Across the river, the Allston community remains distant from the bristling intellect and verve of Harvard Square. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Harvard bought large tracts of Allston under the names of proxy companies and then announced plans for an expansive campus in the area, centered on a $1 billion Science Complex. However, in 2008, the University halted construction in Allston, after the financial crisis made it impossible to continue building. Today, the Science Complex building site and other Harvard-owned properties remain largely vacated, waiting for new tenants or restarted construction.
In light of growing concerns about Harvard’s level of commitment and the crucial, mission-defining period the capital campaign is in, we are compelled to opine again on the future of Allston. Last week, we advocated that Harvard refocus its capital campaign on resuming construction in North Allston, and we argued in broader, more philosophical terms that a desirable conclusion to what has been a painful episode for Allstonians takes precedence over House Renewal. Now, however, we write to articulate what we would like to see materialize across the river.
Harvard needs nothing short of a defining vision for this project and must retool its approach to developing Allston to actualize the vibrant community it initially vowed to create.
True, Harvard has spearheaded certain valuable community initiatives, such as the Harvard-Allston Education Portal, the Innovation Lab, and a seasonal skating rink. This speaks to some level of dedication to replace the literal and figurative hole in North Allston. Nonetheless, the University’s long-term commitments to its developments in the community need further conceptual development and increased clarity. There may be conflicting goals as to what explicit direction Allston’s redevelopment should take, but Harvard must distill these ideas into a true mission that is both attainable and agreeable to the University community.
The Harvard Allston Work Team, made up of the deans of each school in the University system and co-chaired by former Institute of Politics Director Bill Purcell, is due to give University President Drew G. Faust suggestions on Allston development in the middle of this year. We urge that their report be taken very seriously by Faust and others involved with the project. At times, Harvard paid only lip service to the reports and opinions of task forces, such as the Undergraduate Council’s Budget Cuts Task Force and the Committee to Review the Administrative Board. This should not be the case with the Harvard Allston Work Team’s findings, which should be made public to the entire community, so we can better understand the University’s commitment to and plans for Allston. They will, after all, impact the undergraduate community, like they will all facets of the University, in a significant way.
Additionally, Harvard should be consulting the residents themselves even more than they do already. We are no experts on the specific needs of the Allston community, but there are those who are—and, to a certain extent, they have been struggling to make their voices heard. The Harvard Allston Task Force, composed of Allston and Brighton residents, which has been making recommendations on the future of the project, should take a more proactive role in conceptualizing development. The scope of Allston renewal goes beyond that of cutting a budget or introducing a program; people’s lives and livelihoods have been affected in ways infinitely more consequential than many understand, and Harvard would do well to take their input more than lightly. True, the University has indeed said all of these things before, and President Faust has reassured the community that Allston remains a priority. But words mean only so much, and at some point they need to be translated into measureable plans.
A most prosperous future for Allston will result from neither a purely academic nor a purely communal vision—Harvard should seek to create a locus of scholarship and service in which the academic and local communities interact and intermix.
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