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Last week, Harvard finally gave up trying to build a tunnel under Cambridge Street as part of the new Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS). This event marked the end of a rancorous battle between the University, local activists and the City of Cambridge. But the elimination of the tunnel from Harvard’s construction plans means only one thing: nobody won.
The CGIS plans originally called for one five-story building, but when local residents objected to the size, Harvard planners split the center into two smaller buildings positioned on opposite sides of Cambridge Street. A connecting tunnel would have been beneficial for students and faculty using the facilities, as well as for neighbors averse to the noise and bustle generated by academic centers.
By helping to nix the tunnel, the City of Cambridge and its residents sentenced themselves to increased foot and truck traffic around the CGIS. Two separate buildings require two loading docks for trucks, but only one would have been needed if the complex had a tunnel. Neighborhood activists also foolishly passed up what Harvard claimed was a $5 million bargaining concession, including a million-dollar parcel of land designated for a park, a $300,000 donation to the neighborhood and a five-year moratorium on construction by Harvard in nearby blocks.
The City Council, however, stipulated concessions that would have cost Harvard $10 million for the construction of the tunnel, according to the estimates of University officials. The neighborhood’s rejection of Harvard’s initial generosity was short-sighted and their subsequent demands—including a tunnel that would have cost $280,000 in construction—border on extortion.
Harvard, for its part, refused to put on the table in any substantive way the usage of CGIS buildings and unreasonably prevented residents from acting as representatives for their Mid-Cambridge constituents during negotiations. Harvard’s stance on setting deadlines, for example, was so inflexible that even the University’s lone supporter among the Cantabrigians, Rick Childs, said he felt like “someone was putting a gun to my head.”
The year-long negotiations over the tunnel were conducted in poor faith. Not only was the negotiation process terribly bungled, but both parties showed little real interest in agreeing. Despite expressing disappointment in the failure of the plans, both sides displayed an utterly uncompromising attitude when the issue was on the table, and both had a hand in killing the plan.
Neither Harvard nor Cambridge should expect to gain from such dysfunctional and hostile exchanges, as the plight of the CGIS tunnel has so clearly demonstrated. Hopefully, however, the frustration over this disagreement, and the recognition that both parties would have benefited from the tunnel’s construction, will give way to a more cooperative spirit between the University and the city in the future. As the mutual loss of the tunnel has so clearly demonstrated, we are in this together.
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