I would have thought that by 7 on a Friday the rush hour traffic would have subsided, but the reality was quite the opposite. Cambridge St heading towards Union Square was backed up to Windom Street, and people trying to get off the Pike were sitting on the off-ramp for as far as I could see.
The time that all these people waste sitting in traffic, the money wasted burning all that gasoline, and the environmental damage done by all those idling engines certainly adds up with hundreds of people stuck in this traffic day after day after day.
This certainly qualifies as a big surprise after the clear public support that this project had from City Hall when it was first proposed. In 2004, a Boston Globe story noted that "City officials are anxious to bring a Lowe's into the city" so it could have been with some regret that they decided that 40 Guest St wasn't the right place for 200,000 sq ft of home-improvement retail.
A previous story about this project is posted at ArchBoston.org where many of the readers agreed that this would have been a bad location for a Lowe's.
From Banker & Tradesman: "The big-box store's fate may have been sealed at a public hearing on Monday night when the company's traffic survey revealed that the two-level store would add 3,306 vehicle trips on weekdays and 5,068 on Saturdays, as well as 55 semi-trailers to the neighborhood.
"When we saw the traffic study, it became clear to everyone that this project would create an undue hardship for the neighborhood, especially on weekends," said John F. Palmieri, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). "We want to continue to work with Lowe's to find an appropriate location in the city, but the Brighton site is not viable for that use.""
(Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, was born at St. E's and lived at 100 Brainerd Rd for his first 2 years)
One inconsistency that came to light when looking at these properties is that the City's assessing database reports that the owners of 21 Weitz St have a residential exemption to reduce their real estate taxes. But the deed from their sale of the adjacent property lists them as living 30 miles away in Bellingham.
In June of 2007 the owners of this lot sold it to a Watertown real estate broker for $600,000.
The City of Boston assessed these three lots for a total of $107,100. At the residential tax rate of $10.97 per $1,000, means the owner paid $1,175 in real estate taxes. So one very obvious lesson here is that the City of Boston under-assessed this land by a factor of 6! The $5,000 a year of real estate taxes the City was losing is, by itself, just a drop in the bucket of the City's $2.3 billion budget, but I can't help but wonder if this is a systematic problem with many similar parcels around our neighborhood and across Boston being under-assessed and the City forfeiting some real money.
Now what seems to be two two-family houses are being built on this 10,835 square foot (1/4 acre) lot. Maybe this is the best use of the property. But at this point we will never know what else might have happened there that could have done more to contribute to the future of the neighborhood.
Building more housing is fine, and experts seems to agree that there is much more demand than supply in the region. But is this type of multi-unit construction with a minimal yard and no room for off-street parking what our neighborhood needs more of? Certainly this seems better than the new dormitory-style row houses on Adamson and Raymond Streets, but it also doesn't strike me as housing designed to attract new families to settle here.
One possibility would have been to create a small public park on this site. 1/4 acre certainly is big enough for some nice plantings, paths, benches, a small community garden, or something else green, quiet, and beautiful. Acquiring land to create new public open space is happening locally and around the country and is at least worth thinking about in Allston & Brighton as new development continues at a dizzying rate.
Or the property could have had a retail use compatible with the nearby homes on Franklin and Weitz Streets. Nothing loud or disruptive, but a small row of shops could have fit in with the future redevelopment of Barry's Corner. The layout of the bank next door, with its large parking lot and generally uninspired design, could be improved. If this set of contiguous properties had been considered collectively maybe something better could have resulted.
But there is no plan for our neighborhood and no vision for how development of different properties over time might be fit together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
None of this is meant to condemn the people involved in this specific transaction and development. What they are doing is perfectly reasonable - looking out for their individual best interests in the existing paradigm. But what is best for any one individual may not be what is best for the community and the idea of a "commonwealth" is that consideration is given to the greater good of many in balance with the narrow good of the few. In my opinion, the current planning vacuum in our community is one way that the common good is placed at risk while a development "gold rush" continues to be very profitable for some.
- Soho at 386 Market Street wants to extend their closing time from 1 to 2 a.m. and change their name and/or ownership from Soho to Brighton Beer Garden (gee, sounds like a change in clientele not really consistent with how many of us like to think about our neighborhood)
- Deep Ellum at 477 Cambridge Street wants to add an outdoor seasonal dining/deck from April through November with seating for 38 patrons between the hours of 11:00 A.M. – 11:00 P.M
- Little Pizza King at 389 Washington Street has applied for a license to operate from 11:00 A.M.-1:00 A.M.
- Punjab Palace at 109 Brighton Ave has applied to transfer a beer & wine license
Go to http://www.cityofboston.gov/ons/pdfs/allstonbright.pdf for more information
"Massachusetts faces a special challenge in maintaining a sufficient supply of suitably qualified labor. This is exacerbated by the high cost of living in the state’s life science cluster zones, and by historically low levels of investment in public education, particularly at post-secondary levels...Massachusetts employers consistently identify a shortage of mid-level talent as an obstacle to growth."Workforce development and job training came up frequently during discussion of Harvard's new Life Science campus in Allston and last year's review of Harvard's $1B Science Complex. But Harvard showed little interest this topic and a draft of the Cooperation Agreement contains nothing particularly new or comprehensive enough to make a serious difference in helping a people develop skills to become laboratory technicians qualified to work in a Harvard lab.
"We have tech positions we can’t fill. You can do a global search for lead scientists, but you need lab tech talent in-state. - Hospital CEO"
Harvard and our local Gardner elementary school are well positioned to be a leader in the initiative suggested to improve pre-K to grade 12 Life Science outreach. Could Harvard do something in Allston that would match or exceed the Bio-Bus outreach program at Georgia State University or the similar travelling classroom run by Connecticut United for Research Excellence?
Another great suggestion is a summertime "bio camp" for elementary and high school students that would "use undergraduate life science majors as teaching staff...and idle lab and classroom facilities at local colleges and universities." Georgia, New York, Puerto Rico, and Utah already offer summer programs with a focus on the life sciences.
While it is disappointing that Harvard and the City haven't been more enthusiastic in these areas, this report and more focus on the subject may yet be able to lead to new programs with positive benefits for Harvard, Allston, the City of Boston, and the State.
Press Release - Full report (4 MB file) - Boston Globe story
"Harvard’s Construction Mitigation Office offered Annis a $3,500 payment if he would agree to a series of legal releases preventing him from making any further claims against the university or saying anything disparaging about it in the press, according to a letter sent to Annis from university lawyers.
Annis said the offer would scarcely cover the cost of repairing his home, let alone make up for the money he lost during the 10 months he couldn’t rent out his first-floor apartment. Moreover, Annis said there’s no way for him to know if there is any hidden damage to his home’s foundation as a result of the construction.
“I asked them for $90,000 for the release,” Annis said"
A chapter of its plan is dedicated to the relationship between the campus and community. It notes that "a remarkable 36 percent of residents walk to work compared to 3 percent statewide. The availability of retail, services, and even a railroad link to the Northeast Corridor within walking distance of residential neighborhoods makes Princeton a unique community...The University also subsidizes the local movie theater and the historical society, and recently took the initiative to make sure Princeton would continue to have an excellent independent bookstore right on Nassau Street."
The local 2-screen movie theater, the Princeton Garden Theater, was purchased and renovated by Princeton University and reopened in 2001. At the time, the Mayor of Princeton said "The residents and the students need a facility within walking and biking distance from their homes, so they are not trapped in a situation where they have to drive several miles to get to a theater. The theater at that location also makes an important contribution to the after-hours liveliness of the town."
The idea of a movie theater in Allston (along the lines of the Coolidge Corner movie theater) frequently comes up in community discussions and a movie theater in Allston has been suggested as a place to show movies in the Harvard Film Archive.
An interesting sidebar in the plan describes how, in the late 60's, Princeton "roundly rejected" the notion that "that the campus was for insiders, and outsiders should remain outside." The symbolic opening of a gate between the campus and community is used to tell a story about a relationship based on openness between Princeton (the university) and Princeton (the town).
Its hard to tell how much of this is real based solely on reading several newspaper articles, but at least Princeton is talking about balancing the needs of the community and university and integrating with its neigbors.
"One of the five guiding principles articulated by President Tilghman at the outset of the planning effort, “sustain strong community relations,” signals the University’s recognition that it does not—and does not wish to— live in an enclave behind ivy-covered walls, but rather that it is and aims to be a positive and respectful citizen of the communities in which it resides."
Princeton Campus Plan Princeton University - University publishes full campus plan - The Daily Princetonian
Hub urges BC not to build dorms on former property of diocese - The Boston Globe
Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday that BC should limit new dormitories to the traditional campus. "I say to them, why can't they build the new dorms on the campus they already have?" he said. "We want to see more housing on the present campus."
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said neighbors' complaints about the location of student housing, in light of longstanding demands to house more students on campus, amounted to "a question of NIMBYism. Everyone wants to see college students live on campus, unless they happen to live close to campus."
Harvard’s Director of Community Relations for Boston Kevin A. McCluskey ’76 said that the work of developing the new Charlesview should be left to Community Builders, Inc.Its a shame this is Harvard's position. They really do have a lot of housing and design expertise they could bring to this project. For example, Nicolas Retsinas from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University was the co-chair of the City's Blue Ribbon Panel on Housing Finance. Among other things, this panel noted that:
“We worked very cooperatively with the board to craft this agreement and to maintain Charlesview as an important housing resource for the community,” he said. “But at this stage, it is now a project that is to be proposed by the Charlesview board and developers.”
"While government has a key role in encouraging residential development, the City must also send a call for action to its traditional community partners including businesses, institutions, non-profits, and even residential organizations. The City can serve as facilitator, leveraging its powers to engage the private sector to support public priorities. Private partners could contribute in various ways, whether through financial assistance, provision of land, or provision of services...The City should engage with local educational, medical, and religious institutions to identify new opportunities for public/private cooperation for residential development."I agree with Paul's comment and think it is worth continued efforts to have Harvard bring the positive role that it can to this project.
“I still think that Harvard could play more of a role in the development, especially since they were the ones who caused this to happen,” said President of the Allston Civic Association Paul Berkeley. “They have an obligation to make sure that the community is happy.”
Here are some ranges of homeownership rates in nearby communities:
60-70%: Milton, Brookline, Newton, Concord, Framingham, Arlington, Natick
40-50%: Malden, Waltham, Watertown, Medford
This report by the BRA shows the data from all Boston neighborhoods based on the 2000 Census
60-70%: West Roxbury, Hyde Park
40-50%: Charlestown, South Dorchester, Roslindale
30-40%: JP, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Mattapan, South Boston
20-30%: Roxbury, South End, East Boston, North Dorchester
Allston/Brighton, at 21% homeownership, has the city's 2nd lowest rate of homeownership.
Harvard researchers have found that
So when considering the proposal for a new Charlesview housing development and any new housing in Allston/Brighton, we need to seize every opportunity to increase opportunities for homeownership. Sure, there are people who can and should rent instead of own, and Allston/Brighton is already doing plenty to provide rental housing to the 50,000 renters who live here.
Strong and consistent evidence indicates that homeowners are more likely to:
a) be satisfied with their homes and neighborhoods;
b) participate in voluntary and political activities; and
c) stay in their homes longer, contributing to neighborhood stability.
Who benefits from adding even more rental units in A/B? It doesn't benefit the Allston/Brighton community for Charlesview to propose the creation of 69 new rental units in addition to maintaining the 213 rental units it already has. In addition to creating no new rental units, the existing tenants at Charlesview could be given the option to own homes in the new development (at prices that would make such a purchase possible) and enjoy the financial and social benefits of homeownership.
Here's a link to the data on the Redfin site - Redfin Corporate Blog
"This morning around 6:15am, officers from District D-14 (Allston and Brighton) received a radio call for a breaking and entering in progress at 90 Western Ave.
On arrival, officers met and spoke to two employees of Romar Transportation who had a suspect detained. The witnesses reported coming to work and finding the suspect hiding in the warehouse. The suspect initially told the witnesses that he would leave and that he was simply looking for work unloading trucks."
ACA Agenda for Wednesday, February 20 - 6:00P.M. – 8:00P.M.
Honan Allston Library, 300 North Harvard St.
Presentation: Councilors Ross and Ciommo will discuss a proposal to limit the number of college students living in low-density residential housing units.
Community Builders: A presentation of development plans for the relocation of Charlsview Apartments. This will be a presentation only. Questions will be deferred to the public meeting dedicated to this project scheduled in March.
Sheesha Lounge, 417 Cambridge St. Proposal for smoking lounge.
141 Brighton Ave. 24 Reedsdale St. Chester St. Return visit on proposed residential development proposal for 141 Brighton Ave. (Reedsdale and Chester involve ancillary parking for the development)
Bravo Pizza, 160 Brighton Ave. Request for extension of hours to 3:00A.M.
Domino’s Pizza, 450 Cambridge St. Request for extension of hours to 3:00A.M.
The Crimson suggests that someone in Allston wants to prevent Harvard's construction experts from doing what is needed for a safe and efficient job. This could not be further from the truth. Let the experts do what they need to do to build the buildings and, at the same time, act as if the construction was being done in their backyard. These two goals need not be mutually exclusive. The source of the problem was not "a few extra hours" of work. The problem (like the night football issue from last year) is Harvard saying one thing to assure the community, doing the opposite, and giving the impression that they knew all along that what they said would not be what they would do.
Must Harvard's construction be the "logistical nightmare" that the Crimson suggests? Harvard has repeatedly told us otherwise, and Harvard should be able to afford to hire people with enough intelligence and experience to run this project quite smoothly.
His concerns include the "gridlock" and "adverse environmental impact" likely to be caused by BC's expansion and suggests several alternatives that would reduce or eliminate an increase in traffic while at the same time allowing for BC's growth.
This route through North Allston clearly favors the eastern side of the neighborhood and Harvard's future campus. A route slightly to the west (North Harvard St to Franklin St to a commuter rail stop near the Sports Depot - drawn in red) or further to the west (Everett St to Cambridge St) would more equally serve North Allston and North Brighton and put the commuter rail station within walking distance of a larger population that now has no good mass transit access to downtown. It seems rather redundant to put a commuter rail stop so close to the existing Packards Corner stop on the B branch of the Green Line.
Complete presentation (7MB file). Slides most specifically referring to Allston
Plans for bike lanes on Comm Ave between Kenmore Square and the BU Bridge have already been mentioned on this blog, but here is a short update from the Herald. I am amazed by the many passionately anger-filled comments that readers have left in response to this seemingly innocuous story!
It was nice to have Boston Transportation Commissioner Tom Tinlin and Harvard's Ken Johnson apologize for the construction that went until 10:00 at night without any community notification or approval. Hopefully the good that comes from this is a more harmonious construction project going forward.
A related note from last night's Task Force meeting is that Harvard and the City are still working on the Cooperation Agreement. The final building permits cannot be issued until this contract is complete, and we were told at the November 26 Task Force meeting that the Cooperation Agreement would probably be signed by the end of December. It was suggested that any attempt to continue discussions about community benefits was inappropriate, because that would delay the Cooperation Agreement, and that would delay the permits, and that would delay construction. Seven weeks later, the reality of the situation seems quite different. While the Cooperation Agreement still is not complete there is still more than enough construction work to do - so much in fact that Turner Construction wants to work evenings and weekends.
This story about the Charlesview relocation starts with "The struggling Brighton Mills shopping plaza will find new life..."
The use of the adjective "struggling" is an incomplete way to describe the situation at Brighton Mills. Harvard, the owner of Brighton Mills, has contributed to the departures of the OfficeMax, Frugal Fannies, and KMart that once made Brighton Mills a decent local place to purchase a wide variety of useful products. Bringing new life to this core location in our neighborhood is a good thing, but the Herald could have given a more complete description of Brighton Mills has the problems that it has.
The story also notes that "The new [Charlesview] project will also include significant parkland, with 3.6 acres of parks, courtyards and children’s play areas." The new Charlesview proposal has been described in past news stories as being built on a 7 acre site. If their architects have found way to use more than 1/2 of the site for parks, courtyards and children’s play areas, that seems like a pretty impressive feat.
16-22 Reedsdale Street - Create off street parking for 3 vehicles
More info at http://www.cityofboston.gov/ons/pdfs/allstonbright.pdf
Chris Gabrieli (Harvard '81, chairman of Mass 2020, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, and former Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate) suggests that Harvard should do much more to commercialize its research, spawn start-up companies, and ignite the local economy. He writes:
"Harvard has a huge opportunity on the horizon. The university is gearing up for a transformative set of developments on the Boston bank of the Charles in Allston that will leave Harvard as much or more of a Boston institution than a Cambridge one. This new campus should be built with an eye towards fomenting a Kendall Square-like boom around it of hot new companies solving medical, environmental, and other challenges by turning great ideas into great products and companies."
This bus's destination: town-gown heaven - Imagine a cordial town-gown relationship, where the university sees neighborhood needs aligned with its own interests. Imagine neighbors inviting college employees to consider buying local property, investing in affordable housing, and coming to local barbecues. Imagine college students and local high school students knowing one another by name, sharing classrooms and recreation facilities, or just chatting together on street corners.
BC building plan hits snag - The Massachusetts Historical Commission is calling for an "intensive archeological survey" on former Archdiocese of Boston property included in Boston College's new Master Plan. THe MHC is also urging BC not to demolish three houses on Foster Street. The Chair of the MHC is Secretary of State William Galvin, who has lived on Lake Street across from the archdiocese property in Brighton for more than 20 years.
Unfortunately, the next page brings the grim reminder of how unable we are to properly fund our own mass transit system.
"We're broke" said Dan Grabauskas, MBTA general manager, commenting on the T's projected $75 million budget deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.
There really is no sane way that Harvard's expansion can bring more than 15,000 people every day to North Allston without a big improvement beyond adding more MBTA buses and Harvard shuttles. Just think about having 3,000 more cars during morning rush hour trying to get off the Mass Pike in Allston!
I stopped for 5 minutes at the intersection of Soldiers Field Rd and Everett St and counted 24 cars using the outbound lanes of Soldiers Field Rd. Five minutes is not a particularly long interval, but it seemed long enough to get an approximate average of the traffic volume. Traffic heading west stops at the traffic light at the Elliot Bridge, and 5 minutes was enough time to observe several lulls caused by the red light cycle and several groups of cars driving together after the light turned green.
I don't know how the summer traffic compares with February, but the approximately 300 cars per hour / 5 cars per minute seemed like it would have a pretty minimal impact on other roads if diverted because of a Soldiers Field Road closure. Some of those cars would use Memorial Drive, some would take the Mass Pike, some would use Mass Ave, etc. Of course more data is needed, but at first glance it seems like alternate routes would take a very small hit if this proposal was given a try.
- adding college-level courses
- "credit recovery" programs to reduce the number of high school dropouts
- expanding arts and music programs
- a new school for immigrant students who are not fluent in English
- expanded preschool
- more K-8 schools
- a new office to raise funds for the school system
- an Accountability Office to oversee improvement in failing schools
The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Harvard Nears Deal With Allston
“In all fairness to [Harvard], we’ve made enormous progress in communication and commitments recently,” said State Representative Michael J. Moran. “But we have a ways to go, and it’s my opinion that they could always do more.”
In early January, Moran, State Senator Steven A. Tolman, State Representative Kevin G. Honan, and Boston City Councillor Mark S. Ciommo authored a letter to the Boston Redevelopment Authority—the city agency that oversees development projects—that outlines revisions to the current agreement.
Some of the proposed changes are full employment of Allston workers in construction projects, the creation of a Harvard-funded community school, and the expansion of tutoring services to include writing and the arts.
“We’ve made huge strides with Harvard in making them understand that they have certain commitments to the residents who will live with the impact their construction is going to have,” Moran said. “We will continue to make sure that these residents are compensated for those impacts.”
This story from Clark's alumni magazine is a few years old, but its description matches what we saw on our visit to University Park Campus School, the grade 7-12 school that is the result of "an innovative collaboration between Clark and the Worcester Public Schools."
"The Clark involvement has made this school what it is. The kids here see Clark as part of this school," says Principal Rodrigues, who credits the University with helping UPCS students understand the importance of a college education. "These students don't just think college, they've been living college since seventh grade. They're like little Clarkies.One of the many things that impressed me is that Clark is proud to have its alumni directly donate money to the University Park Campus School to support its operation. One could imagine that this money might otherwise be given to the university and a more inwardly-focused university would view this as a diversion of resources. But Jack Foley explained that Clark considers UPCS to be part of Clark, and its success is Clark's success. So Clark is happy to have its alumni supporting its joint venture with the community and Worcester Public Schools.
Clark undergraduates staff the after-school homework center and provide tutoring. Graduate students complete their teaching practica there. Faculty members teach special seminars at UPCS, and alumni participate in a mentoring program for UPCS students. Many UPCS teachers Rodrigues notes, are Clark graduates, who invite their former professors to the school.
In addition, UPCS students regularly visit the Clark campus. They attend special seminars at Clark, eat meals in the dining hall and use the athletic facilities. Some have even taken courses at Clark for college credit.
Fortunately there is a much better solution. The City will pick up and properly dispose of TVs and monitors for no charge. Just call (617) 635-7574 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A few weeks ago when someone left a TV on the sidewalk near my house I sent an email to this address and was amazed to get a response in less than 5 minutes. A dedicated truck travels the city and a pick-up was scheduled for our regular trash pick-up day that week.
The convergence of sports and voting actually has a much more exciting potential. Athletes often do community service by visiting hospitals, schools, and other community organizations. How many more people would vote if sports stars visited our polling places? Sure, there would be some logistic challenges to solve, but think how many more people would decide to vote if, after they put their ballot in the voting machine, instead of just confirming their name and address with the police officer, they could have their photo taken with a Celtic, Bruin, Patriot, or Red Sox player or get their autograph? Kevin Garnett, or even Glen "Big Baby" Davis, would be a huge draw and parents would bring their kids who would also benefit from a bit of civic awareness.
I don't know if this has ever been done, but if athletes can take a day of their time to ride around in Duck Boats, maybe someone could convince the players and their team owners that spending a couple hours at the polls would be a great way for their teams to be good citizens and encourage the same from their fans.
For example, Harvard has 4,536 parking spaces in Cambridge. Harvard's Allston Master Plan proposes creating 7,345 spaces in Allston.
On page 31 Harvard describes its efforts "to maintain full occuapancy in its Harvard Square retail properties" and that "when vacancies occur [Harvard] strives to bring in unique, independently owned businesses that serve the needs of the surrounding community". Hopefully some day Harvard's Allston/Brighton properties will get the same treatment.
This quote by President Faust has interesting implications for Harvard's new Allston campus, though the bridges may be internal ones between different parts of Harvard, not between Harvard and its surrounding communities:
"From engineering to theater, from interdisciplinary science to art to law, an in innumerable fields around in between, we have opportunities not just to advance our efforts in discrete fields, but to work to become a university known more for bridges and less for walls."
Easing Science Complex anxiety in Allston with $24m pact - The Boston Globe
Students show they're more than just party animals - The Boston Globe
"Together with BRA Director John F. Palmieri and Mayor Menino, Mr. Shen will formulate a comprehensive long-term vision to guide the city’s economic and physical transformation into a thriving and sustainable 21st-century city. Further, he will set an ambitious agenda that will build upon his current work at the BRA and result in a proactive and strategic framework for coordinating the city’s physical planning and economic development policies and actions"