The real story on Harvard's supposed generosity

Continuing the theme from yesterday's entry about Harvard's forest in Hamilton, educational consultant Steve Goodman writes in today's Globe about Harvard's recent decision to increase undergraduate financial aid and the Senate Finance Committee's concern about whether or not there is sufficient public good resulting from the tax breaks that help university endowments grow so big.

All this talk about the announcement helps Harvard and other universities sidestep the real questions.

Why does an institution of higher learning have $35 billion in its back pocket anyway?

Why has it become customary for universities to spend only a small fraction of their interest income - and not even the endowment funds themselves - for daily operations?

Why do American taxpayers continue to subsidize schools that increasingly operate like for-profit companies - and less like tax-exempt educational foundations that are charged with educating the next generation?

The real story on Harvard's generosity - The Boston Globe

Harvard - Benjamins first, Environment second

Unlike Yale's thriving forests, Harvard continues to sell off its forest properties in the Northeast. The Harvard Forest in Petersham (near the Quabbin Reservoir) is in active use, but how many forests can one university use?

In 1981, Harvard sold the 3,600 acre Black Rock Forest in Cornwall, NY (60 miles north of New York City and 200 miles from Boston) to William Golden, a New York investment banker and philanthropist who attended Harvard Business School for a year before leaving to work on Wall Street. Fortunately, Golden then transferred ownership of the forest to a non-profit organization to permanently preserve the forest in its natural state.

Now, 99 acres of Harvard-owned forest are potentially for sale 30 miles north of Boston in Hamilton, MA. According to the Globe, The Trustees of Reservations "are already talking about selling some of the forest - potentially to developers - to help offset the cost of the purchase."

Harvard has talked a lot about how environmentally sensitive and sustainable they are and how "green" their Allston development will be, so why can't they make a deal in Hamilton to preserve all of this forest? Couldn't Harvard afford to donate the land to the Trustees, Mass Audobon, or a similar group just as the land was donated to Harvard eighty years ago? As Puff Daddy would say, it seems to be "all about the Benjamins", which does seem odd for a $35 billion institution with such an oft-stated commitment to preserving the environment for future generations.

Preservationists, alumni fear Harvard may sell forest in Hamilton - The Boston Globe

Helping first time homebuyers in Boston and elsewhere

A question that has been coming up in the neighborhood is, "How can we help children who have grown up in our community buy homes and stay here?"

Prices for reasonably-sized "starter homes" have skyrocketed here in the past several years. Here's how a condominium in a Franklin St row house has tripled in value since 1997, showing that Allston's ownership affordability is certainly not what it used to be.
1997 = $140,000
2000 = $200,000
2003 = $300,000
2006 = $450,000
2007 = $475,000

A summary of Boston and other nearby programs for first-time and median-income homebuyers shows that the housing assistance in Boston is much less than what Cambridge, Newton, and Brookline provide.

Buyers making less than 120% of the area median income can receive from $1,000 to 3% of their purchase price.

For a family of four can make up to $98,900 to qualify. A Bank of America calculator suggests that with this income you could afford to buy a home in the $400,000 range. A 3% grant would be $12,000. This is approximately 1/10th of what is available in nearby communities.

For first-time homebuyers earning up to 80% of the area median income, Cambridge gives grants for as much as 6% of the cost of a home. To receive the full grant, the homebuyer must live in the home for 5 years.

For first-time homebuyers earning up to 100% of the area median income, Cambridge gives grants for up to $130,000. The homebuyer must live in the home, to long-term restrictions limiting the future resale price of the property, and have lived in Cambridge for at least one year.

Income eligible homebuyers can receive as much as $125,000 to buy a single-family home or condominium. The price of the home must be less than $365,750, the purchaser must live in the home, and other conditions apply.

A grant of up to $115,000 for people with income less than 80% of the median who are either a first-time homebuyer, or live or work in Newton.

Police make arrest related to convenience store robberies

Man arrested and shotgun found at 18 Riverdale St that may be connected to armed robberies in Allston last month.

Convenience store crook nabbed - Allston/Brighton TAB
A man believed to be involved in several armed convenience store hold-ups in Allston was arrested on outstanding warrants last week, then charged with intimidating a witness after he subsequently unleashed a series of violent threats on police.

USNews & World Report's top "service learning" colleges

In addition to its well-known ranking of schools (which ranked Harvard #2, BC #35, and Boston University #57), US News also selects the nation's top "service-learning" schools. At these schools "volunteering in the community is an instructional strategy--and a requirement of a student's coursework. The service relates to what happens in class and vice versa."

Tufts and Bentley are nearby schools on this list which also includes Brown, Duke, Georgetown, Stanford, Trinity, Cal-Berkeley, Michigan, Notre Dame, and UPenn (these links are to service learning and community organizations at these schools). They give us us many examples of what enhanced partnerships with our Allston/Brighton college neighbors might be. America's Best Colleges 2008: Service learning

The chance to build a better life

Dr. Lloyd David, founder of the Brighton-based education and training non-profit Creative Workplace Learning, recently wrote to the Allston/Brighton North Neighbors Forum to remind us that according to the 2000 Census there were 5,783 adults in Allston/Brighton over age 25 who had not graduated from high school and 24,504 people who spoke a language other than English at home.

While we talk about Allston/Brighton being a "middle-class" neighborhood, we also have thousands of neighbors living in poverty. In many cases, their situation is similar to our parents, grandparent, or great-grandparents who immigrated to this country in years past.

In this video, Presidential candidate John Edwards offers a message for the holiday season that is a worthwhile break from the rampant over-consumption that so often dominates our culture.

"One out of every four homeless people on our streets is a veteran. Thirty-seven million Americans live in poverty. Who speaks for them? We do.

This is the season of miracles, of faith and love. So let us promise together: You will never be forgotten again. We see you, we hear you, and we will speak for you.

In America, the chance to build a better life is a promise made to each of us, and the obligation to keep it rests with us all."

The Globe reviews Faust's first 6 months as H Prez

After the media turmoil earlier this month, this story about Drew Faust should need to retraction or further clarification. It profiles her as competent, open, listening, and diplomatic - traits that bode well for a new chapter in Harvard-Allston/Brighton relations.

Faust earns high marks on leadership at Harvard - The Boston Globe
Faust, who said through a spokesman that she was unavailable for an interview, impressed department chairs at a recent meeting when she said she planned to move deliberately and consult a wide variety of faculty and others as Harvard fine-tunes its 50-year expansion plan for its Allston campus, Eck said. By comparison, Summers gave the impression that he would move quickly on Allston and not necessarily consider faculty concerns, Eck and others said.

Allston community activists said they have not seen enough of Faust to judge her. But Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he has been impressed by Faust's affable manner with Allston residents at neighborhood events.

"She has no airs about her," Menino said.

Laurence Summers and the concept of "implicit contracts"

Christopher Caldwell, senior editor at The Weekly Standard, writes in today's NY Times Magazine about the use of personal information in the world of online shopping and social networking. A Harvard connection arises when he cites a 1988 paper written by two Harvard economics professors, one of whom ended up 13 years later becoming Harvard's 27th president.

The paper that Laurence Summers co-authored introduced the concept of the "implicit contract" between managers, employees, and other stakeholders (think generous employer-provided health insurance, pensions, lifelong employment, and other formerly sacred cows that are with us no longer). The focus was on the value of these contracts and how these contracts could be relatively easily revoked by new managers who come to power in the wake of a hostile takeover.

The relevance of all of this is the current situation with Harvard, the BRA, and the Allston/Brighton community. At this point we are operating under a giant implicit contract that tells the A/B community that some local good eventually make up for (and them some) the land-banking and mothballing that Harvard has been doing in our neighborhood for the past several years and we will collectively be much better off as a result of Harvard's presence in our community.

The North Allston Strategic Framework came close to making this contract explicit. But Harvard and the BRA have gone to great lengths to emphasize otherwise, saying "It was a framework but not a plan" and "I think that what’s happening is some people are interpreting those [guidelines] very strictly and it was never our sense, nor I think the city’s sense, that those guidelines were meant to be interpreted as explicit."

The contract in the Strategic Framework certainly has real value ("2,400to 2,800 new housing units", "a newly-'greened' Everett Street corridor", "creation of new parks, and improved existing parks", "transformation of Western Avenue into a more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood Main Street with streetscape and related improvements", "200,000 square feet of new and existing retail space", and more). And while Harvard and the BRA will never be the subjects to a hostile corporate takeover, Caldwell's phrase “I didn’t promise nothin’!” has a familiar ring to it.

So many people in the neighborhood are asking the BRA and Harvard to make this contract more explicit as part of the Cooperation Agreement for the Harvard Science Complex. Many of us have posted these comments on the Allston/Brighton North Neighbors Forum. Professor Summers, if he is still keeping tabs on the Allston situation, would probably understand our concerns.

Intimate Shopping - New York Times

"The concept of “implicit contracts” was developed in a landmark 1988 paper by the economists Andrei Shleifer and Lawrence Summers. Their subject — hostile corporate takeovers — seems far from cyberprivacy, but it is not. Shleifer and Summers showed that increases in share price following takeovers were not due to gains in efficiency, as the defenders of those buyouts claimed. There often were such gains, but they were not the source of the profits. The profits came from reneging on implicit contracts — like the tradition of overpaying older workers who had been overworked when young on the understanding that things would even out later. These contracts, because implicit, were hard to defend in court. But the assets they protected were real. To profit from them, buyout artists had only to put someone in place who could, with a straight face and a clean conscience, say, “I didn’t promise nothin’!”"

The Shleifer/Summers paper, "Breach of Trust in Hostile Takeovers" is summarized as follows:

Hiring and entrenching trustworthy managers enables shareholders to commit to upholding implicit contracts with stakeholders. Hostile takeovers are an innovation allowing shareholders to renege on such contracts ex post, against managers' will. On this view, shareholder gains are redistributions from stakeholders, and can in the long run result in deterioration of trust necessary for the functioning of the corporation.

Massachusetts's need for more regional planning

The Globe makes a case for stronger regional planning in Massachusetts, citing the 135-acre mixed-use Westwood Station project and objections by neighboring Canton and its plans to block the project in court. Allston/Brighton's neighbors in Brookline, Watertown, Newton, and Cambridge will be significantly affected by Harvard and Boston College expansions.

Cambridge submitted comments to the State opposing the Harvard Science Complex Phase One Waiver, citing in particular "the area's transportation network, which is already at or near capacity." And Cambridge will have a representative on the State's Citizen Advisory Committee to review Harvard's expansion.

Time will tell if our other abutting communities will sit back and let Boston manage the projects or seek to get involved themselves.

Tension at the town line - The Boston Globe

"But a consistent region-wide approach requires the intervention of state government, with the force of law. The Legislature needs to get involved. It might consider reviving the Office of Commonwealth Development, an innovation of the Romney administration, and give it the power to assess the regional impact of developments and trim them down or order mitigation if they overburden the local infrastructure. Or it could vest these powers in the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, which now is limited to project-by-project evaluations."

Letters to the Globe about BC's expansion

A BC student complains that the Globe shouldn't stereotype them as loud drunks. Eva Webster suggests that BC shouldn't build dormitories that will degrade the public's enjoyment of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.

Closer looks at BC's expansion plans - The Boston Globe

Collegiate revenue sharing - $$$ from Harvard to State U?

Gold in the Ivory Tower - New York Times

Herbert A. Allen knows more than a little about extreme wealth. CEO of the investment firm Allen & Co. and a director at Coca-Cola, he is listed by Forbes as the 133rd richest American with a net worth of $2 billion and guests at his annual retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho include Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

Today in the New York Times, Mr. Allen remarks that "there’s a particularly corrosive shift that’s taking place, one that has tremendous consequences for the development of America’s best minds: the growing gap between super-wealthy colleges and universities — and the rest of the academic world."

He write that this gap allows the rich schools to "raid poorer colleges and scoop up the best teachers" and "further separate themselves from less fortunate colleges by taking the best high school students and offering them ever richer deals."

His solution - "tax the investment income of the wealthiest colleges", pool this tax revenue, and redistribute it to schools with the lowest endowment per student. "It wouldn’t hurt Harvard to give up $1 billion or so of its gains in order to make the sharing of our intellectual wealth fairer," he claims.

As you might imagine, the comments on this article run the gamut. Regardless of the specific merits of Mr. Allen's premise, it is undeniable that the wealth of Harvard and a small # of other schools is getting more and more public attention. How will these schools react, if at all, out of generosity or desire to protect the status quo?

Berklee rethinks expansion - The Boston Globe

Berklee rethinks expansion - The Boston Globe

In the face of strong neighborhood opposition, Berklee College of Music is shelving plans for a high-rise dormitory and theater complex at the junction of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street and is instead seeking to buy a parcel from a neighboring church to divide its expansion into smaller parts.

"I think they got the message," said Susan Ashbrook, a Back Bay resident and cochairwoman of a community task force that has been reviewing Berklee's preliminary plans over the past year. "It was made very clear to them they would have a fight on their hands if they built anything as big as they were floating."

State Representative Martha Walz, who represents the Back Bay and is a task force member, said the 35-story plan was "unacceptable to the Back Bay and Fenway communities."

Jackie Yessian, chairwoman of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, praised the college for heeding neighborhood concerns and exploring alternatives to the high-rise plan. "They are trying really hard to meet their needs and ours as well," she said.

Columbia Expansion Gets Green Light

Columbia Expansion Gets Green Light - New York Times

The university plans a $7 billion project over the next 25 years that will transform a section of Upper Manhattan now dominated by warehouses and auto body shops into a campus with glass-walled high-rise buildings, tree-lined thoroughfares and student dormitories.

It plans to provide open space for the community and the university and a permanent site for the new, university-assisted public secondary school for math, science and engineering.

The community benefits agreement that was completed Tuesday night calls for Columbia to grant $150 million to residents of the area during the next 12 years.

Of that sum:
$76 million would go into a flexible benefit fund to be overseen by a committee of community and Columbia representatives
$50 million would be dedicated to in-kind services, including $30 million toward a school for kindergarten through eighth grade
$20 million would be set aside for a housing fund
$4 million would go toward legal services to help those displaced by the development.

Globe editorial on Charlesview & Barry's Corner

Town-gown common ground - The Boston Globe

Some thoughts on what the Globe wrote:

"The Boston Redevelopment Authority will review the projects, with plenty of neighborhood input."

- Hopefully that input will be considered as important during the process of reviewing and improving the project. Because what is the point of review if the project emerges from the review essentially unchanged (as we experienced this year with community "review" of Harvard's Science Complex). It would be great for the Mayor say about development in Allston what he said about a project in Readville a few months ago:

"It's serious density... We want to make sure it's a well-planned neighborhood that is put together in concert with the people who live in the neighborhood. Some of them have lived there for 75 years or more."

"Some of the neighbors would prefer to see the low-income housing spread out, rather then concentrated in one place. But would Charlesview residents want to be scattered about the neighborhood? A straight land swap seems simplest."

- Since when does "simplest" equal "best"?

- What I have heard neighbors suggest is that this should be a true "mixed-income" development that follows industry best practices by having 1/3 market rate, 1/3 public housing, and 1/3 subsidized affordable housing. The current proposal is less than 1/3 market rate and it seems most of the market rate units will be across the street in the tower overlooking the river instead of integrated with the rest of the development.

Harvard's Nicolas Retsinas and Kent Colton know more than a little about housing policy, and here is what they wrote in "Our Communities, Our Homes", a new book co-authored with former HUD Secretaries Henry Cisneros and Jack Kemp:
"A series of class-action lawsuits starting in the late 1960's launched a national conversation about the failures of a public housing system that isolated poor, predominately African-American families in communities wracked by intergenerational poverty and lawlessness. The lawsuits were fought and won on the argument that economic and racial segregation is bad for families and, when government sponsored, violates their civil rights.

The desire to reduce the concentration of poverty and new federal policies have led authorities nationwide to create new, mixed-income communities and scatter subsidized housing regionwide."

Retsinas and Colton also dedicate a chapter of their book to the importance of housing vouchers as a "springboard for personal and economic advancement". Voucher are certainly not the simplest solution, but a lot of data and expert opinion indicate that, in the words of Retsinas and Colton:
"Improving opportunities for housing voucher holders is tough but important. Many of the approaches outlined here align with bipartisan goals of helping poor families build assets and leave welfare. Mobility and self-sufficiency services demonstrate how housing assistance can be a hand up, rather than simply a handout."

"Height is not necessarily bad, but the design has to be superb to justify it here. The BRA needs to make sure that whatever is built enhances the neighborhood."

- Absolutely

"Harvard should seek to make the [Barry's Corner] intersection a venue for town-gown mingling."

- Yes, it should. The master plan published in January did not do this. It moved a bunch of athletic facilities into Barry's Corner, proposed no changes to quiet & private Teele Hall, suggested the office/storage art building next door to Teele, and committed to little more than some "possible retail".

"An enlivened, exciting Barry's Corner will be worth the wait."

- The sooner the better. Allston and Brighton residents have already been waiting a decade to see the life return to our community that has departed since Harvard's buying spree began. Harvard already has total control over most of Barry's Corner and doesn't need to wait until Charlesview has moved to get started.

Christmas party & toy drive - Wednesday, December 19, 5:30pm to 9:30pm

This year in Allston and Brighton there will be approximately 413 children and teenagers that will not be receiving a Christmas Gift because the shortage of toys and gifts that are available from organizations like Toys for Tots and The Make a Wish Foundation. As a group, the Ward 22 Democratic Committee, Sen. Tolman, Reps Moran and Honan, and Councilor Ciommo decided to get together and solve this problem.

Tomorrow from 5:30pm to 9:30pm there will be a Christmas Party/Toy Drive at 21 Nickels Grille at 21 Nichols Ave, Watertown (not in Allston/Brighton but Rep. Moran is part owner so the price is right). Gift ideas: board games, stuffed animals, dolls, sports or educational toys, hand-held games, remote controlled cars.

Globe editorial rips BC master plan

Not a good neighbor policy - The Boston Globe

"A $1.6 BILLION bid by Boston College to be ‘the world’s leading Catholic university and theological center’ could add up to a 10-year headache for nearby residents in Brighton. College officials should be willing to adjust their ambitious vision if they hope to win local support and city approval for their plan...But what is good for BC is not necessarily good for its neighbors..."

If BU students can run a charitable foundation, so can we

There has been on going discussion about a community-based foundation in Allston/Brighton that would administer grants to local organizations and support projects in our neighborhood. I wrote back in September about Boston civic groups that raise and manage millions of dollars for similar improvements to their neighborhoods.

Friday's Globe writes about the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and its "effort to nurture a future generation of philanthropists." Fidelity is giving $15,000 each to Boston University and four other schools and will "put the students in the role of real-life philanthropists." The students "will have a chance to form boards of directors, create donor guidelines, research prospective grant recipients, choose which nonprofits should get money and how much they should receive."

The $15,000 fund will be managed by a class of 24 BU management students and overseen by Kristen McCormack, faculty director of the public and nonprofit management program at BU's School of Management.

Fidelity program aims to nurture future philanthropists - The Boston Globe

This is a great opportunity for the BU students and leads directly to the suggestion that if students at BU can manage a charitable fund with help from Fidelity and BU, the residents of Allston and Brighton should be able to do the same thing with assistance from Harvard. Certainly Harvard knows more than enough about philanthropy, law, and governance to provide the technical support help prudently launch such an endeavour.

Harvard Business School - Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, Strategy for Philanthropic Organizations Harvard Global Equity Initiative - Philanthropy Social Enterprise in Action JFK School of Government, Harvard University
Harvard Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations: Philanthropy Classics Access Project The Competitive Advantage of Corporate Philanthropy by Mark Kramer and Harvard Professor Michael Porter, winners of a 2002 McKinsey Award for outstanding work published in the Harvard Business Review that are likely to have a major influence on managers worldwide

Brighton-Allston Heritage Museum new website/blog

The Brighton-Allston Heritage Museum has a new website at with general info about the museum, 2008 calendars, and more.

Harvard ceramics sale ends Sunday

Lots of beautiful and reasonably priced ceramics on sale at the Harvard Ceramics Studio on North Harvard St. More info at Shopping tip of the day - or Ceramics - Office for the Arts at Harvard

Harvard leasing update

This week's BBJ tell us that "after talking with the affected neighborhood all summer, Harvard agreed to to sign 5- to 10-year leases". It would wonderful if it is true that Harvard has "gotten more aggressive about the leasing".

Because reading this article causes a bit of deja vu, remembering the November 2006 Globe editorial that wrote "University officials acknowledge the problem and say they are now prepared to give businesses leases ranging in length from five to 10 years".

And back in September 2006 Harvard presented a leasing policy for Western Avenue corridor and Holton St. properties that included 5+ year leases on Western Ave.

Good for Harvard if the third time is the charm. The Mahoney's on Western Ave would be a great place to start. It is a beautiful, locally owned business that would love to stay here and is cramped in its current location surrounded by vacant Harvard property.

Harvard makes moves to fill empty Allston spaces - Boston Business Journal

Harvard's Faust mischaracterized again

I'd bet we won't be hearing much from her for a while after how things went for her in the news this week.

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Harvard Disputes Faust Quotations in BusinessWeek Article
A Harvard official yesterday accused Business Week of “mischaracterizing” comments by University President Drew G. Faust, which suggested that less wealthy universities should leave costly scientific research to Harvard and its peers.

In the magazine’s Dec. 10 issue, reporter Anthony Bianco wrote that Faust believes “it would be wise” for “lesser universities” to shift their focus away from hard science, given the fierce competition for federal funding.

More on what Faust did or didn't say

Faust Denies Rethinking Allston Plans - Harvard Crimson

Faust said that while there were no factual errors in the Globe’s story, it mischaracterized her approach to Allston as “a dramatic change of direction.”

Faust said that Harvard is now “moving from a phase where we were setting a big framework into a stage where we are refining those aspirations.”

“I think its natural that we consult more broadly with the...Allston community, with deans, and really make sure we have very full planning before we actually break ground on new projects,” said Harvard Provost Steven Hyman.

Boston Globe Correction: Because of a designer's error, a map accompanying a Page One story yesterday on a Harvard University expansion plan did not show properties more recently acquired by Harvard, including the 48-acre CSX rail yards and several smaller properties on Western Avenue.

Statement of Drew Faust, President, Harvard University

I was quite surprised to awake to a front-page headline in Wednesday's (Dec. 12) Boston Globe declaring "Harvard Rethinks Allston." Let me be clear: Harvard is not "rethinking" Allston. I am unequivocally committed to moving aggressively and ambitiously forward, and to making our unfolding plans a reality.

Our Allston properties represent a historic opportunity for both the University and the community. As we look forward, we are advancing from a high-level planning framework to a phase in which we will be making increasingly refined judgments about how to elaborate our ideas and make them real. We plan to start construction very soon on our first science complex, which will house vital new initiatives at the leading edge of discovery. We are stepping up our planning for other parts of our enterprise that we envision will make their future home in Allston, focusing on the same broad mix of uses - professional schools, the arts, science, housing, athletics, and so forth - that we identified several years ago.

We are working continually to ensure that our physical plans are driven by our most thoughtful and creative academic aspirations, not just for Allston but for the University more generally - and that we have a sound financial plan underlying them. We are intently planning for the transportation and other infrastructure improvements essential to having our extended campus thrive. And we continue to consult regularly with key constituencies, both inside and outside the University, as we move from concept toward reality. All these activities are just what one should envision for an undertaking so complex - and so extraordinarily important.

Harvard's extended campus in Allston will be built not in a day, but over decades. Our challenge at each stage will be to make progressive judgments that propel us forward while recognizing that this will be a decades-long process. Allston remains a paramount priority for me and for Harvard, and we are fully committed to making the most of it.

Jerry says goodbye

McDermott, Arroyo, bid Boston City Council farewell - The Boston Globe

"Jerry P. McDermott, a conservative who often found himself on the losing end of debates in the Boston City Council, joked in his farewell speech today that the hardest part of leaving office was giving up his prime parking spot in Government Center.

'We mixed it up pretty good, and I had a lot of fun,' McDermott said. 'We got to be like a big dysfunctional family.'"

Faust disputes Globe story - "There is no way in which we are slowing down"

WBZ NEWSRADIO 1030 - Harvard president disputes report that she's re-thinking Allston expansion

"Allston is an enormous priority for us. It is moving along very well. The story in the Globe this morning seriously misrepresents what we are up to. What I tried to say to the reporter is that we are now in a Phase 2 which is a natural evolution...

We are now involved in very detailed planning for two professional schools that are contemplating moves...

We also are preparing to file our revised master plan with the City, probably in the fall..

There is no way in which we are slowing down. We're just pursuing a thoughtful, deliberative process that has many stages, that this will take many years, and we're in a phase that is the right stage to be in. So for it to be represented as a change of course or a reversal is simply a misrepresentation."

Harvard - Maybe nothing is changing after all?

Harvard: Allston Plans Still On Track (from the WBUR Newsroom)

"Harvard: Allston Plans Still On Track BOSTON - December 12, 2007 - Harvard is denying a report that says the university plans to slow down and re-evaluate plans for an expansion into Allston. A university spokesman says the plans to expand into Allston remain on schedule, and that Faust's comments were misinterpreted. The Allston expansion plan may include moving undergraduate dorms to the neighborhood, as well as an art museum and a major science complex."

Thoughts on the Harvard announcement

Local readers who have seen this map in the Globe probably noticed that, while the title says "Harvard owned property" is it actually a map of Harvard's current campus. Harvard's current campus is, of course, a subset of its entire property holdings which are shown here.
It is also interesting to consider that this is another example of Harvard choosing to have Allston and Brighton learn about Harvard's decisions from The Boston Globe instead of directly from someone at Harvard. Several Harvard staff were at a community meeting just two days ago, and at that time I had already been interviewed by the Globe reporter who knew all about this. Could Linda Wertheimer at the Globe have known about this before Chris Gordon and Kevin McCluskey?
Because if I were going to "consult more widely and deliberately with faculty and community members" a great way to start would be to come and talk with the community about it instead of surprising them through a front page news story.

A major victory for Allston/Brighton! - Faust decides that Harvard will look before it leaps

A $1 billion science complex, which will house a stem cell institute, will stay on track for a ground-breaking early next year. But everything else, including plans for building four undergraduate dorms in the Boston neighborhood, will be reviewed, Faust said in a phone interview Monday.

She said the university will take pains to consult more widely and deliberately with faculty and community members and, if necessary, revise the plan before giving the final version to the city next fall.

"She wants it done the right way. Sometimes, you rush projects," Menino said. "She wants to listen. It's just a wiser way."

"The notion that we could at the same time manage an enormous renovation of the Fogg and give our full attention to building a contemporary art museum in Allston just didn't make a lot of sense," Steven Hyman, provost, said.

"We were really rushing headlong into Allston," said Orlando Patterson, a sociology professor. "There was a strong sense of a lack of consultation. That was the major, major problem with Larry. There was a simulation of consultation, but people got the impression that the decision was already made."

Google StreetView goes live for Allston/Brighton (and the rest of Boston)

Go to and click the "Street View" button in the upper right corner. For example, we can use it to look at the most recent addition to Harvard's campus.

Google's acclaimed, criticized Street View feature debuts in Boston - The Boston Globe

How many straw companies does Harvard have?

Reader t.s. asks "How many straw companies does Harvard have?"

Answer: As many as it needs.

The Secretary of State has an online database that tracks all corporations registered with the state. The search form is at

Here's how Harvard did it with the purchase of the 7-11 property:

  • On November 1, NORTH HARVARD STREET 204-206 LLC was created. The owner of the property, Marion Provost, was installed as the agent and trustee of the trust.
  • On December 3, the corporation was changed to make Harvard Real Estate-Allston, Inc. the manager and sole member of the corporation.
  • Also on December 3, NORTH HARVARD STREET 204-206 LLC was merged with Harvard Real Estate-Allston, Inc. and NORTH HARVARD STREET 204-206 LLC ceased to exist.

A summary of activity from this year shows the other mergers that Harvard Real Estate-Allston, Inc. has made with short-lived corporations.
Mergered with : TKENNEL I LLC on 8/31/2007
Mergered with : WESTERN 271 LLC on 8/31/2007
Mergered with : 445-447 WESTERN AVENUE BOSTON LLC on 8/31/2007
Mergered with : BANIMAL LLC on 8/31/2007
Mergered with : KEYSTONE CORNER LLC on 9/5/2007
Mergered with : WESTERN 271 LLC on 9/5/2007
Mergered with : 445-447 WESTERN AVENUE BOSTON LLC on 9/5/2007
Mergered with : NORTH HARVARD STREET 204-206 LLC on 12/6/2007

The Harvard Crimson reports on last night's Harvard Allston Task Force meeting

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Allston Residents Demand Benefits

“This is a billion dollar project and it ought to come with a large infusion of support into our community,” said Harvard Allston Task Force member Brent Whelan. “Harvard has the resources to do it.”

“We’re saying why wait 10, 20, 30 years to slowly integrate benefits?” he said. “Why not really make the community revitalized quickly?” Task force member Harry Mattison also said that if planning for the school and health center didn’t begin now, he doubted that the projects would get off the ground. “There are things we can start now,” said Mattison, who is also a member of the neighborhood forum. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, these are big and complicated, let’s wait and talk about them later,’ let’s get started. Let’s move forward.”

Harvard gets more generous

Harvard increases aid to middle- and upper-middle class students - International Herald Tribune

"The move announced Monday, to go into effect in the next school year, appears to make Harvard's aid to students with household incomes from $120,000 to $180,000 the most generous of any of the country's prestigious private universities.

The initiative would increase financial aid spending by the university to $120 million annually from $98 million. A little more than half Harvard's students get some form of aid, including many from families earning $120,000 or more.

Under the new financial aid rules, the university said, a family making $120,000 would have to pay about $12,000 for a child to attend Harvard College, compared with more than $19,000 under current policies. A family making $180,000 would pay $18,000, down from $30,000."
Many people have voiced a wide variety of opinions on this at
The press release is available at

“We want all students who might dream of a Harvard education to know that it is a realistic and affordable option,” said Faust. “Education is fundamental to the future of individuals and the nation, and we are determined to do our part to restore its place as an engine of opportunity, rather than a source of financial stress. With no loans, no consideration of home equity, and a dramatic increase in grant aid, we are not tinkering at the margins, we are rebuilding the engine.

“This is a huge investment for Harvard,” Faust continued, “but there is no more important commitment we could make. Excellence and opportunity must go hand in hand.”

Becuase opportunity is so important at Harvard, a great next step would be for Harvard to at least match Boston College, who gives 10 Allston/Brighton students every year four years of free tuition to attend BC. Clark goes even further and can tell EVERY child in its Worcester neighborhood "If you are admitted to Clark, you can attend and pay no tuition." What a powerful and positive message to send!

Another brick in the wall

We learned at tonight's meeting with Harvard that Harvard now owns the 6,643 sq foot lot at the corner of North Harvard and Bertram St where today there is a 7-11 convenience store. The property was assessed by the City for $432,500 but we will never know how much Harvard paid. According to the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds, "NORTH HARVARD STREET 204-206 LLC" purchased the property at 204-206 North Harvard St for $1.

Click here to see what is left for Harvard to buy.

BU Daily Free Press writes about Harvard's expansion & community benefits

Task force looks to aid expansion efforts

Beyond the Book, an exhibit of book art and collage at the Honan Library

This great exhibit, organized by neighbor Ronni Komarow, is on display until until Jan 5. There will be a "last look" reception on Jan. 5th from 11 till 2,which will offer a chance to meet some of the 32 participating artists.

Beyond the Book exhibit is back - Allston/Brighton TAB

4 1/2 hours left to comment on the City's draft Open Space Plan

Your comments can be sent to and the plan is available at:

Here is what I submitted:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft of Boston’s Open Space Plan 2008-2012.

The part of Boston where I and several thousand neighbors live is drastically lacking in green and open space. As your Allston/Brighton neighborhood map shows, north of Brighton Ave there is very little open space. The City needs to aggressively add street trees, pocket parks, and larger areas of open space in this neighborhood wherever possible.

Allston/Brighton has 5 acres of protected open space per 1,000 residents. That is 33% less than the citywide ratio of 7.5 acres per 1,000 residents. North of Brighton Ave, including all of North Allston of North Brighton, there is less than even the 5/1000 ratio that exists in all of Allston/Brighton.

The Open Space plan should recognize this inequity and issue specific recommendations to create new open space to close this gap. Our situation in Allston/Brighton and other parts of Boston in a similar situation would benefit from zoning changes and specific money dedicated to land acquisition for the creation of new public parkland.

If we had sufficient open space in this neighborhood, new housing development that adds 100 residents could include ¾ of an acre of open space to maintain an acceptable ratio. But because of our current deficit, a much higher ratio is needed to accommodate new and existing residents. It might be that 1.5 acres of open space should be created for every new 100 people that development brings to this community. Specific guidelines are needed in the final version of the Open Space Plan.

Non-traditional areas such as traffic medians and other small patches of land should also be greened. The Cambridge Street median in the Windom Street area and various traffic islands and neglected patches have potential to help transform the public realm by using land that otherwise sits idle.

Street trees are mentioned only once in the Allston/Brighton draft plan where it suggests “planting more street trees along Warren and Washington Streets.” We need more street trees all over Allston and Brighton both on major roads like Harvard Ave, Brighton Ave, North Harvard St and on residential side streets.

There have also been several large and healthy trees on private property cut down recently. The City should stop this trend and the paving of front, back, and side yards with asphalt and concrete to either create parking spaces or reduce maintenance. Cumulatively, these actions have a negative effect on the environment and visually degrade the public realm that we experience at street level.

The 2005 North Allston strategic Framework identified a goal of creating "small parks throughout the neighborhood." Unfortunately, no progress has been made toward this goal and several empty lots that could have become these small parks have recently been developed. Some opportunities still remain and the City's Open Space Plan should advocate swift and precise action to identify and obtain these properties so they can be converted into public open space. Specific suggestions can be found in the "North Allston Open Space and Public Realm Greening Plan" presented in September 2006 to the BRA and Harvard Allston Task Force.

The draft plan states "Preserve the parkway landscape character of Soldiers Field Road/Storrow Drive through zoning setbacks and height limitations for properties along their edge." Boston University is building sky-rise dormitories along Storrow Drive and a 10-story building is proposed along Soldiers Field Road as part of the Charlesview relocation. Please include in your final plan specific guidance on height limits that should be set or what process will be used to determine these limits.

The paragraph on page 7 that begins "Work with Harvard University to create more community benefits" should be more specific and results-oriented. It is great to “urge the provision of open space amenities in future developments on Harvard University land” and to "work with Harvard", but what benefits and amenities does the City hope to achieve and what means will the City use to achieve the desired result? It would also be appropriate for the Plan to comment on the open space programming of the Harvard Science Complex project and compare that with open space outcomes that the City would hope to see in future projects.

The City in its Open Space Plan should re-affirm its commitment made in the North Allston Strategic Framework to create significant public open space as an integral part of Harvard's development in Allston. The street layout and configuration of buildings and open space endorsed by the City in the North Allston Strategic Framework is very different than the courtyard configuration of Harvard's Science Complex. The Open Space Plan should assert that open space publicly visible, accessible, and welcoming is preferable to institutional buildings surrounding the open space on all four sides.

The draft plan states "The new master plan for the Charles River Reservation will present future opportunities to improve access to this important facility." What "new master plan" is this? There is a 2002 master plan for the Charles but this plan is not "new" and it seems that little or nothing has been done to implement its recommendations. If the City can encourage and support progress towards meeting the goals of this plan it would be a wonderful improvement to the river.

Boston’s 2002-2006 Open Space Plan identified an opportunity to “develop an Allston greening plan… Improvements to the Massachusetts Turnpike right-of-way, particularly along Lincoln Street, need to be made to reduce noise and screen the highway from view.” The draft 2008-2012 plan makes almost the exact same recommendation, and many of the other “new” recommendations are virtually the same as those in the plan written 5 years ago. What progress has been made on since 2002? The new plan should look back to all recommendations made in the previous plan, discuss to what extent goals were met, and how future actions will ensure that any remaining unmet goals are achieved.

Finally, please improve the outreach when soliciting public comment on future open space plans and other planning projects. Many people only learned of today’s deadline from a story in last week’s Boston Globe. With some creativity and communication the voices of the thousands of park users in Boston could be heard to create a more complete and representative plan.

Harry Mattison

Harvard's bold claim - Allston/Brighton was "kept informed" about Charlesview

Harvard's Allston land swap - The Boston Globe

In this story in today's Globe, Harvard has the nerve to defend how it has interacted with the community as it has negotiated with Charlesview:

"Harvard officials say that neighbors have been kept informed during the process...Kevin McCluskey, Harvard's director of community relations, said the university had kept community members updated "on a fairly regular basis.""
Did Harvard meaningfully inform and update the Allston/Brighton community? Absolutely not.

The typical response from Harvard was "our update is we have no update", "we are still working on it", or the negotiations are "a discussion between two private parties." So yes, they did provide vague "mind your own business" updates that in no way invited the community into discussion what type of development would be welcomed by abutters on Litchfield & Holton Streets and residents the rest of the neighborhood.

Now The Community Builders (who claim to have some aptitude in community involvement such as on the project where "in consultation with local stakeholders, TCB developed a comprehensive 20-year vision for the neighborhood") are on the verge of submitting their proposal to the BRA. Thankfully we can stop having to ask Harvard about this major land transaction and development in our neighborhood. Maybe a more inclusive and collaborative process can result that considers the needs and interests of the whole community. It can't get much worse.

Below are excerpts from Harvard Task Force meetings where Charlesview was mentioned. (These excerpts don't include the last 3 months of Task Force meetings because the BRA has not published minutes for those meetings.).

January 26, 2006
Michael Hanlon inquired whether Harvard is giving itself a deadline to settle the Charlesview negotiations. Kathy answered that Harvard does not have a deadline.

March 1, 2006
Harvard has offered the Charlesview Board of Directors a portion of the University-owned property in the Brighton Mills Shopping Center--currently leased to K-Mart--as a possible site for the relocation of the Charlesview Apartments. As a meeting has been scheduled for Thursday night (March 2nd) with the abutters of the Brighton Mills property to discuss this proposal, Kathy wanted the members of the Task Force to be aware of the offer before it receives any further publicity.

Members of the Task Force raised several questions about the Brighton Mills site offer and the potential relocation of Charlesview: What is the process for Charlesview’s decision-making? What will happen to the remaining commercial portions of Brighton Mills if Charlesview occupies the K-Mart site? What will be the density and height of the new Charlesview buildings? Are special zoning approvals and/or variances needed? Will the Task Force have a role in reviewing the proposed relocation and the new construction? Will Harvard play an active role in the development of the new Charlesview buildings? What if Charlesview accepts Harvard’s site offer, but then is unable to secure the necessary zoning approvals? What are the tax-base implications of replacing a business such as K-Mart with the Charlesview housing? How soon is Charlesview expected to respond to Harvard’s offer?

Kathy stated that it is too early in the process to have definitive answers to many of these questions, but that there would be further opportunity for questions and additional discussion with the Task Force on this topic if and when Charlesview responds positively to Harvard’s offer.

March 13, 2006
Ray asked for an update on the negotiations between Charlesview and Harvard. Kevin McCluskey replied that Harvard has offered a swap of five acres of land at the University-owned Brighton Mills Shopping Center in exchange for the site of the Charlesview Apartments. The Charlesview Board sent the proposal to the Charlesview Development Committee and Kevin assumes that they are working on a response back to Harvard. Kevin said that the Shaw’s building will remain under lease and that the University recognizes that Shaw’s is a valuable service provider for the community. Ray referred to the meeting minutes from the March 1st meeting and asked whether there were any new answers to a lot of the procedural questions that were raised, such as whether the Task Force will have a role in the review and approvals process for the new Charlesview building if the deal is accepted. Gerald Autler responded that this issue is going to come up in a number of ways and it is going to be a balancing act to determine what role the Task Force will play. The Task Force is charged with reviewing Harvard’s Institutional Master Plan and it is important for the Task Force to stay focused.

John Bruno said that Charlesview may want to increase the number of units for the complex and that this would dictate the massing and density. John felt the Task Force should be involved in such a change in consideration of the current neighbors of Brighton Mills.

April 26, 2006
Mike asked if there was anything new to report with regard to the Charlesview negotiations, and Kathy replied that there were no updates to report at this time.

July 26, 2006
Ray Mellone: I think Harvard needs to solve the Charlesview negotiations. Harvard should offer Charlesview empty tenant locations on Soldier’s Field Road toward the river. This is what a lot of residents have asked for and it will improve their quality of life. The Brighton Mills shopping center doesn’t meet that demand.

Kathy Spiegelman: We’re pretty far down the road into the negotiations with Charlesview and Harvard is committed to making it work. There may be opportunities for other housing across Western Avenue.

August 14, 2006
Ray Mellone asked for an update on the Charlesview negotiations. Kevin McCluskey said that Harvard and the Charlesview Board continue to make progress in their discussions and the status of Harvard’s negotiations with Charlesview shouldn’t be characterized as a stalemate.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Audience member: What is the status of the Charlesview negotiations?

Kathy Spiegelman: The Charlesview board and Harvard signed a Letter of Intent in 2006. We’re working hard on a purchase and sales agreement. We hope this will be finalized in the next 30-60 days.

BRA's draft Cooperation Agreement for the Harvard Science Complex

You can download this document at

There's plenty of nice sounding language like "Harvard will work diligently with the BRA" and "Harvard will work cooperatively with the Task Force, the BRA, and residents of the community".

There are also suggestions of things that might happen like, "which, in the future and in conjunction with approvals from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, could include a pedestrian crossing of Soldiers Field Road." Apparently Harvard and the MBTA are still considering "the possible consolidation of some MBTA bus stops" but haven't been able to figure out the details yet even though this has been discussed since at least December 2006 in the Boston Environment Dept. comments on the Science Complex PNF.

We learn that the Science Complex community benefits "include funding an upgrade to Portsmouth Park" which is presumably the upgrade that was just completed this fall.

The BRA did not include the schedule for public realm improvements, but it sounds pretty vague and like they don't want us to expect much to happen in the near future. The timetable is divided into 3 categories:
  1. improvements that are currently underway or will start in the near future
  2. improvements that Harvard will complete on or before the opening of the Science Complex in approximately 2011
  3. improvements that Harvard will begin planning/designing before the opening of the Science Complex, but will complete after the opening of the Science Complex.

Now that we know more about what Harvard and the BRA think are appropriate benefits, stay tuned for the community's ideas as compiled by the ABNNF which will be published shortly.

A Mayor from Brighton?

I'd find that hard to believe too, but The Phoenix lists their top 40 potential opponents for Menino in two years, and Brighton is all over the list:

6) Peter Meade (61) Executive Vice-President, Blue Cross Blue Shield Of Massachusetts, Brighton
11) Steve Tolman (53) State Senator, Brighton
12) Joe Kennedy (55) Chairman, Citizens Energy, Brighton
18) William Galvin (57) Secretary Of State, Brighton
37) Kevin Honan (49) State Representative, Brighton
38) Michael Moran (36) State Representative, Brighton
Hopefully The Phoenix's news room is more up-to-date than their photo archives.
The Phoenix
Menino’s hit list - News - The Phoenix

When the Big Get Bigger

This is a great 10 minute video of a panel discussion from The Municipal Art Society and the Rockefeller Foundation exhibit on "Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York"

Judith Rodin explains 4 reasons why UPenn played a critical role in Philadelphia:

  1. Universities are engines of economic development and have the capacity to stimulate the economy in a way that has the potential to be a "win-win"
  2. Many urban universities have played a role in the destruction of the neighborhoods around them
  3. Universities have great capacity (faculty, students) to be partners with communities and yet universities are often the 4,000 pound gorilla exercising their interests in a way that is not always neighborhood-friendly.
  4. If we are training our students to be the leaders of the future we need to teach them to be great citizens.

Presidents from NYU and Columbia, James Traub from the New York Times ("universities have deeper obligations and we should hold them to a higher standard when it comes to issues like relationships with the surrounding community"), and others talk about the role of universities and their expansion. One questioner strongly challenges Columbia's Lee Bollinger.

YouTube - When the Big Get Bigger: NY's Universities & Their Neighbors

Front page coverage of BC's new plan

Three residents quoted in the Globe story had this to say:
Alex Selvig Mark Ciommo Rosie Hanlon
"What's going to happen is that Allston-Brighton is going to turn into a college campus," said Alex Selvig, who lives beside the archdiocese property on Lake Street. Selvig said the college's filing with Boston officials would galvanize neighborhood opposition."Now that we have a official plan, we can start fighting it officially," he said. Recently elected City Councilor Mark Ciommo, who represents the Allston-Brighton district near Boston College, said in a statement that "our community is being squeezed by institutional expansion" and urged the college to heed community concerns during the review process. Rosie Hanlon, a member of the Boston College task force that has been reviewing the plan, said she and other neighbors are pleased that students will move back on campus, but never expected the campus might move so close to their homes. "We have to be careful what we wish for," she said.

$1.6 billion plan calls for grand expansion at Boston College - The Boston Globe

Harvard Crimson editorial on Charlesview

Everyone hopes that "Harvard listens to the Charlesview tenants as it fulfills its promise of new housing". But as the editorial focuses on two of the stakeholders (Harvard and the Charlesview tenants) it ignores the 3rd key stakeholder - the other residents of Allston and Brighton who would live alongside this project, how it would change the neighborhood where we live, and the precedents it would set for future development.

The Harvard Crimson :: Opinion :: A Good Deal

Measuring building heights with Microsoft Virtual Earth

With all the big buildings being planned for our "little" neighborhood, one question that keeps coming up is how we can better understand the impact of the proposed buildings. To learn more about the buildings that already exist, a great tool is the Virtual Earth website at Click on "Install 3D" on the left side of the screen.

One of the neat features of this website is the green marker that follows your cursor and reports the height of the larger buildings. In the 3D Aerial mode, the height of the location under your cursor is shown in the lower right corner (AGL = Above Ground Level).
The tallest buildings in North Allston are the DoubleTree hotel (195'), One Western Ave (186'), and Genzyme (110').