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Boston Urban Planning Agency Gets Revamp

By Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writer

The Boston Redevelopment Authority announced a wide-ranging image revamp on Sept. 23, an update that agency officials and Allstonians say will not affect Harvard’s ongoing Allston developments and its relationship with the organization and the neighborhood.

Most notably, the revamp of the city’s urban planning body included a new website and a new name: the Boston Planning and Development Agency. Harvard has worked closely with the BPDA on all its Allston developments, including when drafting its institutional master plan for the area.

The BPDA began its reform efforts in January 2014 at the instigation of then-newly elected Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. Walsh initiated two separate outside reviews of the BPDA, which led to the agency’s board of directors hiring Continuum, a Boston-based consultancy firm, to transform the organization’s image.

After a 14 week-long study of the BPDA’s interactions with constituents, Continuum developed a “new brand identity” and “organizational strategy” for the agency to communicate to residents across Boston, according to the BPDA website.

“Updating our logo will signal to the community that we’ve changed,” the new website states, citing the branding success of clothing company Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign and Disney’s famous mouse ears.

Despite the larger surface-level changes, there will be little immediate impact on relations between Harvard, Allstonians, and the BPDA, agency spokesperson Gina Physic wrote in an email, adding that Gerald Autler, the BPDA’s senior project manager, will continue to manage the design and development review process for Harvard’s Allston projects.

John Bruno, the interim chair of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, also said he thought the rebranding would not have “much effect” on the operations of the task force, an advisory group organized by the BPDA that mediates interactions between Harvard, Allston residents, and the agency.

“I just don’t think it’ll be much of a change,” he said, adding that “the BRA [can] get bogged down in details in areas where maybe they shouldn’t, [so] if it helps to mitigate the process and procedures better, then I welcome the change.”

Harvard spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an emailed statement that “Harvard will continue to work closely with both the BPDA and [the] community to ensure that its proposed plans emerge from the public process with the confidence and support of both the City and the neighborhood.”

The BPDA’s new website outlines the agency’s four “areas of focus” for the next 18 months, which comprise launching the new brand, prioritizing planning, designing a community meeting template, and focusing on internal communication strategies. Physic wrote in an emailed statement that these reforms are “meant to elevate the importance of comprehensive planning across the agency.”

Harry E. Mattison, an Allston resident who serves on the task force, said he was mostly indifferent to the rebranding effort.

“What the name of the organization is doesn’t really matter to me, it’s what they do,” he said. “If they’re going to continue to do really good planning that incorporates the concerns and interests and well-being of the neighborhood… what the logo they have is really secondary.”

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