This is the first half of a two-part Globe editorial about the role of colleges and universities in Boston. Some excerpts:
PARTICIPANTS IN a sweeping seminar on town-gown relations sponsored by the Boston Foundation in 2003 predicted that colleges and universities would take up the mantle of leadership lost by many local corporations after a spate of mergers. Rancor over past institutional expansion would fade. Academics would work for social progress in the neighborhoods, while activists embraced the colleges as engines of economic development. At hand was nothing less than "twin paradigm shifts," as former Northeastern University president Richard Freeland put it.
Not so fast.
...Across town in Allston and Brighton, neighbors along Western Avenue say they preferred living hard by industrial buildings than the vacant ones created when Harvard University bought the properties and cleared out many tenants.
...Harvard should take the lead. Much bitterness remains over the university's decision in the 1990s to purchase 52 acres in Allston covertly through proxies. Harvard subsequently engaged neighborhood groups, especially along portions of Western Avenue closest to its Cambridge campus, where it intends to build a 500,000-square-foot complex to house a stem-cell research institute. This engagement resulted in an unprecedented land-use plan showing Harvard's immediate and future space needs. But the plans are hazier the farther west one travels into the campus of the future. Bob VanMeter, head of the nonprofit Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation, says that 307,000 square feet of industrial space now owned by Harvard sits vacant west of North Harvard Street. University officials acknowledge the problem and say they are now prepared to give businesses leases ranging in length from five to 10 years. Harvard could also make a powerful statement by integrating its plans to build housing for graduate students with affordable homes for neighbors similar to Northeastern's successful Davenport Commons in Roxbury.