Allston placemaking could pay off for Harvard

With all of the speculation about how the global economic crisis might affect Harvard's expansion in Allston, it is worth considering some observations made by the Project for Pubic Spaces. PPS is a consulting firm hired by Harvard to identify placemaking opportunities at Barry's Corner that works around the world "helping people turn their public spaces into vital community places, with programs, uses, and people-friendly settings that build local value and serve community needs."

According to a story in last week's NY Times, it is the credit crunch, an inability to borrow money, that is bringing many major construction projects to a halt. But even without going anywhere near the billions in its endowment, AAA-rated Harvard has no problem raising money and has raised billions of dollars by selling bonds at interest rates between 3 and 6 percent.

Harvard has the money (or can borrow it at pretty attractive rates). Harvard has plenty of land in Allston and Brighton waiting to be put to better use. And according to PPS, "placemaking generates a big return on investment"
"Paying attention to the simple principles of Placemaking can leverage millions of private dollars in return at the same time as sparking retail vitality and attracting new residents and business."
In an overlooked part of Houston, PPS was part of a project that:

"transformed 12 acres of underused green space and parking lots near the convention center into an urban oasis...A new restaurant built right in the park, The Grove, is doing far better than its preliminary estimates...Widespread worries that people would not come to the park, which is located in what was until now an out-of-the-way part of downtown, have disappeared."

A smaller project in Detroit transformed

"a 1.6 acre concrete island that sat unused in a sea of auto traffic... melting widespread cynicism that downtown Detroit was a lost cause. Since it opened, 2.24 million square feet of new or renovated retail and office space has opened or is under construction on lots fronting Campus Martius. More than $450 million in new investments has already gone into the area, with other multimillion dollar projects still underway. Ground floor retail space has greatly increased and approximately 300 new condos and apartments are planned."

So improving Barry's Corner, western portions of Western Ave, and the Holton St Corridor shouldn't cost Harvard anything. To the contrary, if PPS can be believed, Harvard should be able to make a nice return on its investment, help the Boston economy, make Allston more attractive to the Harvard people who will work in the Science Complex a few years from now, and be a good neighbor to its Allston/Brighton neighbors who look forward to the "urban village" envisioned and endorsed by Harvard in the North Allston Strategic Framework.

Another vote for “You Can’t Take It With You”

In a letter published in today's Times, Mary-Ellen Banashek continues with the idea that "You Can't Take it With You" is an apt tale for our modern society:
"hard-working people in danger of losing their livelihoods and homes, venal bankers, greedy developers, the overstuffed rich turning up their noses at the less fortunate."
But the problem with my analogy is that the concept of "taking it with you" (after you die) is immaterial for immortal Harvard whose time horizons span centuries. A decade or two (or three) of barren Allston/Brighton property is significant in our lives but probably barely will register in their archaeological record.

Letters - Finding the Present in the Movies of the Past -

EveryBlock aggregates A/B

EveryBlock is a handy website that aggregates information about neighborhoods in Boston and other cities. It gives a nice single-page view of recent business reviews, news reports, building permits issued, restaurant inspections, real estate listings and more. A nice map feature lets you find items based on specific locations. There's no original content but it is a convenient place to see information from a variety of other sources.

A disconcerting jolt of reality from 1938

The NY Time's film critic A. O. Scott wrote recently that when "slipping an old favorite into the DVD player, I’ve been confronted with a disconcerting jolt of reality. Those silvery images don’t seem to belong to the past, but to the scary here and now."

Scott was "stopped in his tracks" when watching the bank run scene in the Frank Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life that stars Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore. My similar reaction of a time-warped deja vu came from watching You Can't Take it With You a film based on a Pultizer-winning play which coincidentally also stars Stewart and Barrymore and was directed by Capra.

The movie begins with Anthony P. Kirby, a ruthless banker, standing in front of a map reviewing the remaining properties that he must purchase to create "the largest individual monopoly in the world." His colleagues worry that the government might scuttle their plan, but Kirby reassures them that "They'll be no interference from the powers that be." A clear contrast is drawn between the business moguls whose actions destroy community and the utopian home of Grandpa Vanderhof where community flourishes.

Without giving away too much of the plot, eventually the Kirby and Vanderhof families get arrested and are put in a holding cell together where Grandpa gives Kirby a stern dressing-down:

"Maybe it'll stop you trying to be so desperate about making more money than you can ever use? You can't take it with you, Mr. Kirby. So what good is it? As near as I can see, the only thing you can take with you is the love of your friends."
In the predictable Hollywood ending, Mr. Kirby turns out to be "a very good egg" and cheerful harmonica player and everyone lives happily ever after.

North Allston's "interim" status

Thanks to Herb Gleason, past corporation counsel for the City of Boston, for commenting on what Harvard and the BRA are doing, and not doing, in Allston at a recent Move Massachusetts meeting. And thanks to former Globe reporter Tom Palmer for mentioning Herb's comments in his column at
Gleason also had a little advice for the BRA, including telling Harvard University "to do some decent planning about Allston."

"What has happened to Allston is a shame," he said. "It's a wreck, a neighborhood that has been blasted," because it, like City Hall, is considered to be in an "interim" stage. All attention goes to planning for the future, and the existing residents get forgotten.

Support a local non-profit

The end of the year is traditionally when non-profit organizations send fund-raising requests and people more about making contributions. This year as budgets are squeezed I'm sure that many worthy organizations will need our support more than ever to continue their efforts in 2009 and beyond.

The IRS online search tool finds an impressively long list of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions that are based in Allston and Brighton. In the spirit of shopping locally, donating locally is another way to support our community.

There are too many for me to add links to all their websites, so I only did the ones that start with "A" whose websites were easy to find. To learn more, consider services like GuideStar where tax returns and other information can be found.

A Bridge of Roses
Abraham Dovek Memorial Foundation
Abundant Grace Church of Boston
Addiction Treatment Center of New England Inc.
Allston Brighton Comm Dev Corp
Allston Brighton Islamic Center
Allston Brighton Youth Hockey Inc.
Allston Village Main Streets Inc.
Allston-Brighton Area Planning Action Council Inc.
Allstonhop Inc.
American Buddhist Shim Gum Do Assoc Inc.
American Friends of Ohr Moshe Torat Moshe Inc.
Archives for Historical Documentation Inc.
B Haynes Consultants Services Inc.
Bad Habit Productions Incorporated
Black River Project Inc.
Bnai Brith Housing New England Inc.
Bnai Brith I & II Inc.
Bnai Brith III Inc.
Bnai Brith Senior Citizens Housing Corporation
Boston Carpenters Apprenticeship and Training Fund
Boston Church for Mission Kmc
Boston Minstrel Company Charitable Tr
Boston Skating Club Inc.
Brazilian Immigrant Center Inc.
Brazilian Womens Group Inc.
Brighthelmstone Club Scholarship Fund
Brighton Main Streets Inc.
Brighton Marine Health Center Inc.
Btl Music Inc.
Care and Share USA Inc.
Caritas Christi Diagnostic Support Services Inc.
Caritas Medical Group Inc.
Center for Psychology and Social Change Inc.
Church of the Holy Resurrection
City Blessing Church Inc.
Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers Inc.
Commonwealth Tenants Association Inc.
Community Condominium Corporation
Community of Faith Christian Fellowship
Community of Faith International
Congregation Chai Odom
Conservation Food and Health Foundation Inc.
Conservatory Lab Charter School Foundation Inc.
Corrib Charity Fund Inc.
Creative Workplace Learning
Crittenton Womens Union Inc.
Crusaders of Fatima Inc.

David Gopen Foundation
Deaf-Blind Contact Center Inc.
Developmental Evaluation and Adjustment Facilities Inc.
Ellen M Gifford Sheltering Home Corporation
Excell Clinical Laboratories Inc.
Family and Community Solutions Inc.
Faye G and David G Stone Charitable Foundation
Females Center of Excellence and Leadership Incorporated
Fiberarts Center Inc. the
Fishing Academy Inc.
Five Star Third World & US Assist Inc.
Foundation for Managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease Inc.
Friends of Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly Inc.
Friends of Ringer Park
Friends of the Allston Library Inc.
Friends of the Boston Area Retired & Senior Volunteer Program Inc.
Friends of the Brighton Branch
G Greene Construction Company Foundation Inc.
Garage the Yba Network
Gin Te Buddhist Center Inc.
Granada House Inc. on the Health Campus
Graphic Change Inc.
Great Blue Hills Music Inc.
Greater Boston Association for Retarded Citizens,inc
Greater Boston Chinese Alliance Church
Greater Boston Youth Hockey League Inc.
Haitian Baptist Church of Allston- brighton
Hamilton Charitable Corporation
Helping Hands Simian Aids for the Disabled Incorporated
I Love Music Foundation Inc.
Impact Humanity A Non-Profit Corporation
Intrafraternal Community Development Corporation
Jack Breed Charitable Tr
Jackson Mann Community School Council Inc.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly II Inc.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly III Inc.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly Inc.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly IV Inc.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly Services Inc.
Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly VI Inc.
Joseph M Smith Community Health Center Inc.
Kabh Inc.
Katie Gibbons Foundation
Kollel of Greater Boston Inc.

Listen to the Lion Music Inc.
Lubavitch Shul of Brighton Inc.
Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children Inc.
Massachusetts Club of Russian Speaking Scientists Inc.
Massachusetts Millwrights Local Union 1121 Apprenticeship Fund
Mazal Institute Inc.
Mental Health Programs Inc.
Mental Health Programs Inc. - V
Mental Health Programs Inc. - X
Mental Health Programs Inc. III
Mental Health Programs Inc. IV
Mental Health Programs Inc. IX
Mental Health Programs Inc. -vi
Mental Health Programs Inc. VII
Mental Health Programs Inc. VIII
Mental Health Programs Inc-Xi
Mental Illness Education Project Inc.
Merwin Memorial Free Clinic for Animals Inc.
Mesivta of Greater Boston Inc.
Mhpi Inc.
Midas Collaborative Inc.
Modern Revolution Organization Inc.
National Tay Sachs & Allied Diseases Association Inc.
National Voting Rights Institute
New England Leather Alliance Inc.
New Life Center Fund Inc.
New Life Fellowship Baptist Church Inc.
Nigerian Islamic Society of Massachusetts
Northeast Division of the Gaelic Athletic Association
Pat White Tenants Task Force
Peoples Federal Savings Bank Foundation
Por Cristo Inc.
Precious Life Ministries Inc.
Presentation School Foundation Inc.
Residential Support Services Inc.
Rotenberg Foundation
Russian Community Association of Massachusetts Inc.
Saint Elizabeths Realty Corp
Scandinavian Collectors Club
Sephardic Community of Greater Boston
Shaloh School Oholei Torah
Skating Club of Boston
St. Columbkille Alumni Association Inc.
Tamu Samaaj Society of Boston A Nonprofit Corporation
Tenacity Inc.
The Center for Cinematography and Social Awareness Inc.
Tifereth Raphael Inc.
Uforatzto Center Inc.
Underdog Resq Inc.
Union Hill Project
Veronica B Smith Multi-Service Senior Center Inc.
Vip Lorenzoni Charitable Foundation Trust
Vocational Advancement Center Inc.
Wat Nawamintararachutis
West End House Camp Inc.
West End House Inc.
Wgbh Music Inc.
Women in Film & Video-New England Chapter Inc.
World Shim Gum Do Association Inc.
Yad Chaim Inc.

New Allston blog

My friend and neighbor Brent has started a new Allston blog - views from allston mass. If you are interested in this community and its future I'm sure you will be interested in what he writes there.

BAC students look at Gardner

Students in the Landscape Architecture program at the Boston Architectural College spent time during the past semester studying the grounds of the Gardner school and thinking about how different design of landscaping and play areas could make a better environment for learning and play.
You can read more about their work and ideas at

A new idea for the Barry Controls site

As reported last week in the Herald, New Balance is considering construction of an office complex on the site of the former Barry Controls building between Guest Street and the Mass Pike. This is the same site considered for a Lowe's home improvement store which failed because of neighbor concerns about traffic and other issues.
The several reader comments on the Herald site focus on a desire for the creation of new construction jobs and the impact on Murdock Street traffic.

Big Belly on North Harvard St

Anything that helps keep our neighborhood cleaner is a good thing, so it is nice to see the new Big Belly solar-powered trash-compacting trash cans on North Harvard St.

Harvard ceramics sale ends Sunday

There is always a wide variety of functional and whimsical ceramics on sale at this twice-yearly show at the Harvard Ceramics Studio (219 Western Ave). Prices are also very reasonable. Worth stopping by if you have a few minutes to experience one of Harvard's hidden jewels in our neighborhood.
More info about the show is here and information about spring term ceramics classes open to the public are here.

Faust confirms Harvard's Allston slowdown, questions Houses

I believe that this is the first time Harvard has confirmed a slowdown in its Allston development. Until now we have only been told that plans are being reconsidered. If new dormitories ("houses") will not be built north of the stadium (shown in yellow) then there would seem to be no need to demolish the existing athletic facilities on that land and rebuild them to the south of the stadium (shown in green).

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Allston Funds May Be Diverted

“I’m sure that what we thought we might do in the next decade is going to take longer,” Faust said, adding that since her Nov. 10 letter about the impact of the financial crisis on Harvard, the University has been assessing a number of its plans.

“One of the things we’ll be looking at really hard is Houses,” she said, referring to the undergraduate Houses projected to be built in Allston. “Do we want them? And secondly can we afford them, and how many?”

Harvard Arts Task Force report released

The arts and culture have long been discussed as having a prominent role in Harvard's Allston expansion, and it is welcome confirmation to see that idea explored in detail in this report released today by the Task Force on the Arts created by President Faust in November 2007. Some excerpts:

Harvard should invest in upgrading existing spaces and in building new, innovative arts spaces. A proposal this ambitious would, given the tight space constraints within which we all function, ordinarily seem a mere fantasy. But here too Harvard has a remarkable opportunity. Serendipitously, the university has the chance to provide its students with the spaces they require both for their exuberant extracurricular arts activities and for the rigorous, challenging, and vitally necessary art-making within the curriculum.The future development of the Allston campus makes it possible to bring into being precisely the architecturally exciting structures that will enable the innovations for which we are calling.

And it will be a site of lively engagement with the immediate community of Allston and Cambridge and the larger community of Greater Boston: public exhibitions and performances of all kinds, art classes, the free screening of movies, after-school programs, events created in conjunction with our neighboring institutions.

the development of the Allston part of Harvard’s campus also offers an opportunity to include studio space and housing for artists; such deliberations ought to be considered in the current planning efforts.

The Task Force has envisioned spaces for the arts in Allston that will provide venues for art-making, display, and performance, spaces which may incorporate museums (including contemporary arts galleries), classrooms, student galleries, performance spaces, a theater for film and video screenings, studio spaces, rehearsal spaces, and practice spaces, in addition to commercial venues (such as a café and bookstore) which will help to drive traffic through this hub. All these components are geared to making the arts in Allston a dynamic, social location which invites and spurs discussion.To this end, programming in these spaces should be strong and deep, with the arts facilities here described in use for as many hours in the day as possible.If the campus is to be suffused by the arts, then its hub must be a destination—and origin—for arts making, display, and performance—throughout the day and night.

The report also is clear that there is a lot of decision-making still needed before specific facilities can be planned. This suggests that Harvard isn't yet close to knowing what art facilities to include in its Allston Institutional Master Plan.

there remain several matters which invite careful and rigorous discussion.Among these matters is the precise shape of the distribution of arts facilities across the campus.The Task Force has weighed the advantages of corridor, constellation, and cluster arrangements of dedicated and arts-accessible facilities additional to the arts center proposed above, and recommends that the university incorporate its plans for arts construction/renovation into its other physical planning processes already underway

Many student groups thought an additional theater that could seat 500-750 would alleviate the scheduling pressures. Others expressed an interest in having multiple flexible smaller spaces that could be reconfigured to accommodate the appropriate audience for the event being held within. Some academic departments and visiting artists expressed their interest in a large performance space that could seat 1,600 to 2,000 people.

Overall it is an exciting document that shares some common thinking with the Culture portion of Harvard's 2004 Allston Life Task Force report. I look forward to seeing the vision become reality.

Harvard may redirect Allston funding

In 2001, the Harvard University created an Allston fund by taxing the endowment of each Harvard school 1/2% a year for 5 years. In 2004, the duration of this program was extended to 25 years. Vice President for Finance Ann Berman wrote:
“The fund being raised by this assessment is an infrastructure fund, and so will be used for infrastructure: land acquisitions, roads, utilities, site cleanup, buildings, et cetera.”
This funding method has always been controversial within Harvard. Now it may cease to exist. With the value of Harvard's endowments falling by billions, the source of its Allston funding is in doubt.

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Smith Asks for Budget Cuts
Asked by a professor during yesterday’s meeting to comment on the status of the Strategic Infrastructure Fund—a 0.5 percent annual levy on the endowment that has traditionally funded Allston development—University President Drew G. Faust suggested that the money could be put towards other projects in present circumstances.

“To date, these funds have been directed to the Allston project,” Faust said. “But depending on our decision about the planning and pacing of Allston over the next period of time, we may decide that here are other necessary uses for those monies given the financial challenges we are facing at all levels.”

Harvard reconsidering Allston houses?

For the past few years it has been presented as a given that Harvard will eventually build new undergraduate dormitories (called "houses" at Harvard). So it is interesting to read that the President of Harvard, Dean of Harvard College, and Dean of Faculty of Arts and Science are:
"gathering input from Harvard students through discussion groups and surveys, are hearing from faculty, especially House masters, and will solicit input from our alumni and alumnae in the weeks and months to come"
and asking significant questions including "Should new Houses be built in Allston?"

The premise that Harvard has already decided to build new houses in Allston affects multiple aspects of the Harvard master plan. Harvard planners chosen location for new houses would be north of the football stadium which requires the existing hockey arena, basketball arena, and swimming pool to be relocated to elsewhere in Allston.

So if Harvard really isn't sure about building "houses" in Allston it puts a pretty big wildcard into the whole planning process.

Robert Campbell reviews Brighton's new boathouse

CRI boathouse is a model of form and function - The Boston Globe

He writes:

"Most of the newer boathouses, including a couple from recent years, try to project a similar upper-class image.

That's why the architecture of the exuberant new Community Rowing Boathouse in Brighton is such a joy. This is a building that's happy to look fresh, new, democratic, and up-to-date, not like an attempt to remind you of the good old days when rowing was a "gentleman's sport."

This is one of the best new pieces of architecture in Boston."

The Boston Foundation features the Gardner

The 2008 Annual Report of The Boston Foundation features Allston's Gardner Pilot Academy and the services it provides to the benefit of its students, their families, and the community.

Globe reports on the Dec 1 Harvard meeting

Parks, schools top list - The Boston Globe

Residents who have been involved in community planning and Harvard's expansion plans for their neighborhood noted that the survey, while interesting, was a distraction from the real question of when and how those plans would be negotiated.

'We knew these were needs four years ago,' said Harry Mattison, a Harvard Allston Task Force member. 'When do we stop talking and start doing something?'

My quote is based on the seemingly endless discussions and minimal progress made in many areas that have been discussed for years, since at least during the development of the North Allston Strategic Framework. Work on the Framework was done from 2001-2005 and its final report, endorsed by Harvard and the BRA included:

"Expand the limited number of neighborhood parks by creating new parks"

"Small neighborhood parks along Everett Street and elsewhere to serve the local community"

"eliminating barriers between neighborhoods and among neighborhoods and river and public parks"

"the Framework proposes a system of parks, pathways, and squares that increases the amount of land dedicated to open space and, more important, creates a broader range of quality public places to support a variety of activities.The Framework identifies opportunities for pocket parks for passive enjoyment or tot lots, providing amenities for those residential areas underserved by open space, such as the neighborhood south of the Gardner School."

That sounds a lot like what this new survey identifies as priorities:

Creating more parks and gardens in Allston-Brighton

Making it easier for people to access the Charles River by foot/bike

Developing green pathways from Allston to the Charles River

So now we have a Framework and a Survey that confirm each other's findings but not much of anything actually accomplished on the ground.

The Globe looks for modern art in Boston

Modern art is hard to find in Boston - The Boston Globe

Even in the best-case scenario, however, it will be a long time before Harvard can offer either the public or its students a display that does anything like justice to its holdings.

One plan after another has been proposed to improve the situation for modern and contemporary art, only to be scotched or postponed. (Pity Thomas Lentz, director of the Harvard Art Museum, who, having taken on the job in 2004, is working with his third university president, not to mention ongoing tensions between town and gown and a constantly shifting political, institutional, and financial landscape.)

A 1999 plan to build a pair of new art museums designed by Renzo Piano on the Charles River was strangled when Harvard's Cambridge neighbors protested. An alternative plan, trumpeted in 2006, to build new museum, storage, and administrative facilities in Allston has meanwhile been put on hold while the museum focuses on renovating its badly outdated Quincy Street premises (home to the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums).

Allston is, eventually, where Lentz sees the modern and contemporary collections finding a home. But he can't say when work there will begin, let alone end, and he adds that the current global financial crisis is only adding to the uncertainty.

A consultant for the citizens

A frequent lament of Allston/Brighton residents is that we are totally outmatched when it comes to evaluating the development plans of Harvard University, the BRA, and their consultants. The ABNNF has done pretty well with the development of its Holton St Corridor Framework that addresses the housing, open space, and retail issues in a portion of the neighborhood where new development is impending.

But more comprehensive and technical review has until now been beyond our reach. At Wednesday's meeting of the Citizens' Advisory Committee (CAC) that is reviewing Harvard's expansion as part of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office (MEPA), we met consultants from Tighe & Bond who have been hired to support the CAC's review of Harvard's Master Plan and assist the CAC in developing alternatives and proposing mitigation measures.

There are many ways that Harvard's expansion will likely be good for the environment, such as replacing impervious paved surfaces with surfaces that allow rainwater to move into the ground.
But the transportation impacts and the related environmental effects of the expansion need close scrutiny.

If Harvard's North Allston expansion is really going to bring an additional 15,000 people a day to its campus, even if only 50% of those people drive to work, that is a lot of new traffic! (And that doesn't include the thousands of new residents and workers that will come to North Allston and North Brighton when/if the plans for the rest of the neighborhood become a reality.) It won't be easy for Harvard to get down to 50% automobile mode share, considering that 72% of its Allston employees currently commute by car.
And if thousands of people are going to come to Allston using public transportation there need to be some pretty big improvements there too.
And then there are the brave folks like me who ride a bike in the city. Having hundreds of people bike to work in Allston each day would be wonderful, but it is going to take some serious improvements to make that safe and inviting.
The next CAC meeting is scheduled for January 7 (6:00-8:00 at the Honan Library) and if you leave transportation comments here I will incorporate them into the CAC's discussions.

A different type of college-community planning

Here's a story about the little town of Starksboro, Vermont (map) and its planning partnership with Middlebury College as its residents try to figure out what kind of future they want for their community.

Herald - Harvard losses may delay Allston expansion

This story in today's Herald is short and its hard to infer much from a four word quote from the BRA, but of course it’s “appropriate during these economic times” for Harvard to proceed cautiously. The question is will Harvard cautiously move forward and redevelop its Allston/Brighton property in way that benefits everyone, or will Harvard prefer to cautiously sit on its hands and let so much of its property sit empty as it has been doing for years?

Two examples:

This photo was taken 20 months ago when the Barry's Corner CITGO station was closed down in preparation for its sale to Harvard. Since then it has sat empty and idle in the middle of our neighborhood.

Two years ago Harvard bought the 450,000 square foot commercial property on Lincoln Street. What's happened there since then? Nothing.

Upcoming zoning hearings

  • 24-26 Reedsdale Street - Create off street parking for two vehicles
  • 20 Penniman Street - Erect a four story, thirty-two unit residential building with seventeen parking space underneath. Subdivide the parcel.
  • 30 Penniman Street - Subdivide the parcels, confirm the legal occupancy as eight artist live/work spaces, five artist work space, and seven business uses to include Karate school, and clothing design.
  • 28-32 Rugg Road aka 32Penniman Street - Confirm the legal occupancy of the building as a auto repair shop.

More info at

Repairs for Allston-Cambridge river bridges?

The state seems to be getting serious about fixing bridges across Massachusetts including the ones that are literally crumbling in our neighborhood. The Accelerated Bridge plan lists the following:

Description Preliminary Estimate Design Start Design Complete Start of Construction End of Construction
$15,870,000 Winter-2009 Winter-2010 Winter-2010 Summer-2014

If these repairs actually happen it will be a great opportunity to both repair these bridges and make additional improvements to get pedestrians, bikes, and cars from one side of the river to the other in a much better fashion than the current bridges do.

Commuting from Allston

An observation from about the leisurely pace of commuting from Allston to downtown Boston:
"When I was living in Everett-which is 5.2 miles from my building-I would take the bus, to the train and then walk from State Street. My average travel time was 25-30 minutes. Now, I live in Allston which is 4.4 miles from my building and actually a neighborhood of Boston; I take one train to work, Harvard Ave to Park Street and it takes me on average... 45-50 minutes to arrive at 73 Tremont."

Harvard Q1 endowment loss announced

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Harvard Endowment Fell 22 Percent in Four Months
"We are reconsidering the scale and pace of planned capital projects, including the University's development in Allston"

The still unmet needs of Allston/Brighton residents

Copernicus Consulting presented this Survey Report at last night's Harvard Allston Task Force meeting about the community survey conducted over the summer. There really weren't any surprises - we want our children to have better educations, better access to medical care, better parks and facilities for physical fitness, safer streets, opportunities for adults to learn English and other skills, and more.

So what, if anything will come of this? These are not new needs and in the past 10 years as the BRA has watched Harvard purchase and shut down a huge part of our neighborhood, neither of them has done much to meet any of these needs. Three years ago Harvard and the BRA did acknowledge them in the North Allston Strategic Framework, but actual progress is hard to find.

I'd suggest that we focus on the details of Harvard's impending IMP and what that development will do to make a better neighborhood instead of drawing our attention prematurely to some "goodies" that may or may not ever materialize.

Harvard Crimson story - Survey Results Met with Doubt

A New Citizen of Allston

Today's edition of The Harvard Crimson includes an op-ed I wrote about the opportunities for people from a wide range of fields at Harvard to play a role in its Allston expansion.

The campus to community transition

The North Allston Strategic Framework had a few ideas about how the new Harvard campus should meet the existing neighborhood:

Acknowledge the need for careful transitions in scale, vehicular circulation, and design between existing residential neighborhoods and new development.

Using new housing for residents and Harvard affiliates to create a transition between the campus and the existing residential areas

Create a permeable transition between community and campus that invites the community into the campus and the campus into the community, and that avoids any sense of a “town/gown” separation

But Harvard seems to have pretty much disregarded all of these ideas in its current proposal. This is most obvious to the east of Windom Street, the largest area where Harvard's campus proposed by its impending IMP and existing homes will be side-by-side.

I have trouble understanding why it would be a great idea to dwarf the existing homes by building graduate student dormitories for several hundred students right behind the one and two family homes there today. The home-made image below shouldn't be taken literally (or any more literally than Harvard's image), but it is another way to think about how a row of homes for Harvard affiliates might be used to go from community to campus.

Existing Buildings
Harvard's Proposal
Another Option

2 alarm fire at Cafe Belo

Morning fire damages Allston cafe - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

An early morning fire caused $350,000 in damage to Cafe Belo in Allston, officials said.

The two-alarm fire at 181 Brighton Ave. started around 4 a.m. in the kitchen ceiling, Boston Fire Department spokesperson Steve MacDonald said. It took firefighters about 4 hours to put out the blaze at the one-story building.

MacDonald said there were no injuries, and the cause of the fire is under investigation.

BCDC to discuss the BC IMP

The Boston Civic Design Commission meets on Tuesday, December 2 in the BRA Board Room on the 9th floor of City Hall. There will be a report from Design Committee on the Boston College IMP from 5:40 - 6:00.

Harvard Square in Allston?

There is some provocative thinking about the future of Barry's Corner happening here - Harvard Square in Allston? - The post by ablarc to start the conversation is one of the best on-line posts about local urban planning that I have read in a long time.

Physically, at the same table

It was a refreshing change at last nights Harvard Allston Task Force meeting to have Harvard planners, BRA planners and managers, and Allston residents actually sitting at the same table and talking about some of the issues with Harvard's campus plan as it relates to our neighborhood. It is a forum I hope we will be part of much more often because it is much more conducive to real discussion and understanding than being given a presentation of previously prepared information.

How this might lead to consensus on a plan is less clear. We might start doing some joint problem solving and brainstorming or, what I sometimes thought I heard last night, was that the BRA and Harvard will instead try to do a more convincing sales job using the plans that they already have. Hopefully it will be the former.

Specifically we discussed the Stadium Way proposal and the graduate student dormitories and other new buildings (shown in brown) that Harvard has proposed for between Stadium Way and the existing homes on Hopedale and Windom Streets (shown in gray).

I don't dispute Harvard's need for new housing of this style, but I am not convinced that location is the best one for all parties. For example, putting it closer to Barry's Corner would seem to be just as good for its residents, do more to animate Barry's Corner, and would allow for housing or institutional uses abutting the existing homes.

Harvard has precedent in Cambridge for successful building along the residential edge of its campus. 60 Oxford St, which also faces Hammond St, is shown in the photo below. Harvard Magazine described this building and the process that led to its design as follows.
At 60 Oxford Street, north of the science complex, the firm of Perry Dean Rogers has designed a new structure to house University Information Systems and the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Patient groundwork, which included voluntary zoning commitments by Harvard, led to productive meetings between a neighbors’ working group and architects Martha Pilgreen, M. Arch. ’80, Ned Collier, and Richard Jones, M.Arch. ’96. The early consultations led to acceptance of a very contemporary design, says Spiegelman. On one side of the site lies a residential neighborhood; on another stands the gleaming white Yamasaki-designed engineering sciences building, relating to little around it. Across Oxford Street, along the west-facing façade, looms a large brick building belonging to Lesley College. Sixty Oxford Street steps down in height from four stories to one as it moves toward the residential neighborhood; leaves space for Palfrey House, a Greek Revival building which will be relocated to Hammond Street at a future date; steps back from Oxford Street to mitigate the impact of its height; uses a warm limestone that softens the whiteness of the Yamasaki building and the darkness of the brick structures across Oxford Street; and incorporates a roof garden that gives a "soft top" to the lower end of the building while screening the Hammond Street neighborhood from the mass of the Lesley College building.

A similar approach in Allston would yield a very different result than what has been proposed to date, and would likely receive a much more positive response.

Harvard sophmore states the "majority" opinion of the Allston community

Qi Yu, a Harvard sophomore, spends 3 hours a week volunteering at the Harvard Allston Education Portal. I'm sure the tutoring she is doing is great. I also don't know what qualifies her to make this statement to the Harvard Crimson:

“The negative voices in Allston ring loud but they also ring few,” Yu said. “The majority of the community is excited about the benefit from this presence.”

How mant people in the Allston community has she ever met? Has she ever spoken with the negative people she mentions or attended a community meeting? A short walk from the Ed Portal into Allston past some of Harvard's vacant buildings might explain to her why more than a "few" people are less than thrilled with Harvard's impact on Allston over the past several years.

New construction at Brighton Mills

There was some construction last week at Brighton Mills.

The Bank of America ATM is relocating from the west side of the shopping center where it has been for several years. Now it has its own freestanding building closer to Everett St.

So this side of the shopping center, that once was home to Kmart, OfficeMax, and the ATM has now been completely emptied.

December 9 zoning hearings

236 North Beacon Street - Change the legal occupancy from a rental truck center, rental and sales of trucks, accessory storage to a CVS retail store with a pharmacy and drive-thru window.

11-13 Ashford Street - Create off street parking for four vehicles

36 Orkney Road - Remove Board of Appeal occupancy restriction that the seventh apartment unit be limited to the superintendent of the building

More info at

Harvard profs - "Lets slow down Allston"

No decisions have been made, but facing a possible $200 million deficit, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard (the largest division of the University which includes the undergraduate college, athletics, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) is questioning the pace of Harvard's expansion into Allston.

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Faculty Discusses Financial Future
"Professors repeatedly cited the timing of the University’s ambitious plans for expansion into Allston as an area ripe for cutbacks.

History of Art and Architecture professor Jeffrey F. Hamburger suggested that pushing the Allston project back could protect more immediate academic priorities, comparing such a slowdown to “providing major surgery in one area, preventing us from having to bleed the whole body.”"

Another Soldiers Field Road Accident - Sneeze Lands Driver In Charles River
"A pickup truck went off Soldiers Field Road into the Charles River when the driver sneezed, the state Department of Recreation and Conservation said. The accident happened near North Harvard Street in Allston shortly before 2 p.m. The truck was submerged, but the driver, Andrew Hansom, 42, of Weymouth, got himself out and swam to shore, State Police said.Hansom was taken to a hospital as a precaution but appeared to be unhurt, State Police said."

Allston Civic Association agenda for Nov 19

  • El Cafetal, 479 Cambridge St. Request to extend hours of operation.
  • 379 Cambridge St. Request for billiard license.
  • Check cashing operation, Brighton Ave.
  • Wine and Malt License transfer: Durga Enterprises, 1147 Comm. Ave. to Douglas Gordon, 1065 Comm. Ave. (Shaws supermarket)

The meeting is at the Honan Allston Library, 300 North Harvard St. at 6:30P.M.

Pedestrian killed on Soldiers Field Road

Its hard to imagine why someone would be crossing Soldiers Field Road near Everett St at 3:00 in the morning to explain this horrible event.

Metro - Drunk driver charged with man’s death in Allston

How Yale relates to its urban neighbors

In the current issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, Yale President Rick Levin talks about Yale's relationship with New Haven. Here are some excerpts:

We needed our host city to be a place that attracted students and faculty, as it does today.

We squeezed the budget pretty hard... in order to make room for... the investments we made in New Haven, starting with the homebuyer program [which subsidizes mortgages for Yale employees buying homes in New Haven]. We also made it a priority to reach out to the city of New Haven. The deans and directors at Yale all got the message that their programs had to have a local outreach component.

Here are two recent examples of how Yale makes this local outreach real.

At the Yale School of Architecture:
The latest home built in the Jim Vlock First-Year Building Project, a wheelchair-accessible duplex for a disabled female veteran, was dedicated on September 25. The Building Project began in 1967 and is a requirement for every architecture student at Yale. This year the students worked with Common Ground Community, a nonprofit developer, as well as the Veterans Affairs Office to build the home in a low-income New Haven neighborhood. The design incorporated sustainable materials, including cedar and bamboo, and energy-efficient materials and technology, such as a precast concrete foundation system.
At the Yale School of Management:
Just a few hours into orientation, students of the Class of 2010 were launched into a two-day exercise called the Audubon Street Project, designed to introduce them to each other and to the SOM approach to solving business problems. Divided into groups of six or seven, each team had to devise a hypothetical business concept for an unoccupied storefront on New Haven's Audubon Street, near the SOM campus. Students were given background information -- maps, photographs, information about tax rates and other fixed costs -- but little more. The concepts had to be economically viable; have a social impact that reflected SOM's mission of educating leaders for business and society; and reflect Yale's desire to have a positive impact on the New Haven community.

Gardner Pilot Academy open houses & school info

Gardner Pilot Academy at 30 Athol Street will be hosting 3 open house events as part of the Boston Public School's school preview time. Come see how Gardner Pilot Academy can help your child achieve academic excellence through its innovative programs and partnerships.

Tuesday, Nov. 18th 2:00pm
Monday, Dec. 8th 9:30am
Thursday, Jan 22nd 9:30am

  • Gardner Pilot Academy cares for children from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm with regular school hours between 8:30 am- 2:30pm.
  • Is located in the North Zone, 50% of the school's student capacity is reserved for families living within 1 mile of the school.
  • 71% of GPA's students live in the Allston/Brighton community.
  • Provides educational excellence for 320 students in k1-grade 5,
  • GPA strives to keep a low school wide student to adult ratio and to maintain on average classes sizes of about 20 students per classroom.
  • GPA boosts a school wide ratio of one adult for every ten students.
  • Has an active and involved Governing Board and Parent School Council.

The GPA is committed to six main themes as priorities for future decisions
1. Small school structure
2. Small class size
3. Unique team structure
4. Diversity
5. Full-service school programming

For more information or to schedule a tour call Debbie Kardon-Schwartz at 617-635-8305 /

Pay until it hurts (and then keep paying)

I wonder how much more cut-through traffic this will bring to A/B as drivers seek ways to save a few bucks and avoid the Pike. There are already several comments on suggesting how people will change their travel routes. Ironically, considering all the concern about "sustainability", moving people from a road where they can drive at a relatively constant speed (and get "highway" mileage) onto local roads where they will do more stop & go driving (and get lower "city" mileage) is a pretty wasteful thing for the State to encourage.

Pike board approves toll hike - Local News Updates - The Boston Globe

The Turnpike Authority board voted 4-1 to approve a hike of 75 cents at the Weston and Allston-Brighton tollbooths and $3.50 at the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels.

The plan, which is subject to public hearings and a final vote, would take effect Feb. 9. It would increase tolls at Weston and Allston-Brighton to $2 from $1.25 and at the tunnels to $7 from $3.50. Fast Lane users would pay $1.50 at Weston and Allston-Brighton and $6 at the tunnels.

A/B bars w/out sprinklers face closure

Mary Ann's and Big City will be closed for failure to comply with the Fire Safety Act of 2004 unless new sprinklers are installed today. The law requires entertainment venues with capacities greater than 100 people to install sprinklers by Nov. 15, 2007. The law allowed local fire officials to grant one-year extensions on the deadline.

Taverns without sprinklers to be shut - The Boston Globe

Last night's CWP presentation posted

The presentation, titled "NABCWP Urban Design 111208 FINAL.pptx (PowerPoint 2007)", from last night's meeting is online at the CWP website.
Beware: It is a 47MB file and you will need the Microsoft Viewer if you don't have PowerPoint 2007 installed.

KunstlerCast #25 - thanks to wellbasically for mentioning it

I found this interview suggested by wellbasically quite interesting and certainly relevant to the A/B North planning and last night's meeting

The first part of this interview talk about the history of Fredrick Law Olmsted, urban parks in America, and the need for islands of greenery and tranquility in the midst of urban life.

I found the most applicable part of the interview starting 13 minutes into the session. Here is a quick synopsis:
There are many different kinds of parks. A common problem is the lack of vocabulary to describe these types. Words like "green space" and "open space" are too vague and we should better understand the lexicon of urban design. What do we want and what is its formal name? Figure it out so we can ask for it by name.

If you ask for an abstraction, you will get an abstraction. If you ask for "open space" you'll get a berm between the WalMart and Kmart. It won't be a place with any civic use or meaning, it will just be a decorative "buffer" between one use and another. So if you want a park or something like a park, be more specific with requests like:
  • a ball field
  • a band shell surrounded by a garden
  • a rose garden
  • a duck pond
  • a formal square
  • a children's playground
  • an Italian water garden

These requests are much more meaningful than asking for "green space" and "open space".

Trash pickup delayed one day this week

Veteran's Day pushes it back this week.

Last night's CWP meeting

Here is the Harvard Crimson's story about last night's A/B North Community Wide Planning Meeting. The BRA continues to put way too much content into each of these meetings. The 60 minute presentation last night included:
  • A historical overview of our neighborhood
  • Revisiting proposals for Barry's Corner and the Holton St Corridor
  • New ideas about the north side of Western Ave between Barry's Corner and Watertown, the Riverview Triangle (current home to the Acura dealer, IHOP, McDonalds, etc), and Cambridge St

In a large room of people it is impossible to have any kind of meaningful discussion about so much information.

Also, Tom Lally asked an important question about how this planning relates to Charlesview, and Lenny Kelliher asked "When?", noting that we have been looking at drawings like these for years and it is time to start developing a 2 year plan, a 5 year plan, etc. not just generally talk about something that might happen a decade or two (or 3 or 4) from now.

Science Complex construction to slow?

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Harvard Forecasts Shift in Budget Priorities
Faust hinted that the University may need to cut costs and push back timelines for certain initiatives, such as expansion plans in Allston.

“It’ll be a high priority for us to continue with our construction projects already underway,” Faust said. “But as we plan for the future, we have to look at matching our ambitions in construction with our resources.”

Though construction for the first science building in Allston, which began this spring, was slated to near completion in July 2011, it is unclear whether this date will be postponed as the University assesses current spending.

Harvard reassessing Allston plans

In December of 2007 Harvard President Drew Faust strongly refuted a Boston Globe story that Harvard was "rethinking" its plans for its Allston expansion. At the time, she told WBZ radio that "there is no way in which we are slowing down".

Now it seems like plans for Allston, along with many other things, are being reconsidered by Harvard. In a letter to the Harvard community, Faust writes that:

While we can hope that markets will improve, we need to be prepared to absorb unprecedented endowment losses and plan for a period of greater financial constraint...

We have to think not just about what more we might wish to do, but what we might do at a different pace or do without. Tradeoffs and hard choices that can be avoided in times of plenty cannot be averted now. And, given the ongoing volatility and uncertainty, we need to plan and budget with a range of contingencies in view, including scenarios for reducing our spending both this year and next....

We are assessing all aspects of our ambitious capital planning program, including the phasing and development of our campus in Allston.

A construction slow-down in Allston is really the last thing that Allston needs. We need Harvard to build, not just anything and certainly not a campus physically, socially, or economically isolated from the rest of Allston. The "no-build" scenario that leaves Allston what we have had for the last decade - Harvard's unattractive, empty, and under-utilized buildings throughout our neighborhood - is hopefully one that will not continue to be our reality for much longer.

“Harvard Is Not Invulnerable” to Shocks: Faust’s Sober Financial Message : Harvard Magazine
Harvard seeking spending cuts to weather downturn - The Boston Globe

Another step closer to higher Allston tolls

AP Newsbreak: Patrick to dissolve Mass. Turnpike -
According to the plan, tolls likely will be raised inside Route 128 to pay off debt associated with Big Dig. Toll booths outside Route 128 will be eliminated, except in West Stockbridge near the New York border and in Sturbridge, close to the Connecticut border.

Edmund M. Burke, 80; dean at BC encouraged corporate citizenship

Sounds like a great man. We could use more people like him supporting our attempts to have discussions with Harvard, BC, and the BRA.

Edmund M. Burke, 80; dean at BC encouraged corporate citizenship - The Boston Globe
A corporation that moves into a town is just as much a resident as the family down the street, Edmund M. Burke believed, and if the business wants to do well, it should become what he called a "neighbor of choice."

"A company must also demonstrate its concern for the environment and to the communities where it is based. People expect them to be more responsible."

Along with the permits and municipal approvals that companies collect to build their factories and office buildings, they also must obtain a metaphoric "license to operate," Dr. Burke wrote in publications such as his 1999 book "Corporate Community Relations: The Principle of the Neighbor of Choice," which became a text of choice for many students and businesses.

The "license to operate," he wrote, might include company workers participating in community events and fund-raisers. Interaction between workers and neighbors, he said, builds a kind of trust that was absent in years past, when a corporation might simply write a check once a year and donate to a local charity.

Dr. Burke drew inspiration for many theories from growing up in Allston. Ed believed strongly in social justice - in his younger days, rather vocally," said his wife, Lee.

When is a lobby more than just a lobby?

Autodesk, my employer, has recently unveiled a new lobby/museum in a San Francisco office building. Fortune magazine, in this story and this video, features the $10 million Autodesk Gallery and describes it as an "awesome how-things-are-made museum".

What does this have to do with Allston? Last year Harvard touted the 6,800 sq ft atrium in its Science Complex as one of the major public spaces in the 4-building complex. The opportunity to walk through Harvard's atrium didn't strike me as all that impressive, but maybe Harvard will surprise us and make a space at least as awesome as what Autodesk has built.

Justice in Allston (what would Obama do?)

Thomas Friedman, in his Wednesday column, interviewed Harvard University political philosopher Michael Sandel. Professor Sandel, who teaches Harvard students about justice and moral reasoning, claims that in Tuesday's election "the American public rejected these narrow notions of the common good."

A student of Sandel's explains that, "His aim was to expose to the students the extent to which these abstract philosophical questions really are relevant in our daily lives." Abstract ideas like justice deserve to be applied to how Harvard's expansion in Allston and its track record over the past 10+ years.

Obama's greatest speeches, in my opinion, are the ones that talk about uniting Americans and all humans. In one speech he said:
"We've always been at our best when we've had leadership that called upon us to look past our differences, to come together. Leadership that rallies us to a common purpose, a higher purpose... when we recognize the common stake we have in each other... together we cannot fail."
Harvard's plans in Allston embody a narrow and outdated notion what a campus and community can be. Harvard draws a line on a map and shows little interest in life on the "wrong side" of that line. "We are just building our campus" and "We are doing what the zoning code require us to do" they say.

Friedman concludes his column quoting Sandel:

“It must also be about a new patriotism — about what it means to be a citizen... Obama’s campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.”

Harvard is been in Allston for 105 years. What would it do differently if it considered itself a citizen of Allston?

Summary of IMP feedback from the BRA

The BRA has published a summary of issues that heard in response to Harvard’s recent IMP presentations. I think it is a good start and also needs much more breadth and depth. You can download it at the ABNNF website and it would be great to hear your comments here or via email to

WBUR on liquor licenses in Allston

Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association, and Pami Singh, co-owner of Punjab Palace on Brighton Ave, talk with WBUR about liquor licenses.

Boston Liquor Licensing Expensive, Cumbersome

Voting resources from MassVOTE

If you have a problem voting, call the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
If you live in Boston, and need a ride to the polls, call MassVOTE at 617-542-8683.

Collingswood, NJ as a model for A/B North

The New York Times has a feature story on Collingswood, NJ, a town near Camden and Philadelphia whose renaissance offers a possible model for what A/B North might become.

Collingswood is a bit bigger than A/B North (1.6 square miles vs. 1 square mile) and its population of 15,000 is probably comparable to what the A/B North population will be after the Holton St Corridor, Western Ave, and the new Harvard campus are developed. In the late 90's Collingswood was “the place you would go to buy drugs” but now it has transformed into a community with many positive attributes and things that would be welcome here.

  • Public transportation that takes only 11 minutes to travel 7 miles into downtown Philadelphia.
  • More than a dozen restaurants and retail and service businesses that benefit the local community in a walkable, human-scaled downtown
  • Outdoor recreation at a large public park - the 60-acre Knight Park that is home to festivals, sports events, and open-air movies - and at an outdoor community swimming pool
  • Entertainment and community events at a local theatre
  • New mixed-use development like the LumberYard Condominiums that will create 120 condos and 21 new shops on 4 acres of land

If a New Jersey suburb can support this constructive development and enhance the quality of life for its residents, it seems reasonable to expect the development of Harvard's campus and the rest of the community (Western Ave, Holton St Corridor) to be able to do something at least as good.

Alex Beam on Harvard's Allston Farm

Apparently not everyone thinks it is a great idea to revert some Allston land to its agricultural past.

What is the REAL Harvard plan?

The stories from the Crimson and TAB give a pretty good sense of Monday's meeting (the 2nd one in 5 days). Members of the community are getting more clear and outspoken about their concerns and their expectation that our issues will be addressed.

One problem with the TAB article is this claim made by Boston Chief Planner Kairos Shen that:

"the university had already incorporated many of the suggestions it has received, such as extending Rena Park all the way to the Charles River."
It would be great if Harvard really was proposing to bring this park all the way to the river. Unfortunately, the reality is that Harvard's proposal doesn't go that far. Harvard's images on the left imply a connection to the river. But the devil is in the details, and the images on the right show that the details don't match up with what Harvard would like us to believe.

The bicycle network in the upper-right shows a "major dual use path" in green that comes to a dead-end before reaching Soldiers Field Road. Below that, Harvard's river crossing diagram shows nothing where the image in the upper left shows a big swath of green connecting the campus and river.

The problem has nothing to do with the fact that Harvard's images were "computer-drawn, rather than by hand", as suggested in the TAB. The real problem is that key information is missing and different parts of Harvard's proposal contradict other parts. We don't need swoopy, curvy arrows that obscure the reality of what Harvard wants to build. Harvard wants to wrap up this master plan in just a few months, so it is time for clear, unambiguous detail of what it wants to build here in Allston.

Residents attack proposed revisions to Harvard’s plans - Allston/Brighton TAB

The Harvard Crimson :: Allston Meeting Becomes Heated

Strong winds expected - Is Harvard ready?

We know what happened near Harvard's $1B construction project last time it got a bit breezy. For tonight the National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory that predicts gusts as strong as 45 mph. What will Western Ave look like tomorrow?

BOOM! Harvard's new Western Ave fence collapses

I've been meaning to take a walk along the eastern end of Western Ave to see the new fence that Harvard installed along its property across the street from the Business School. The fence was to be an improved screen between the sidewalk and the huge parking lot for shipping containers and trailers.

A couple years ago the Harvard Allston Task Force's interim use subcommittee asked Harvard to replace the ugly fence there but was told that Harvard couldn't "step foot" on that property because of the CSX easement. That didn't make much sense. Why and how would a tenant prevent a landlord from improving their property if the improvement didn't adversely affect the tenant's use of the property?

So after that reluctance it was encouraging to hear that somehow Harvard and CSX had figured out how to agree that the old fence could be replaced.

As nice as it was for Harvard to put up the fence, it was even worse that their new fence didn't even last a month. Could it not withstand a 39 mph gust of wind on Sunday morning? This is at least as sorry as the collapse of the Pike's fence along Lincoln Street in 2005.

Can the City protect us from even the most obvious threats to our safety?

It's deja vu all over again.

Last year, a home on Raymond Street was demolished without proper asbestos removal. According to this July 26, 2007 TAB story:

The owner had permits for demolition, but did not have a permit for asbestos removal, said Leon Bethune, the director of the environmental health office at the Boston Public Health Commission. Removing the asbestos shingles required permits from both the health commission and the Department of Environmental Protection, Bethune said.

After inspecting the shingles, the health commission determined that they were in fact asbestos and should have been removed prior to demolition.

“Basically, [the owner] violated a whole bunch of laws by doing this,” Bethune said.

So on Monday when I walked past the demolition on at 205 Everett St (at the intersection with Holton St and across the street from the German school), I was disturbed to see the large cloud of dust drifting over the nearby homes. The demolition team didn't even have someone with a garden hose spraying water on the debris to keep the dust down. Nothing at all.

My disappointment at the lack of neighborly consideration became outrage today when I passed the sight and saw an asbestos abatement crew and signs warning about "cancer and lung disease hazard".

What is going on? Can the City's health commission and Inspectional Services Departments be trusted? Can they keep us safe? Its no secret that there is going to be a LOT of development in our neighborhood in the upcoming years. It is going to be a BIG problem if these two incidents are any indication of the City's inability to oversee construction-related activities.

TAB & Crimson report on last night's meeting

This Crimson and TAB stories excerpted below give a good overview of last night's meeting. You can download the presentation given by Harvard's consultants here.

The Harvard Crimson :: News :: Harvard Shows Revised Allston Plan to Residents

“Everyone’s always talking about Barry’s corner, but nothing’s getting done,” said Allston resident Leonard W. Kelliher. “Well, build the damn thing and build the rest of Harvard around it!”

“If you build food service areas deep into the campus, they detract from Barry’s corner,” task force member Brent Whelan said (correction: it was Bruce Houghton who said this), referring to the large intersection at North Harvard Street and Western Ave. that Harvard has promised to revitalize as part of its expansion. “I’m thinking about retail as squares of compressed areas where it’s all accessible.”

“We think that this should be an integrated city, and I look at this plan and I don’t see anything towards that end,” said task force member Harry Mattison, who has been critical of Harvard’s plans in the past. “Every time you talked about your plans and said ‘Oh, maybe there will be some community there too,’ it is sort of an afterthought.”

Harvard proposes changes to Allston plans - Allston/Brighton TAB

Residents and members of the Harvard Allston Campus Task Force expressed skepticism as to how open the campus would truly be. “The problem is getting in, not looking in,” said CTF member Michael Hanlon.

One of the most contentious issues of the evening was whether Harvard’s plans were sufficient to revitalize Barry’s Corner. The plan included the construction of four buildings that would serve as cultural venues within two blocks of the corner, a move criticized by the task force as catering only to daytime visitors to the area.

Speaking to a proposed open-air ice-skating rink two blocks northeast of Barry’s Corner, CTF member Harry Mattison said, “You don’t put a skating rink right in the middle of what’s supposed to be your big public area.”

Others felt that Harvard’s proposed improvements didn’t meet Allston residents’ expectations for the project. “Try to figure out what we want there, in terms of vibrancy, and what would support that,” said CTF Chairman Ray Mellone.

“This still isn’t a plan that integrates the community and the campus. This was a plan for two communities,” rather than one unified Harvard-Allston community, Mattison

Hill Church annual fair on Saturday

Support our community and have some fun on Saturday from 10-2 at the Hill Memorial Baptist Church annual fair. There will be a wide variety of homemade food, activities for the kids, knife sharpening (not for the kids), household goods, and more. The Hill Church is located at 279 N Harvard St.

World class, or just crass? - Globe editorial about an equitable Boston

The sentiment of this editorial in today's Globe I think applies directly to Harvard's expansion. Is Boston a world-class city for everyone, or only for some people? The Globe is prompted to write because of the opening of the Mandarin Oriental in Boston, whose "tempting offers" include hotel rooms starting at $525. There is nothing wrong with another ultra-luxury hotel, but we also need development designed to improve life for the regular people.

The Globe quotes the The Boston Foundation who says that the City and State face serious challenges that require "extraordinary collaborative efforts." Here in Allston, where Harvard's campus is expanding, residents daily see those challenges in areas like housing, transportation, and education. So far, we don't see much serious collaboration with Harvard or others to improve things in these areas.

The editorial concludes with the aspiration for collaboration that "would be truly great if it could also produce a world-class city for everyone else". If Harvard develops hundreds of acres in Allston and its neighbors are just an afterthought, as it seemed from last night's presentation, a tremendous opportunity for collaboration will have been missed.

BRA web gurus should fix the basics first

So the BRA wants $1 million to build "an online social network to unite people worldwide who have Boston connections". I hope it is obvious that I'm a big fan of using the Internet and other technology in interesting and creative ways. But in these tight times, when Menino says we “must do more with less” it is far from clear that Boston should pump so much money into Boston World Partnerships, an organization whose president is the past director of the BRA.

On a related note, today is the deadline to submit comments about the proposed development at 332 Chestnut Hill Ave. But when I went to the BRA's website to learn more about the project I found only a 2 sentence description, no mention that today is the comment deadline, and no link to the Project Notification Form.

If the City/BRA has the time and money to get fancy with a social network, it should do some basic work on ASAP so that it at least is performing its basic function of informing citizens about proposed development in our neighborhoods.

Harvard dropping the curtain

It should be very interesting to see what Harvard will show when they unveil significant changes to their Master Plan on Wednesday at 6:30 at the Honan Library.

Below are the comments I submitted after last week's Community Wide Planning meeting.

1. Commercial district "feel" and level of activity
2. The Harvard "bubble"
3. Smith Health Center and Mahoney's Garden Center
4. Timeframe
5. Housing
6. Magnitude of development
7. Shape of Barry's Corner

Commercial district "feel" and level of activity

An interesting way to think about our public realm planning is to imagine taking a walk through the neighborhood. This walk should be imagined at various times - during the workday, on weekends, evenings, and during the summer - and the walk should take us through the Holton St Corridor, North Harvard St from Western Ave to the river, and the entire length of Western Ave. Where will there be different types of activity and places of business? Where and when will it be quiet or more lively? This approach could also help us visualize the phasing of development. How will these walks feel in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years?

The Harvard "bubble"

Harvard already has thousands of students, faculty, and staff who work in Allston but we see none of them in Barry's Corner buying lunch or doing errands during lunch hour or after work. Instead, they stay on campus and use the post office, food court, bar/restaurant, and a Harvard Coop book store in basement of the Spangler Center. Harvard's Science Complex will be under a similar "bubble", with a private fitness center, private bar/restaurant, and other factors that will keep its workers inside instead of walking the streets of Allston and patronizing a variety of public businesses. Agreeing with Harvard to shift its new campus from its current model to a more public orientation is key to the success of the Allston economy and public realm.

Smith Health Center and Mahoney's Garden Center

The Joseph Smith Health Center and Mahoney's Gardner Center deserve specific consideration in our planning for Western Ave.
Mahoney's is a successful locally owned business with a proven commitment to our community. It is also a place of exceptional natural beauty. Our planning should help provide Mahoney's with surroundings that will help it prosper. Mahoney's would like to stay in our neighborhood and build a larger facility. Where do you think this location should be? If Mahoney's expands in its current location (200 yards west of the Holton Street Corridor's western edge), should our planning for the Holton Street Corridor extend west to include the Mahoney's and the office building next door? If not, what should occur in this gap?

The Health Center needs a larger facility to meet the needs of its current operations. Planning for its future could also consider the possibility of it becoming an outpatient medical facility for more A/B North residents. It could also be a place for Harvard's Allston community to receive health care. In any of these scenarios, the Health Center can be a valuable addition to a retail/commercial district because of its large number of patients and employees. Our planning should suggest at least one appropriate location on Western Ave for the Health Center.


We need to figure out how to create meaningful retail improvements in less than the 5-7 years suggested. We also need a plan for what will happen in Barry's Corner, the Holton St Corridor, and other commercial areas of our neighborhood in the next 1-5 years.


Housing is a crucial subject that unfortunately we did not have time to discuss on Wednesday, other than to hear the good news that there is sufficient market demand to justify new housing. I hope this topic will receive the time it deserves during our next meeting and will include development of specific, measurable goals in key areas like homeownership, affordability, and housing designed for families and senior citizens.

Magnitude of development

The North Allston Strategic Framework made specific recommendations for the square footage of retail proposed in Barry's Corner and the Holton St Corridor. From the CWP preliminary concepts, it is unclear how much space is proposed for various uses, building heights, etc. Please provide this information and quantify estimates of how many businesses of various types might be expected (2 restaurants, 10 restaurants?).

Shape of Barry's Corner

It was mentioned that the shape of Barry's Corner and the triangular island (home to the Exxon station) are problematic. Harvard Square overcomes similar oddities, but the reality in Allston may be that we should redesign Western Ave and North Harvard Street. This change could also have transportation benefits. The orange lines I've drawn below might be all wrong, but is there an option that you could provide for everyone's review?

205 Everett St demolition today

A few thoughts about today's demolition of the house at 205 Everett St that was the subject of blog posts in August 2008 and October 2007.
The property was sold last week for $350,000. The City assessment for the property was much too low. The City thinks the land value is $159,000. According to the demolition permit it cost $10,000 to demolish it, so the City was off by $200,000. I've written in other locations about the City assessing land for much less than a developer will pay for it and I think it is time for our cash-strapped City to catch up with the reality of the market.
This is a prominent location in our neighborhood. We should watch closely to see what the City and developer are interested in having built here and make sure we speak up loudly if the proposal is another 6 or 8 units of dorm-style apartments (like what has been built on Raymond and Adamson recently) that is contrary to our community goals for more ownership, more families, and more stability and diversity in our neighborhood.