Harvard Square in Allston?

There is some provocative thinking about the future of Barry's Corner happening here - Harvard Square in Allston? - archBOSTON.org. The post by ablarc to start the conversation is one of the best on-line posts about local urban planning that I have read in a long time.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Harry--Happy Thanksgiving!
    I want to agree that this site and discussion are really interesting, but I want to disagree with substantial portions of what ablarc says in the original post. Leaving aside the old debate about whether Harvard Sq is going to the dogs or just renewing itself, I strongly disagree with 'secret' #1, that it's the 'passionate embrace' of town and gown that makes it great. Just looking at his map, it's clear that Harvard U is really 5 tight little enclaves. Each is technically open--you can walk through all 5, even Radcliffe Yard--but where's the 'embrace'? The library is exclusive, the buildings are code-protected, the university community is largely self-involved--many undergrads seldom leave the campus. The retail-and-transit hub he describes exists alongside Harvard, but there is very little active co-mingling. One of my neighbors on Hopedale St had lived here for 60 years before she discovered to her surprise that Harvard is a residential college. Hard to know what goes on inside those locked river houses. Yes, some of Harvard's cultural institutions are an amenity, but otherwise I'd say that Harvard Sq and Coolidge Corner are on a par as lively urban centers for reasons that have everything to do with transit, retail, and density, and nothing to do with the presence/absence of a university.
    As for secret # 2, yes the T station is key to Harvard Sq, but what gave ablarc the idea that we have such a thing in North Allston (or could ever hope to)?

    So where does that leave us? All the blather about how Harvard Sq evolved organically over centuries isn't much help either: 100 years ago North Allston was still a salt marsh, and in 20 years or so (maybe) it will be a fully built-out extension of the Harvard campus. The best use of ablarc's and others' observations about Harvard Sq is to see how we might simulate them in the planning process, a very different proposition from the evolution he and others seem so attached to: artificially create retail and street life, plunk down some cultural magnets, make maximum use of the ground-level campus buildings (as Holyoke Center and NO OTHER building in the entire Harvard campus does), and incidentally, respect the scale and social history of what IS here. Once we dispel the illusion of 'historically' sensitive, organic planning endorsed by almost everyone on the site (one has the odd feeling that not one of them has ever set foot in Allston though they know exactly how to develop it), we can import major elements that have grown up in Cambridge over time by a completely different process. But not if we listen to these planners and their airy theories. And not if Harvard still holds its institutional interests so far above the urbanist ones. That's where the real battleground is. These guys with their idealized notions about what a great neighbor Harvard is, what a 'passionate' partner it is has been to Harvard Sq (baloney!), have missed the main point. But yes, ablarc's appreciation for Harvard Sq's many urban virtues does offer some guidance, even if he and others are strategically clueless about the larger controversy.
    So--thanks for making this available. I'll be resuming the argument in person in just a few days now.