Setting Out the Alternatives

Long range planning for any institution is a difficult and often extremely sensitive endeavor. Given the complexity in accomplishing anything that encompasses all of Harvard's vastly decentralized units and the difficulty of getting a consensual outlook between Harvard and city officials in areas of mutual concern, long range planning for Harvard is a particularly touchy and frustrating task.

Last month the Harvard Planning Office and the Office of Community and Government Affairs released an interim report called Long Range planning for Harvard University and Radcliffe College in Cambridge and Allston. The report was distributed throughout the University and to community groups and city officials in Cambridge and Allston for comment and will be revised accordingly this fall.

The report does not include Boston and Harvard Medical School area. Because the medical area is not under the jurisdiction of the Planning Office and because the particular problems and situation is community relations posed in that area are different from those of other areas, the Planning Group decided to attempt a separate but similar study, some time in the still uncertain future.

At first glance the 141-page document seems a bit overwhelming for a draft. It includes tables, maps and graphs of nearly every aspect of the University's physical environment. It outlines land boundaries, pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns, all utility lines within the University, foliage, present zoning, building use, population densities and all potential projects that are now on the horizon for the Harvard campus. It does not specifically state each piece of property the University may attempt to purchase in coming years, but carefully lays out potential alternatives for land use in Harvard environs.

The difficulty of confronting and analyzing a document of such tremendous scope and technical nature is immediately apparent. In fact, Charles U. Daly, vice president for government and community affairs, says that the biggest danger that his office sees in the issuance of such a complete draft in the University and local communities is that individuals and groups usually expected to reply in detailed comments, may view the interim report as too finalized and refrain from extensive comment.


In the month since the report has been issued there has not been substantial feedback to either Daly's office of the Planning Office. But Harold L. Goyette, director of the Planning Office, said yesterday that the planning staff is not yet concerned with the small response. Goyette said that since the report is long and technical and since large numbers of interested citizens, University officials and city officials are vacationing, he does not expect extensive comments until the end of the summer.

Preparation of the interim report began in earnest in July 1972, when the Planning Office assembled a staff of architects and planners to begin accumulating the massive amounts of data required for such a wide-ranging document. Most of the first year of the project was spent in gathering information for the study. The Long Range Planning Group, a committee of sixteen Harvard administrators chaired by Financial Vice President Hale Champion and including President Bok's other three vice presidents, conducted over 100 interviews with University personnel in every different department and faculty.

The recommendations and opinions that surfaced in the Planning group's interviews and discussions provided a basis for the group's evaluation of the basic needs for Harvard's future. In November 1973 the planning Group was increased in size to 40 and teaching fellows, students and other members of the Harvard community were drawn into the process.

The responsibility of actually pulling all of the information and data into a coherent interim report for submission to the University and the community went to Supratik Bose, manager of long range planning for the Planning Office. Bose was charged with piecing together all of the comments and mounds of information that had been gathered--much of it for the first time. Often he was forced to put University-wide charts or maps together on a building-by-building basis. Bose, who has advocated such a method of long term planning at Harvard since 1965, and his staff were faced with mapping out all the potential proposals and projects which could affect Harvard and the communities of Cambridge and Allston over the next dacade.

From the standpoint of carefully outlining exactly what all of the potential construction, renovation, purchase, demolition and other physical alterations Harvard could possibly encounter for this time period, Bose and those who worked on the plan have done a thorough and superb job. It is hard to imagine any ordinary project suddenly appearing on the horizon that has not been foretold in this report. The report, then, is more one that indicates the alternatives for future planning than one that offers a blueprint for Harvard's future physical projects.

Any document that includes such a large collection of formerly internal or obscure data is bound to make the institution it deals with somewhat vulnerable. Going through the more than 50 pages of maps and graphs in the interim report, it is apparent that Harvard faces serious problems with many of its antiquated utility systems, particularly sewage, steam and water lines. By earmarking certain areas for certain potentials Harvard is bound to arouse suspicion and ire; in outlining specific altternatives toes are sure to be stepped on and many individual domains interfered with.

These are the initial barriers that central planning at Harvard must overcome. Naturally, autonomous faculties and departments tend to protect themselves and to seek to mask their shortcomings. Bose says that he faced a certain degree of institutional resistence in his gathering of information, particularly from departments such as Buildings and Grounds that are responsible for keeping the physical plant in working order.

Intially, for instance, Bose found it hard to gather data about the physical condition of various systems and equipment under the specific responsibility of certain groups. But he claims that as each department saw that the long-run benefits of "putting all of the cards on the table" became apparent, this resistence subsided.

Another problem Bose says he had was in encouraging critical comment from the non-professionals involved in the planning project.

"I was scared when I first learned that we'd have students meeting with us. I thought they'd be yelling at us and making demands and really sticking it to us. That's the way it probably would have been in the sixties if they'd been working with us. But instead we had a hard time getting them to say anything. They just automatically deferred to us on any questions. They were not critical at all," Bose says.

The tendency of most of the members of the planning discussions who were not technical or institutional experts was to defer to those who were, those who had studied the problems. This lessened what Bose thought could have been constructive debate about the particular planning problems.

The long range planning report offers a tremendous insight into the dilemmas and alternatives facing Harvard and the community in relation to their physical environments. That is precisely what Daly, Goyette, Donald C. Moulton, assistant to Daly, and Bose say was its objective. It sets a series of basic planning assumptions that Harvard will follow in any alternatives it chooses and establishes precedents for land-use and acquisition.

The alternatives are all laid out in the long range report. Drastic measures for the curtailment of traffic in the River House and Harvard Square area, proposals for land swaps and sales of non-essential properties, opportunities and viable locations for future undergraduate or graduate housing, suggestions for the now-unused Sachs estate, and many other proposals come out of this lengthy and intricate document. Although much of the data will change or become obsolete over time, the report should be usable and a valuable document for at least the next ten years. But now that the data has all been collected and the possibilities thoroughly sketched, it is still up to the Corporation, President Bok and each faculty and department to carry the ball. They must see that the wealth of information is used to ensure that Harvard utilizes its physical resources efficiently and with acute attention to the needs of the communities in which it resides.