Defining ‘Allstoned’

A student center and shuttles will determine the success of Allston’s undergraduate houses

What will be the reaction of the members of the Class of 2030 when they find out they got “Allstoned?” If Harvard effectively plans the four undergraduate Houses across the river, being Allstoned won’t have the stigma of being Quadded. For the new Houses—which will replace the Quad—to be a success, Harvard must pay scrupulous attention to creating a unified undergraduate campus and make sure that the Allston Houses are not physically and psychologically separated from the River Houses.

Crossing The River
Third in a Four-Part Series

Part one: Bringing Art To Allston
Part two: A Community Endeavor
Part three: Defining 'Allstoned'
The Allston master plan released in January indicates that the four new Houses will either be located across the Larz-Andersen Bridge, where the athletic facilities are now (labeled “Houses” on the map below), or across the Weeks Footbridge near Harvard Business School (labeled “Alternate Site For Houses”). Provided Harvard carries through with its proposals for a student center, comprehensive shuttles, and decking over Soldiers Field road, placing the new Houses where the athletic facilities are now will be most conducive to fostering a cohesive undergraduate campus.

If Allston is to become integrated with the rest of the campus, it needs some draw to lure River House residents over the bridge. The student center would play that role. It should be located immediately over the bridge (see map below) where it could close as possible to the existing River Houses and adjacent to the new Allston ones. Provided that the new center is modern, operational, and sufficiently spacious—which it should be, given the amount of money Harvard is poised to spend in Allston—it will become a hub of student activity.

There has been discussion of moving the historic Dillon Field House, currently occupied by Harvard Athletics, to the desired corner and converting it into a student center. This is a tantalizing idea—integrating an iconic and historic building with modern facilities, as Princeton’s Frist Campus Center does exceptionally well, would give students an ideally useful and attractive gathering place.

Tunneling Soldiers Field Road, which runs along the River, is crucial if the Allston Houses are to become more than satellites. The plan as it stands now proposes to “sink” a portion of the road (dashed on the map) and create an aesthetically pleasing park-like public space sloping from campus buildings down to the riverbank. This would make living in Allston more aesthetically pleasant—having a highway out one’s window is rarely appealing—but more importantly it would make the Allston Houses feel physically closer to Cambridge for pedestrians. As anyone who has made a late night trek to or from the Quad in the dead of winter knows, even the slightest bit of additional convenience can go a long way.

The most crucial element in uniting the River Houses and the new Houses, however, will be a top-notch shuttle system. Quadlings feel detached from Harvard Square and the River Houses because student shuttles do not run consistently from convenient stops and often cannot match student demand both at peak times and in the middle of the night.

The current proposal is to have one shuttle make a long loop through Allston and Cambridge and dedicate another undergraduate shuttle to follow a shorter and more direct route from the Allston Houses to Harvard Square during peak morning hours. While this is a good start, it is not enough in itself. In order for the campuses to feel connected, students will need shuttles making frequent, convenient stops all day long. Because the Larz-Andersen Bridge is vehicle accessible and the Weeks Footbridge is not, such a shuttle system will be more feasible if the new Houses are located where the athletic facilities are currently located as opposed to the alternate site. The importance of shuttles to the Allston campus is the most compelling reason for preferring the athletic facilities site.

Before seeing the newest iteration of Harvard’s plans, we argued that the new undergraduate Houses should be located over the Weeks Footbridge next to the Business School because it is physically closer to the existing Houses. The combination of a student center, a pedestrian park stretching to the river, and an efficient shuttle system on the site currently occupied by the athletic fields, however, will do more to unite the Allston Houses than mere physical proximity. Harvard should implement all three proposals and locate the Houses in the athletic facilities area.