Smoothing Relations

A Long-Awaited Document Represents a New Era in Town-Gown Relations

Last Monday, the city and its five universities and colleges released their report on town-gown relations. The groundbreaking document calls for greater communication between Cambridge and its universities and easier access to University resources for city residents.

Twenty years ago, Cambridge and Harvard seemed the bitterest of foes. Neighborhood activists, concerned about the University's seemingly insatiable appetite for land, found that they couldn't get University administrators to return their calls. Harvard didn't seem to think there was a problem.

But that was then and this is now.

Last week, after a year of putting their heads together, Harvard, Cambridge and the city's other universities released a report on town-gown relations which both sides say represents the cutting edge in how universities and their host municipalities can and should help each other out.

The 18-member task force of city officials and delegates from Harvard, MIT, Cambridge College, Lesley College and the Episcopal Divinity School which created the document--the now disbanded Mayor's Committee on University-Community Relations--is possibly the first such group in the nation, says John Shattuck, committee member and Harvard vice-president for government, community and public affairs.


"In many respects we are now way ahead of other cities in town-gown relations," says Cambridge mayor Alice K. Wolf. "The report is kind of a landmark in that people from the community and its institutions sat down and reached an understanding about each other's concerns, which hadn't ever happened before."

The document is the final product of extensive meetings since early May. It makes recommendations on how to increase communication between the city and its universities and provide greater citizen access to university resources.

Committee members say the report creates a valuable framework for improved communication between the three factions and addresses financial and educational issues which have not been touched before.

"Not everybody's going to say we solved all the problems of the world. If you could go back through Harvard records of the 18th and 19th centuries, you would probably find records of town-gown strains," says James P. Maloney, committee member and finance director for the city of Cambridge. "But we took a giant step forward in understanding each other."

Councillors largely agree that the document constitutes a very solid starting point for opening up discussion between Cambridge and its colleges and universities.

"I think the results are good in that it is the first statement really agreed to by the city and the colleges and universities that there are problems and that they need further work," says Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55. "Nothing really had been set down in black and white before."

But while the councillors praised the committee for their hard work, they leveled several points of criticism as well.

Too Vague?

Outside critics say they wonder if the document may be too long on good intentions and too short on specifics.

"Nothing is solved by that report," Duehay says. "It really represents nothing more than an agenda."

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