THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE endures its own "Harvard experience" each year, one very different from most students'. Over the years, Harvard has removed large parcels of land from the city's tax rolls for academic use; it has evicted tenants from their homes to make way for offices; and it has ignored the pleas of city officials and neighborhood leaders to at least sit down and talk.
This fall, Harvard has a unique chance to remedy the situation. It will release its report to the community, the first such document in five years, outlining its plans and its "needs." That report should maintain the "red line"--a self-imposed expansion boundary laid down in 1972 which is more than large enough to accommodate any new construction. It should furthermore promise to replace any unit of rental housing converted to institutional with another unit priced the same and on the open market. And it should declare that no buildings will be constructed, no present units converted, without the review and consent of the surrounding community.
The report is actually less important than it was in 1976, for this summer the city gained substantial regulatory power, enough to insure that Harvard's expansion is held in check. The University, therefore, should recognize that it is in its best interest to cooperate fully with the city, and not try to stall or circumvent planned legislation. In addition, it should remove one of the largest obstacles to good city-University relations by allowing mixed-use occupancy of 7 Summer Rd. instead of continuing efforts to evict the remaining tenants. In another gesture of good will, Harvard should end its court challenge seeking more money and settle for the city's offer of $475,000 for a University-owned playground on Sacramento St.
Harvard's failure in community relations shows up as much in intangible ways as in concrete actions. Next to no one really trusts the community relations office, because too often it has bowed to internal pressure and opposed needed city actions. A more independent community relations office able to deal with the city instead of acting as a two-way filter is imperative, for Harvard has to give the appearance of cooperation as well as its substance.
Some say Harvard has no real responsibility to the city, that it is an independent entity accountable only to its educational mission. More realistically, that mission has been mishandled in such a way as to create havoc in the city, a debt the University must repay. But even if Harvard has no desire to work together with the city, Cambridge's new-found power gives the University incentive. Harvard must change its ways or have the city change them for it.