Today is Earth Day, which makes it an appropriate time to consider the sustainability of North Allston, North Brighton, and Harvard's Allston campus.
EarthDay.gov tells us that "Earth Day is a time to celebrate gains we have made and create new visions to accelerate environmental progress. Earth Day is a time to unite around new actions."
What gains have we made? Is progress accelerating? Around what new actions can we unite?
Harvard is incredibly enthusiastic about being green, green, green. High-profile green events at Harvard include the upcoming commencement speech by "U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Nobel laureate in physics and a leader in the pursuit of alternative and renewable sources of energy". Earlier this month Harvard hosted local and international speakers at its Ecological Urbanism conference, and last year 15,000 people heard Al Gore '69 speak as part of a "multi-day celebration of the University's commitment to sustainability."
So it is disappointing that North Allston and North Brighton, whose public realm is so dominated by Harvard's presence, isn't making much progress toward becoming a greener and more sustainable community. While Harvard's 50-year plan is rife with suggestions of how green Allston will be in 2050, we haven't seen the 5, 3, or 1 year plans that show how that vision take steps towards becomes reality.
There are a variety of reasonable projects that could and should move forward sooner rather than later and don't need to be held up by planning and negotiation over what may or may not happen decades from now. Repaving North Harvard St (which Harvard generously calls a "less suitable" bike route), adding ramps to the Weeks Footbridge, and improving the bike routes from Allston to Longwood come to mind. While none of these pieces of our infrastructure are owned by Harvard, it would be reassuring to know if Harvard was putting its considerable clout behind improvements like these. Ancedotally it doesn't seem like many more commuters are walking, biking, or taking public transportation to Harvard's existing Allston campus.
Hopefully on Earth Day 2010 the progress report will very different, with meaningful projects completed in 2009 and more "shovel-ready" projects for 2010 & 2011 coming from the Community Wide Plan and elsewhere. North Allston and North Brighton have the potential to be green in so many ways and a lot of opportunity for improvement.