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The titanic development venture in Allston is still in the earliest of stages. But that hasn’t prevented the Faculty from voicing significant challenges to University President Lawrence H. Summers’ plans since details of the trans-Charles expedition were announced in September. Last week, a student environmental group, Sustainable Allston, courageously joined the chorus of constructive criticism and recommended to Summers that environmental concerns play a role in the planning of the expansion.
Sustainable Allston sent four delegates to meet with Summers personally during his office hours to stress that forethought is vital to ensure plans for Allston are environmentally friendly. Once blueprints are drawn and construction is underway, it will be too late to make the new campus as resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly as it could easily be with moderate advance planning—especially if Harvard is determined to distinguish itself with its expansion. The growth of the Allston campus represents a once-in-a-century opportunity to put Harvard’s name on a large, sustainable, environmentally-conscientious development project. Harvard’s example can be uniquely powerful in its ability to catalyze widespread innovations of this sort. According to Zachary D. Liscow ’05, one of the group representatives who spoke with Summers, the group asked for resource conservation and other environmental concerns to be on the agenda at the outset of the planning process—and he said that Summers agreed to that.
Although it is not yet clear whether Summers will consider instituting a fifth Allston planning task force for that purpose—there are already task forces focusing on the professional schools; science and technology; culture, graduate housing and urban life; and undergraduate life—but there is reason to be optimistic that he will make good on the environmental commitment he made to Sustainable Allston. Indeed, Harvard is not a rookie in the campaign to preserve the environment. Shad Hall at Harvard Business School sports solar panels built this year, thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and an interest-free loan from the Harvard Green Campus Initiative (HGCI). HGCI holds $3 million in funds that it lends out for environment-oriented improvements like the one atop Shad.
If the University can match its desire to grow with an equal resolve for sustainability, the new campus could purchase electricity from clean sources, operate on-site water treatment and use energy-efficient technologies such as fluorescent lights—as well as any other technologies that become available over the many years that separate us from a completed Allston. Harvard’s prior willingness to employ on-site renewable energy stands as a testament to its potential to rise to the challenge.
The most important step—getting the ball rolling on sustainability—has been taken. Regardless of which measures emerge as appropriate for making the Allston development environmentally sound, articulating the green point of view has encouraged a thorough ongoing consideration of these issues on the part of the planners. In addition to securing incalculable long-term environmental benefits—and significant energy savings for the University—Sustainable Allston’s successful talk with Summers is a tribute to the possibilities for input from a variety of perspectives.
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