Monday deadline for Harvard 125 Western Ave comments

Monday is the deadline to send your comments to Gerald.Autler.bra@cityofboston.gov regarding Harvard's proposed Innovation Lab at 125 Western Ave. Harvard's most immediate neighbors in Allston and Brighton could be more deeply involved in this project, and Harvard could do more to reduce the project's environmental impact. Reminding the BRA and Harvard that we still care about what Harvard is doing and here always worthwhile and I hope you will consider sending at least a brief note to Gerald.

Here are a few issues to consider:

Community Access to Consulting Services

Harvard students and faculty will clearly have great opportunities to meet, collaborate, learn, and support each other in the pursuit of starting new businesses. This is great for them and for our society at-large. At the same time other business schools are doing a lot more to encourage business revitalization in their neighboring communities. The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development at Rutgers Business School is one such example.

The organizations that might partner with the Innovation Lab, such as SCORE and CAP, have a lot to offer, but these groups work with organizations all over Eastern Massachusetts. Considering the special history and present state of Harvard's relationship with Allston/Brighton, maybe it is appropriate for Harvard's Innovation Lab to have some special interest in its most immediate neighbors.

Some specific ways this might happen could be for:

  1. Non-profit and for-profit businesses in Allston/Brighton to have some level of guaranteed access to the consulting services affiliated with the Innovation Lab
  2. The Innovation Lab could have specific, measurable, results-oriented goals relating to businesses and potential business owners in Allston/Brighton. The goals should be jointly developed by Harvard, the BRA, and the Allston/Brighton community.
  3. The Innovation Lab could report annually on its progress towards these goals and its impact on the Allston/Brighton community
  4. The Innovation Lab Advisory Board could include Allston/Brighton representatives such as one member from the Allston Board of Trade, one from Allston Village Main Streets, and one at-large community member.

Harvard's Promise to Transform Western Ave Should Be Kept

For years Harvard has promised that as it purchased more property on Western Ave and expanded its campus, the residents of Allston and Brighton would enjoy the "transformation of Western Avenue into a more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood Main Street with streetscape and related improvements."

Harvard and the BRA agreed that Barry's Corner and Brighton Mills would be enhanced by a combined 400,000 square feet of retail. But other than the Stone Hearth Pizza that might someday open in Barry's Corner, what other retail businesses have been added in the past few years?

There will be a small coffee shop in the Innovation Lab, but the tiny space is approximately 1% of the building. Harvard could have made a bold statement by reserving the entire first floor or some significant portion of it, to uses consistent with the Western Ave Main Street such as the daycare center, book store, or fitness center that were planned for the Science Complex across the street. It is pretty clear that Harvard has no interest in anything like that, but maybe they could find a little bit more space for Main Street?

Another possibility would be to do something beautiful and engaging outside the building. 125 Western Ave and its adjacent parking lots have 500 feet of frontage along Western Ave which make it a great place for decorative seating, fencing, sculpture, water fountains, and shelter for people waiting for the MBTA bus. An Allston artist like Ross Miller or John Tagiuri from Somerville would do something great with this space and a reasonable budget. MIT has a Percent for Art program that designates as much as $250,000 for public art at every major MIT renovation or building project. Could Harvard do something comparable?

Sustainability and the Environment

Transportation and Parking

When Harvard proposed the Science Complex, there was tremendous emphasis on Harvard's care for the environment and how everything possible would be done to encourage people not to drive their cars. "Think shuttle buses. And bicycles. And pedestrians." Harvard encouraged.

The Science Complex was to have 350 on-site parking spaces for 1,000 occupants in 500,000 square feet of building space - one on-site parking space for every 1,400 square feet of building space. Harvard explained the importance of limiting auto use and parking spaces as follows:

While the proposed parking supply is nominally less than the projected parking demand, the constrained employee parking supply is expected to discourage driving to work at the Science Complex.

A key element of the Project is to ensure that a minimum number of new automobile trips are generated by the proposed development. Reduction in automobile trip making to the Science Complex has a number of benefits including:

♦ Minimized neighborhood and regional traffic impacts;
♦ Minimized air pollutants and other automobile-related environmental impacts;
♦ Improved street life supporting walking and bicycling;
♦ Increased support for public transit and shuttle services;
♦ Reduced energy consumption;
♦ Reduced need for costly investment in structured parking facilities; and
♦ Improved integration of the Science Complex into the surrounding community.

125 Western Ave is 78,000 sq feet and Harvard proposes to have parking lots on either side of the building with a combined 155 spaces. That's one parking space for every 500 square feet of building space.

Considering that almost everyone from Harvard using the Innovation Lab will be able to get there by walking or on the Harvard shuttle bus, it is hard to imagine why all this parking is needed or desirable. Instead of strengthening its commitment to the environment, Harvard seems to be walking (or driving) away from it.

LEED Certification

For the Science Complex, Harvard was aiming for LEED Gold Certitifcation. For 125 Western Ave, the applicable standard is LEED For Commercial Interiors. This system rates projects from a lowest ranking of Certified (40-49 points) up to Gold (60-79 points) and Platinum (80+ points). Harvard makes no mention of these highest levels of sustainable design, stating only that "HBS will evaluate the latest concepts in sustainable design for this type of project with the objective of achieving a LEED Certification for this building."

Other environmental issues like stormwater management which had great detail in the Science Complex design aren't mentioned for the Innovation Lab.

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