Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve

In early 1962, negotiations between Harvard and what was then the Massachusetts Transit Authority (MTA) over the possible sale of the what was then called the Bennett St. MTA Yards were finally getting serious after at least five years of dickering and half-hearted discussion. The general manager of MTA indicated that he would recommend that its Board of Directors sell the 12-acre site and President Pusey made official Harvard's offer to purchase the land at its market value plus an additional $1 million.

But the day after a headline reading, "Pusey, MTA Officials Boost Hopes/For Purchase of Bennett St. Yards," appeared in The Crimson, an outcry erupted from Cambridge City officials and residents. Former City Councilor Daniel J. Hayes, blasting Harvard's "land-grab plan," called on the city council to have the land declared an open blighted area under the Urban Renewal Act and to purchase it to ensure that Harvard could not.

As in every similar incident before or after this one, local politicians and residents were up in arms because of their fear that Harvard would continue expanding and increasing its domination of Cambridge and because of their resentment that land owned by Harvard and used for educational purposes is not taxable. (Despite the fact that the property was not taxed when it was owned by MTA either.)

The argument Hayes and his supporters used to try to convince the city manager and the other members of the city council that they should do everything within their power to block the land purchase by Harvard has been repeated over and over again at meeting after meeting of the city council and citizens' groups.

"It is time Harvard showed good faith in developing land in the best interest of Cambridge," Hayes asserted, warning that "Cambridge is the city in which Harvard is located, not merely the city which surrounds Harvard." He claimed that more of the money being poured into Harvard by the federal government should be applied to Cambridge development.


The running battle between Harvard and the cities of Cambridge, Allston and Boston over land-purchase and land-use plans is still a heated one and will no doubt continue as long as:

Harvard keeps its tax-exempt status and refuses to pay in-lieu-of-tax payments according to a square footage formula;

All three cities are plagued with shrinking tax bases and housing shortages, in part because of the many educational and other tax-exempt institutions located in them;

Harvard continues to purchase land, build buildings and alter its physical surroundings in the three cities; and,

Harvard will not (and probably cannot) come up with long range blueprints of all future plans for its physical needs and desires and submit them to the citizens of the three cities for scrutiny and approval.

Yet, there have been changes and agreements since 1962 between each of the parties that have helped to make coexistence a little more pleasant. Although the fate of the old MTA (now MBTA) Yards across Boylston St. from Eliot House is still a touchy subject for both Harvard and the City and the MBTA is finally scheduled to vacate the land this week, the sharp tension between city and university has eased on other fronts since that time.

Since the middle sixties Harvard has vastly increased the amount of in-lieu-of tax payments it makes to Cambridge, Allston and Boston. Although the University still resists local pressure to pay by formula--a precedent that could deal a deadly blow to many non-profit institutions not quite as well-off as Harvard--the amounts Harvard is now paying are much more satisfactory to its three cities. And in Cambridge (where the tension with Harvard has been most acute) the University has assured city fathers that it will not make any non-essential land purchases outside specific boundaries in the city at least until 1980 and will sell all non-essential land outside of those boundaries.

Harvard in the last decade has begun to look more upon itself as a resident of Cambridge, Allston and Boston rather than as an oasis surrounded by them. Three years ago President Bok established the Office of Government and Community Affairs to deal with Harvard's outside relations. Although previous administrations had personnel and offices to deal with community relations, this was the first time that there was one office through which members of the community could go with any problems or questions. Financial Vice President Hale Champion, prior to joining the Bok Administration, worked as head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and was forced to deal with Harvard on many community questions. Champion summarizes the frustrations of community leaders in dealing with previous Harvard administrations:

"I used to come over here to argue with Pusey about use of the stadium or something. You couldn't get anything out of this place--it was one of the all-time buck-passing operations. Now people are in the position where they can say yes or no if they have to."

One of the first priorities for Charles U. Daly, Bok's vice president for government and community affairs, was to attempt to outline Harvard's policies, plans and expectations in the areas of tax payments, expansion, housing, land purchase and all other matters concerning the communities in which Harvard is located. The Report to the Cambridge Community issued by Daly's office in October 1972, sketched those and set the basic assumptions from which Harvard would set its policies with the community. In this initial report, the University promised that "although Harvard is neither a charity nor a social-action organization, it has a responsibility to the community in which it is a substantial resident. This based upon moral committment, enlightened self-interest and the knowledge that today urban institutions neither can nor should live in isolation from their surrounding communities."

The 1972 report committed Harvard to its boundary purchase agreement, increased in-lieu-of tax payments and increased involvement in working with Cambridge to solve housing, employment and urban blight problems. The report also promised a "detailed, comprehensive study" of Harvard's physical assets and needs and an outline of the limits of the University's plans in its host communities.

The Long Range Plan for Harvard University and Radcliffe College in Cambridge and Allston is not the first long range plan that Harvard has issued. In 1960 the University distributed an Inventory for Planning that outlined many of Harvard's future plans then on the horizon.

But unlike its predecessor, the 1974 long range document is intended as an introduction to and manual for discussion on the various alternatives open to Harvard and its host communities over teh next decade and not as a blueprint to cement Harvard's intent for certain projects.