force was created in 2006 as Harvard’s development was heating up in Allston to create a channel for community feedback to the city. After receiving nominations from the elected officials in Allston, including city councilors and state legislators, the final makeup of the task force is determined by the Office of the Mayor of Boston, as well as the directors and staff of the BRA.
As task force members leave the committee, the BRA appoints replacements. Five new members were added to the task force through this process last summer. Nine of the original 17 task force members remain.
Resident John Eskew called that process “absolutely non-transparent,” and many Allston residents described the selection of new task force members as occurring behind closed doors at the discretion of the mayor.
Other complaints have arisen regarding what community members call a lack of opportunity to participate in the operations of the task force. Many residents said they wish for better publicizing of task force meetings and more time allotted for community comments.