More on Harvard's Allston slowdown

Harvard slowing Allston expansion, Faust announces - The Boston Globe

Harvard slows Allston expansion - BostonHerald.com

Harvard Slows, Possibly To Halt, Project Plans In Allston (WBUR)

Faust: University Will Slow Pace of Construction in Allston Harvard Magazine

19 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:37 AM

    I hope this unfortunate news causes us all to reconsider the standards to which we have held Harvard projects in the recent past.

    If we had not objected to Harvard's supposed "art warehouse" on Western Ave., we would now have a new Harvard building instead of the Verizon warehouse we're stuck with. (I know which I'd prefer).

    If we had been a little more understanding of the economic realities that inspired Harvard to design Brighton Mills as they did, we might have a commercial project underway.

    I think it's time we all decide not to allow the perfect -- or our own idea of the perfect -- to become a roadblock to the good.

    I'm not saying we should roll over, but rather that we should deal with Harvard realistically. It's time to encourage them, not attack them. It's time to hope they spend their money to build their projects rather than demand that they build our fantasies.

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  2. wellbasically2:36 PM

    I don't get it.
    Are you saying some of their construction dollars would trickle down?

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  3. As Harvard's plans change, it's important not to give ourselves too much credit or blame. Harvard's decisions have always been made for purely internal reasons, and will continue to be. Most notably, the Science Complex was developed on Harvard's precise timetable, with minimal changes in response to community comment.

    It is true that Harvard might have begun its art storage facility on the Verizon site if the community hadn't raised its voice--and we'd have two holes, not one. More to the point, we'd have a hastily designed ill-suited project going up in Barry's Corner, instead of waiting for a better, more holistic plan that works for Harvard and for us. Wishing we had gotten something, anything built on that site before the crisis intervened is not the best way to think about our future neighborhood.

    More constructive would be to use the delay to focus our efforts on getting the City to agree with us on a really excellent community-wide plan. Then when Harvard is ready to start again--and when that will be is totally beyond our control--we and they will know better what we are aiming for. The prize is still a lively and liveable neighborhood--it will be our loss if we settle for less.

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  4. Anonymous7:59 PM

    Hi Wellbasically:

    I'm not suggesting that construction dollars would trickle down, but rather that the neighborhood would be better off with an active building in it. People working in the art building would look for places to have lunch, shop, etc. That's good for local businesses and for all of us. Think how much Van's could have benefited from having another staffed building nearby.

    As we look at Harvard's plans in the future, I think we should think of the economic benefits of having people working and living in the neighborhood rather than expect that Harvard will pay for our elaborate plans. Ask any development economist -- the most organic development always emerges from work rather than handouts.

    Brent, I don't think that if the art building had been approved we'd have another hole -- I'm pretty sure the art building would have been done by now, or at least so far along that it would be worth completing.

    And sure, we can use the downturn to go back to our drawing boards and laptops and come up with more fantastic plans and demands. But we always risk making Allston development more trouble than Harvard thinks it's worth.

    Harvard is a decentralized place, and if individual units (such as the Fogg Museum) decide it less trouble to expand in Cambridge than argue square footage with our community activists, then they'll develop in Cambridge. I suspect something like that is going on now with the School of Public Health. Why put up with our laundry list of complaints if you can work out a deal with the Longfellow neighborhood?

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  5. Anonymous7:59 PM

    Oops - I meant Longwood neighborhood, course.

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  6. wellbasically9:31 PM

    OK I thought that might be what you meant.... I've been around these city-type plans, where the artists and academics move in and buy good coffee... basically we can all do better, Harvard and us.

    What you're saying is that Allston can be a service center and edge district for Harvard. Maybe at one time the people in Allston would accept that, they were poor and uneducated.

    But the truth is that there are a lot of people in Allston now who are not lower class than people at Harvard. They know about art, music, architecture, science and the rest.

    If Harvard really wanted to help the world, it could start by helping Allston. Not like some World Bank project, run by Harvard Economics graduates, who chopper in and leave a water treatment plant or a piano for the church hall. But really understand a place, make it nice enough for the graduates to settle there, and start their incubator businesses or whatever, hire all the unemployed programmers and graphics artists around here.

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  7. >> rather than expect that Harvard will pay for our elaborate plans

    >> we can use the downturn to go back to our drawing boards and laptops and come up with more fantastic plans and demands. But we always risk making Allston development more trouble than Harvard thinks it's worth.

    Hi,

    Would you explain what you have in mind with these comments? I don't recall many "demands" that made Harvard's construction in Allston more expensive or difficult.

    And I completely agree about the benefits of having people looking for places to eat lunch, shop, etc. But the unfortunate reality is that Harvard's campus doesn't seem to have that type of public orientation. How many people who work at the Athletic complex, the IT building on Everett St, at Teele Hall or HBS are walking around on Western Ave during lunch hour?

    There will only be places to eat or shop if Harvard builds them because Harvard has purchased so much of the neighborhood. To date Harvard hasn't proposed much of anything of the sort.

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  8. It's not too surprising that the obstructionism of some Allston residents delayed the building plans so long that now Harvard is forced to put them on hold with the economy gone sour. Also not surprisingly now those same people are complaining about having to look at empty buildings for the next few years. Anonymous Commenter 1 is spot on.

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  9. Rob,

    Could you please explain what obstructionism you think delayed the construction of this project?

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  10. wellbasically1:52 PM

    Longwood is a bad example for the pro-Harvard side. Longwood is a traffic-choked misery before 5, and ghost town after that. The local neighborhood of poor black people is still a wreck after the minimal goodies they got from Harvard. Basically if Allston is going to look like Longwood, Harvard will come in, and eliminate all the parking which kills off the ground level business, and put a mile of granite walls along the streets.

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  11. wellbasically1:56 PM

    "How many people who work at the Athletic complex, the IT building on Everett St, at Teele Hall or HBS are walking around on Western Ave during lunch hour?"

    Excellent point Harry. They've made a suburban industrial park in the middle of a city.

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  12. Anonymous7:50 PM

    I'm with Anon #1's original comments. A minority of Allston residents have used Harvard's expansion as their cause célèbre. They get to go to meetings and feel like they legitimately belong in debates and discussion with people more prestigiously credentialed and intelligent than they are. They get their name in the paper and their ego stroked by having b-league journalists asking them for a quote. I'm sure in some way it all makes them feel like little Che Guevara's, but their power trip is hurting us all.

    Personally, I'm sick and tired of reading about green space, places for people of all economic backgrounds to dance around with unicorns under the rainbow together, and my all time favorite....Barry's Corner!

    Who is Barry, and why does he deserve to have his arbitrary intersection become sacred ground that must be worshiped?

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  13. Anonymous7:56 PM

    Harry, I agree that Harvard should free up some of the land it owns for commercial real estate. I also agree that the few Harvard buildings now haven't done much to support business. What we really need is more attractive residential real estate up along the river. Then there'd be residents on either side of Western Ave. -- people in the neighborhood and people in new condos.

    In fact, I remember that they were very eager to open commercial space in the Brighton Mills project; they also wanted a 10-story tower along the river to attract new residents and solid foot traffic for businesses in the area. The Harvard folks I've talked to say they have a hard time attracting businesses because there isn't yet a concentration of potential customers up along the river.

    So: I thought the Telford Street apartment building was a reasonable attempt to anchor a new community across Western Ave. from the neighborhood and give businesses more reason to move in.

    Unfortunately, the tower was savaged at neighborhood meetings. So were plans for a new Charlesview. We got to see all sorts of drawings about how much nicer it would be if there single-family houses sprang from the earth.

    I agree that would be nicer. Heck, it would be nicer if there were squash courts and free art classes -- maybe an opera house too. But were the demands for single-family homes realistic? Would people buy those houses right next to a huge community housing complex? Was a 10-story condo tower really so horrible that we were willing to sacrifice the businesses a new population center would help attract?

    This is what I mean by demands that made Harvard's plans more expensive and difficult. These demands, along with objections to the art building, gave us two great Pyrrhic victories. I'm ready for some genuine wins based on compromise.

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  14. >> I'm ready for some genuine wins based on compromise.

    So am I.

    When Harvard, Charlesview, and anyone else is willing to sit down, discuss the future of the community, and find mutually beneficial outcomes, I think they will find a very willing and reasonable community. But unfortunately the developers seem to favor a "take it or leave it" approach after desiging their projects behind closed doors and ignoring important community issues.

    Regarding Charlesview, questions about homeownership, family-sized units, and income-integration aren't trivial issues. They are the types of things that define a community. Charleview was proposing a convenience store as part of its retail plan. Not a great idea next door to the Star Market. The Telford St building had no ground-floor retail at all.

    When people raised concerns with the Charlesview proposal, Charlesview and The Community Builders refused to meet and discuss these concerns. We never said we didn't want Charlesview to relocate, we said that we thought the project could be better. And their response was to close the door. So I don't know why you call these issues "demands" and suggest that we were being unreasonable or unfair. The same thing with the art building. I think if people from Harvard wanted to sit down and talk about the project we could have found a variation that would have been great for everyone. But Harvard decided to pull the project instead.

    We all understand that projects must be economically feasible and meet many other criteria. Let's talk about these constraints, everyone's goals, and get some genuine wins. That has always been what I and everyone I work with in this neighborhood hopes to do.

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  15. wellbasically7:03 PM

    "feel like they legitimately belong in debates and discussion with people more prestigiously credentialed and intelligent than they are."

    Wow

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  16. Anonymous10:02 AM

    What, does my statement offend you? At my FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY (and every other one I'm aware of) it is an official, written policy rule that we are not permitted to be on discussion panels with people significantly beneath us in hierarchy.

    Thus, as bureau chief, I cannot be involved in a public panel with say, a mid-level attorney from another bureau.

    There are good reasons for that, beyond the public disrespect the policy is created to avoid.

    Lower levels generally cannot understand, articulate and debate issues with higher levels. They think they can, but that's because they're unaware of their cognitive limitations.

    I've seen the Harvard credentialed folks, and it's embarrassing watching them deal with the plebeians. They simply shouldn't have to. The plebs should have their ideas aggregated submitted to someone at the same stature as those from Harvard and that's the end of it. Then, one intelligent person can sort through their nonsense and quickly negotiate a settlement with Harvard. Not these endless community meetings that go no where as the plebs get excited for their one moment of recognition.

    Oh, and after agency review by the transition team, the above policy was highly affirmed by BARAK OBAMA. So, don't think because he's friendly with people on the campaign trail that he actually cares what plebes thing. He only deals and associates with people at his level day to day, and plebes and low levels work through the chain of command and know their place.

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  17. If you want to change the system so that one person represents the community in negotiations with Harvard, I don't think it is going to happen any time soon, but it is a valid suggestion.

    People might be more receptive to your suggestion if you made it without insulting your neighbors at the same time.

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  18. wellbasically11:25 AM

    Maybe there's a higher level blog just for me and Anonymous.

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