The NASFP's promises from Havard and City Hall

Recently, people who haven't been following the Harvard-Allston story for the past several years have asked me to explain the history of this relationship. I think the place to start is with the commitments that Harvard and the City made to the residents of North Allston and North Brighton in the North Allston Strategic Framework for Planning. As the BRA describes on its website:

The planning process grew out of an agreement with Harvard University to engage the community in a planning effort to address the future of North Allston as it relates to land use, housing, economic development, transportation, and open space. The goal of the plan was to articulate a consensus-based, attainable vision for the North Allston neighborhood, including Harvard-owned properties.

Mayor Menino, in his letter than introduces the Framework, wrote:

The result is a set of ideas and goals that will shape North Allston’s future as
a strong residential neighborhood, a vibrant area of economic activity, and an exciting hub of intellectual teaching and research...

The principles set out in this Plan will provide a framework for the development of an Institutional Master Plan by Harvard University for the first stage of its North Allston campus. Harvard University has committed to work closely with the North Allston community and the City of Boston throughout the Master Planning process so that the goals of this plan are reflected throughout.

In the four years since the Framework was published, little progress has been made toward making the goals of the Framework become reality. For example, the Framework says,

The four-block stretch of Western Avenue linking Brighton Mills and Barry’s Corner will become North Allston’s retail Main Street, creating a new focal point for the neighborhood.

This hasn't happened in any way, and it seems further from happening now than it did four years ago as some business have left and Harvard has signed leases with Back Street companies in the heart of Barry's Corner. Obviously the promised transformation can't happen overnight, and nobody expects that it will, but in 4+ years we could have made more progress. Now that we are where we are, are Harvard and the City ready to start making it a reality?

A simpler project is described for Everett Street, one of the main north-south roads in our community.

The Framework identifies opportunities for two prominent community promenades to the river. The first, located between the two traditional neighborhoods, would be along a tree-lined Everett Street. It would provide new pedestrian-scale street lighting, and would connect, via a new park that replaces the salt pile north of Western Avenue, to an existing pedestrian bridge to the river.

A study of how to create a green corridor from Everett Street to the river will be an important part of the early efforts to begin meeting community and City goals for open space.
The intersection of Western Ave and Everett Street still has a big pile of salt at the Public Works yard, and Everett Street doesn't have sidewalks along most of its length - just a raised section of asphalt that slopes down into the street. Again, this is a project that will take more than a few months to plan and construct, but it isn't really that complicated or expensive to renovate a 1/2 mile of roadway. Adding a crosswalk and curb cuts at the Everett St / Soldiers Field Road intersection could be an easy place to start.

When Harvard and the BRA have asked, the community has agreed to depart from the next steps prescribed by the Framework. In 2006 Harvard told us that

For Harvard to maintain its leadership in the life sciences and compete effectively to attract preeminent research scientists and programs, it is critical that a state-of-the-art science complex be developed as soon as possible.

Initially, members of the community expressed reservations about this fast-tracked review of the Science Complex:

Ray Mellone (Task Force Chairman) disagreed with the idea of Harvard filing an amendment to its current IMP to include the science and culture programs because he thought that if Harvard is going to initiate these development projects then they need to be in the context of a long term plan. He also thought that the last time Harvard amended its IMP that it was agreed that there would be no further amendments and that rather Harvard would have to file a new IMP.

But later that month, Harvard began the process of amending their 1997 Master Plan and we went along trusting Harvard's assertion that it would be a constructive and "long-term, permanent resident" of our community. And for the last 3 years the almost exclusive focus has been on ensuring that Harvard would be able to build the Science Complex that it wanted to build.

It seems obvious that Harvard isn't going to be starting any new construction here anytime soon. So maybe now the pendulum of attention and investment might start to swing back at least to the center and some of the Framework's promises will take some steps towards completion.

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