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CAMBRIDGE OFFICIALS released last week a list of property Harvard bought in the city of Cambridge during the 1970s. It shows the University owns some 700,000 more square feet of the city than it did a decade ago.
The reaction of the City Council to the news was relatively unconstructive. Bound by laws prohibiting it from interfering with Harvard expansion, the council voted only to drape City Hall in purple bunting, a symbol of mourning over the "slow death" of the city before Harvard's expansion.
But the University's reaction to the list was far more important--and depressing. Robin Schmidt, vice president for government and community affairs, called it a "fake" and a "cheap shot," arguing that Harvard bought one of the properties on the list at the urging of the city, that others were in areas no one else wanted, and that the University was trying to sell some parcels. Schmidt cannot deny, however, that the list pins down a phenomenon no one can ignore--Harvard's institutional expansion into surrounding parts of Cambridge.
Harvard officials quibble at the exact size of University growth; a glance at the city of Cambridge shows, however, that whatever the past history, Harvard's expansion cannot continue. Cambridge, six square miles crowded with over 100,000 people, is one of the world's most densely-populated cities; the neighborhoods surrounding the University are among the most crowded parts of the city. Further growth will continue to displace people from their homes, reduce the city's housing stock, and fill its few remaining acres of open space.
Harvard does not need a new "red line"--the University's term for its self-imposed expansion boundaries. Instead, it should promise immediately to cease buying new properties. New expansion should come only with the approval of the city.
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