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Members of the Harvard-Allston Task Force voiced concern at their meeting Monday evening that they are being given too little time to discuss the long-ranging impact of the community benefits package to be included as part of Harvard’s new Institutional Master Plan for Allston development.
The University hopes to file the nine-building plan with the Boston city government in July and receive approval in the fall. Harvard and city officials say that the community benefits section of the plan, which may lay out proposals for services ranging from educational programming to transportation improvements, will be shaped in part by input from task force members.
Gerald Autler, senior project manager at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, said on Monday that the task force would have a 60-day period to provide feedback on the master plan. But task force member and Allston resident Bruce E. Houghton railed against Harvard and the BRA for expecting the task force to identify the benefits they want included in the plan in what he described as an unreasonably short period of time.
“What is expected of this community and what’s being placed on it...is inappropriate and impossible,” Houghton said. “What’s truly inappropriate is the fact that there’s an expectation on behalf of BRA that this community should put into place in four months a community benefit package that might last as long as 10 years.”
The meeting had been expected to focus on educational community benefits such as the Harvard Allston Education Portal, which provides mentoring programs, a Harvard faculty speaker series, and other educational services. Houghton, however, requested to bypass the items on the agenda in favor of a meeting-long discussion of the master plan. He argued that although the Ed Portal is a good addition to Allston, a discussion limited to educational programming misses the bigger picture.
“We’re starting from the bottom and trying to figure out a community benefits package, which is going to impact this community for a decade,” Houghton said. “And this is not the way to go about it.”
Although task force chair and Allston resident Ray V. Mellone opted not to bypass the agenda, roughly the first 30 minutes of the meeting were devoted to Houghton’s concerns, which were echoed by several other task force members.
“These are the questions that are going to define the neighborhood for the next 10 years, and I think it merits some discussion when we’re not being rushed through to hear a presentation by the University or someone else,” task force member and Allston resident Harry E. Mattison said.
Autler said he would be open to holding another meeting to discuss the task force members’ concerns. The task force is tentatively scheduled to preview the master plan at its next meeting on July 1.
Following the discussion of the master plan, Robert A. Lue, the faculty director of the Ed Portal, gave a presentation that included discussion of HarvardX, Harvard’s branch of the online learning venture edX. Lue, who is also a biology professor of practice, asked for the task force and residents’ thoughts on expanding the role of technology at the Ed Portal. Acknowledging that not all Allston residents know how to use computers, Lue said he hopes the Ed Portal could encourage and teach those residents to “plug in” with its programming.
Several residents responded positively to Lue’s ideas. Still, task force member and Allston resident Brent C. Whelan ’73 questioned the feasibility and cost of translating those ideas into practice. For his part, Houghton challenged the relevance of the presentation altogether to the task force’s role in shaping the master plan—something he said that he did not entirely understand.
Kairos Shen, chief planner of the BRA, said that the task force’s role in the community benefits conversation is to consider, help prioritize, and provide feedback on potential services. But with the future needs of the community still unclear, Mattison questioned how the task force could prioritize benefits that could be in place years from now.
“How on earth can we...say...that bridging the digital divide is more or less important than day care and early childhood education or job re-training?” Mattison said. “We’re not going to try to micromanage knowing eight years from now what the demand for English as a second language is going to be. Because who knows what this community is going to be like in eight years?”
—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.
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