Private development on university property

As the BRA prepares to work with the community and Harvard to figure out a productive future of the Brighton Mills shopping center and Holton St Corridor, it makes sense to look at precedents for how this development might be done. We've heard excuses about Harvard's tight finances ("we can't dip into our endowment", they tell us) and that Harvard is a university, not a real-estate developer.

One project we can learn from is the Radian, 179 units of housing above 44,694 square feet of retail. The University of Pennsylvania owns the property, but they did not develop the building or put up the $70 million that it cost to build. In fact, UPenn makes money from the project through a 65 year ground lease to Island American Communities Group. The university retains long-term possession of the land, makes a profit by leasing the land to a private developer, and the hybrid building benefits the university and community.

Leaving aside the Radian's height, which isn't going to be duplicated in the Holton St Corridor, there is a lot that can be learned about how projects like this can get done by a willing university.
Here is the Google map showing the site of the Radian while it was under construction.

Mayoral candidates raking in the $$$

Campaign fund-raisers feel tight economic squeeze, too - The Boston Globe

"In the first half of this month, the mayor's campaign stepped up its fund-raising, taking in $106,385, with about half coming from real estate development and construction interests, regulated businesses such as restaurants, or city employees, a Globe analysis shows. Flaherty said his campaign deposited $51,000 in the first three weeks of March."

You can find the finance reports for all candidates for citywide office at the State's Office of Campaign & Political Finance website. I've added a link above to Menino's report for March 1-15, but the other candidates reports for this period are not yet online. One thing that is interesting is how little money any of the candidates are getting from people in 01234 and 02135.

Keeping our Promises

It has been interesting watching how the four candidates for Mayor have dealt with the issue of university expansion in Allston and Brighton.

Mayor Menino wrote this strong letter to Harvard President Faust but has since backed off from the specific dates and requirements that the letter required.

Sam Yoon and Kevin McCrea have each attended a Task Force meeting. Sam also denounced the BRA's process on RadioBoston and joined A/B district councilor Mark Ciommo in calling for a hearing on the BRA's review of the Boston College Master Plan.

But it may be Michael Flaherty who has taken the most visible and strident position of any of the four. His letter to the A/B TAB called for Harvard to stop purchasing property in Allston. And over the weekend his campaign went door-to-door distributing the first flyer (shown here) that I have seen for the upcoming election. You can also read the text of the flyer on the Flaherty website.

Whichever of the candidates you support, if you want a revitalized North Allston and North Brighton with fewer vacant buildings and a better quality of life, it can only be good to see our situation becoming a campaign issue what will be the most vigorous campaign that Boston has seen in a long time.

Farewell to City Weekly

Today is the last edition of the Globe's City Weekly section, another casualty of the paper's declining financial status. I am sorry to see it go, as it has provided great coverage of events and issues here in Allston and Brighton and has been a venue for learning more about what is happening elsewhere in Boston and its closest suburbs.

Editor's farewell note - The Boston Globe

To a less selfish future

Robert Campbell, the Globe's architecture critic, considers what Boston may become in the next decade or two, with what I would say is an accurate description of the current situation and a worthy goal for what might become.

Into the future - The Boston Globe
in the city of the future, the universities will assume a more responsible role in the life of the place. Today they're selfish and isolated. I can't imagine, just for one example, why Harvard, even before the current slump in its endowment, wasn't eager to collaborate with Boston and Cambridge to help fund the Urban Ring, which could connect Harvard to its satellites in Allston and Longwood. In the future the universities won't be so separated off onto campuses. They'll begin marbling in with the rest of us. Town-gown distinctions will blur.

Call the cops?

At Wednesday's Harvard meeting there were 2 Harvard police officers standing quietly in the back of the room during the meeting. Anyone know why?

This Is Harvard

This Is Harvard, a new blog about Harvard's impact on our neighborhood, writes about finding an open door to Harvard's empty KMart building while walking down Litchfield Street. A bunch of comments about this are sprouting over at Universal Hub.

TAB reports on last night's meeting

Harvard says most of its ‘leasable’ Allston land is already leased - Allston/Brighton TAB

BU paper reports on last night's Harvard meeting

The Daily Free Press - Allstonians call for plan from Harvard

Globe story on Allston Village business closings

In Allston, 'Closed' is the sign of the times - The Boston Globe
"the offerings have become a little less diverse recently with the closing of Reef Cafe, Eats & Treats Creperie, Rangoli Indian Restaurant, and Burritos on Fire on Brighton Avenue. Kachi, a Korean video store, and Economy Hardware on Harvard Avenue are also gone."

Pioneer or Oppressor?

The Globe takes a look at our quest for viable, quality-of-life enhancing uses for Harvard's vacant property in our neighborhood. Regretfully, the Harvard affiliates continue to show the "can't do" attitude that is an anathema to progress.

In Allston, Brighton, future uncertain for Harvard-owned parcels - The Boston Globe
"Pioneers get shot down by arrows," said Paul Conforti, co-owner of Finale and Harvard Business School MBA ’97.
If Paul isn't comfortable being a pioneer in this situation, that is certainly his right. His primary commitment probably is, and should be, to be to his employees and investors. He didn't help develop the North Allston Strategic Framework, Harvard did.

And because Harvard is our majority commercial landowner and pledged to create an "expansion of community-serving retail and other services, concentrated to form a walkable, traditional Main Street in the heart of North Allston," it is Harvard's obligation to be the pioneer or find reasonable ways to help other pioneer while protecting them from the arrows of financial risk, such as basing rent on a percentage of revenue or using Harvard's massive purchasing power to offset the unknown demand that would otherwise exist.

The "pioneer" analogy is an interesting one. Last year I compared Harvard's Allston expansion to the Louisiana Purchase, and moving into Allston will obviously require Harvard to make some investments. So Harvard's Lauren Marshall is absolutely right that Harvard's 450,000 sq ft building on Lincoln St requires "a lot of investment. It's currently not in condition to lease."

But that building wasn't in a condition to lease 2+ years ago when Harvard bought it at a 90% discount from the $120 million that it cost to build it. So either Harvard will make the investment that it has always known would be needed so the building can be leased, or it is holding back our neighborhood by holding onto an unusable property with a lot of potential that it has no intention to use in the foreseeable future.

Brighton student wins Boston spelling bee

Brighton student wins a spot in national spelling bee in May - The Boston Globe

Robber Hits Up Allston Bank

People Federal Savings Bank on N. Harvard Street was robbed on Saturday afternoon

Robber Hits Up Allston Bank -

A/B Little League registration is open

Join an Allston/Brighton tradition for children aged 5-16. New participants can find mail-in and on-line registrations at and there is a $10 discount for signing up on-line by Friday April 3rd.

Harvard GSD Dean talks about Allston, the future, and being radical

Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, mentions Allston in an interview with Abitare magazine.

The development of Harvard campus in Allston is an incredible opportunity because it raises the question “What is the university of the future?” How is the formation of this new place also part of rethinking the concept of the university because we are not simply adding space, we are also using that to rethink how we relate to each other institutionally. That is a very interesting phenomenon.
This is an interesting question, and I'm not sure I ever heard it asked or answered by the Harvard planners and architects during all the meetings about the Science Complex.

We could also rethink how the institution relates to its neighbors, but the we heard more during those meetings about re-creating the Harvard Yard and the tradition of institutional buildings surrounding an institutional courtyard, than any new or interesting.

The whole scenario is very exciting. All of the things that you have said would not have been on the agenda only two or three years ago for the known reasons. Have you been involved in the Allston expansion as an advisor?

I am involved as a dean, with the other deans, but we ourselves have also been involved quite directly at a number of levels with the designers, giving them feedback about their design. One of the interesting possibilities for Allston is whether there could not be some things that are long-term master planning issues and some things that are shorter-term interventions, that are part of a more temporary, more experimental approach. Sometimes with those temporary things, you can afford to do more radical interventions.
Experimental? Radical? I wonder what he has in mind.

RadioBoston Harvard/BC audio now online

The 50 minute show can be heard at

There is also a transcript of David Boeri's interviews at

Mayor and BRA Director - "Harvard is not land banking"

On the WBUR program RadioBoston, the Mayor and Director of the BRA just were asked flat-out if Harvard is landbanking. They said no. Their Chief Planner thought otherwise a couple months ago when interviewed by ArchitectureBoston

Kairos Shen: It’s true that most institutions are landowners far beyond the boundaries of their actual campus. There’s a great deal of land banking going on. When you think about how much land Harvard owns, and that approximately only a third of it is part of its new campus, the biggest question that the community has is, what is Harvard, whose core mission is not real estate development, going to do with it? What kind of leases will it give, and how will it accommodate the existing patterns of land use?

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.

Stimulus education funds skip Boston

Some poor school systems in Mass. denied stimulus funding - The Boston Globe

Wellesley is receiving $1.2 million, Belmont $1.4 million, and Hingham $955,000. Boston gets nothing.

Happy St Patrick's Day

Readers' urban limericks 2009 -

A sale of two cities

Harvard started in Cambridge, not Boston
Then purchased huge portions of Allston
Allstonians were told
There'd be buildings and gold
But the Crimson, it seems, double-crossed 'em.

— by AndWat

Mayor Menino coming to North Allston

I don't know if the Mayor will come to the Harvard meeting on the 25th, but he will be in North Allston on Thursday morning at 11:00 at the Geekhouse Bikes headquarters (15 W Sorrento St.), just a few yards from the Science Complex construction site.

Speaking of the Science Complex, I heard this morning that some construction workers have already been fired as construction begins to slow.

Allston Looks for ‘Creative Solutions’

Today's Crimson has this story about Saturday's walking tour of North Allston and North Brighton organized by the Allston Brighton North Neighbors Forum, the Harvard student organization Sustainable Allston, and the Boston Chapter of the Planners Network to think about how Harvard could have a positive role in Allston and Brighton as a landlord and promoter of sustainable transportation.

Nonantum Road improvements

Nonantum Road improvements in Watertown and Brighton planned to start later this year are described in the Watertown TAB. Major changes include:
  • Reduce the number of lanes on Nonantum from four ten-foot lanes to two eleven-foot lanes (one lane in each direction)
  • A four-foot flush median running down the center of the road.
  • Three-foot shoulders added to each side of the road to allow for safe vehicle stops and a safe place for bicycle commuters to ride
  • Reconstruction of the shared use path - widening the space, installing a new guardrail along the entire length of the curbed side, installing a wood-rail fence along the embankment side, and replacing current lighting with more energy efficient and attractive historic lighting

Letter: Harvard should keep Allston from becoming a ghost town

The TAB publishes this letter by an Allston neighbor

A.D. Handy purchased - A/B property for sale?

SmartSource Computer & Audio Visual Rentals Acquires A.D. Handy Company

"The former A.D. Handy staff members, who currently serve in the company's headquarters in Allston, MA and Brighton, MA warehouse, will be integrated into SmartSource's current Boston-metro area office in Waltham by year's end."

A.D. Handy's current locations are 86 Franklin St and 84 Lincoln St

Two Allston stores closing

Marty's Liquors and Economy Hardware will both be gone this month. I hope those stores aren't empty for long, but in this economy, who knows?

Western Ave crash

A car that went up on the sidewalk across from Brighton Mills did some significant damage recently, first amputating the street tree along the curb and then a second tree in front of a Harvard parking lot.

I don't know if this will appear in any official statistic accident statistic, but it is scary as a pedestrian to think of cars so out of control in the neighborhood.

FDA warning on Genzyme Allston factory

FDA issues warning on Genzyme facility -

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to Genzyme Corp. after FDA inspectors found “significant deviations” at the biotech giant’s Allston manufacturing plant.

“The deficiencies described in this letter are indicative of your quality control unit’s failure to fulfill its responsibility to assure the identity, strength, quality and purity of your drug products and drug substances,” John R. Marzilli, the FDA’s district director for New England, wrote to Genzyme president Henri Termeer in the Feb. 27 letter.

At the Allston plant at 500 Soldiers Field Road, Genzyme did not establish or follow written sterility procedures, while making the drugs Fabrazyme, Cerezyme and Myozyme, the FDA found.

Globe editorial - Advisory needn't mean opaque

A Globe editorial calls for more openness and transparency from the BRA Task Forces that advise on university expansion. On that subject, it has been more than a year since meeting minutes were published for a Harvard Task Force meeting.

Adaptive Rowing Challenge @ Community Rowing

WBUR's Only A Game went to Community Rowing in Brighton for this week's show to report on the first Boston Adaptive Indoor Rowing Challenge held last month.

Crimson looks at Harvard vacant property

The Crimson gets the numbers behind Harvard's claim that 85% of its leasable property is leased. Harvard considers 892,317 square feet leasable and 790,000 not leasable. This means that only 45% of Harvard's Allston Brighton property is leased.

It's too bad that the Harvard professors interviewed - an urban designer and a real estate expert - offer no creative ideas and show no enthusiasm for taking even a small step toward the "main street" promised by the North Allston Strategic Framework. Their message shows a "can't do" attitude and tells us to wait 50 years for Harvard to bring some life to the neighborhood that it has mothballed for the last decade.

Globe questions conflicts in BC approval

Officials' ties to BC cloud expansion debate - The Boston Globe

Crimson joins Menino's call for fiscal transparency

The Harvard Crimson :: Opinion :: Some Explaining to Do
"Harvard cannot expect the community members of Allston, the city of Boston, nor our own university stomach such cuts without clarifying exactly why exactly the tens of billions of dollars that still remain are not sufficient to cover—at least what should be—the spending priorities of the school."

Bloomberg - H's endowment & bond sale

Yet another look at how Harvard has been (mis)managing its money, this one from Bloomberg

Harvard’s interest costs are set to increase as much as $550 million over three decades because the U.S.’s wealthiest and oldest university took advice from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley.

Earlier, those same Wall Street banks sold Harvard -- then led by Lawrence Summers, now an Obama administration adviser -- derivatives that soured. When that worsened a cash squeeze, they recommended that the AAA rated school pay as much as 1.41 percentage points more than yields on identically rated corporate debt for a $1.5 billion Dec. 5 bond sale.

Were Harvard "mouths writing checks their brains couldn’t cash”?

Harvard, Private Equity and the Education Bubble - DealBook Blog -
"In the short term, unless it boosts its liquid returns, Harvard is going to have to raise a lot in donations or eat up its liquid assets to fund university obligations and its private equity commitments. This results in a spiraling decline in Harvard’s liquid assets as each year they go lower to meet these needs and more and more assets become tied up in private equity."

Harvard's Allston fund - "all but wiped out"

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Allston Fund Stretched Thin by Crisis
"The strategic infrastructure fund, an annual 0.5 percent levy on Harvard’s endowment created in 2002 to support capital projects in Allston, may fall short even of future expenses demanded by existing plans

Planned spending from the SIF had assumed a long-term average growth rate of 8.25 percent on the endowment

Last year, the SIF contributed $168 million toward projects such as land purchases, construction, and community benefits."

Biology prof displaced by Allston slowdown leaving Harvard

Add to the list of people unhappy about Harvard's slowdown in Allston the molecular and cellular biology professors being moved out of their long-time laboratory space in Cambridge. The Crimson reports that Tom Maniatis, one of the founders of modern molecular cloning, plans to leave Harvard to chair Columbia’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. Other professors are also concerned about the disruption of a relocation and "the administration’s failure to consult them regarding the logistics of the move."

Harvard's Allston Problem (Allston's Harvard Problem)

The Globe runs 3 letters today about Harvard and Allston.

Two of these letters were written recently

And for a reason that I fail to understand, the Globe dug into its archives and reprints this letter from June 21, 1997.

Gee, 12 years ago I thought it was pretty great that Harvard has bought so much land in Allston, too.

City: Faust must bargain

The Herald's Jay Fitzgerald summarizes the recent Harvard/Allston developments:

In response to neighborhood anger at the slowing pace of Harvard University’s expansion in Allston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino is putting pressure on the university to get its construction act together.

Menino, whose administration initially downplayed Harvard’s decision to delay construction of its new $1 billion science complex in Allston, has fired off a letter to Harvard President Drew Faust, demanding meetings with the city and explanations about Harvard’s numerous vacant buildings in Allston.

The mayor’s office initially expressed understanding of Harvard’s plight.

But neighorhood residents, fed up with abandoned buildings in the area across the Charles River from Harvard’s main campus in Cambridge, haven’t been happy with Harvard’s development plans.


Margaret Soltan, an English professor at George Washington University, compares Harvard to Tom and Daisy Buchanan and recalls this cartoon by Jeff Danzinger from when times were more flush.