Allston and Harvard’s Growing Pains | Opinion
Excuse Cambridge loyalists: Allston is here to stay.
A year after Harvard opened its famous science and technology complex in Allston, a growing portion of the student population frequently visits the neighborhood for classes, shifting our institutional center of gravity to the shores of Charles. Harvard’s ambitious push, which has been going on for years, is finally coming to life – and with it comes a thorough examination of the hidden costs behind our new lecture halls.
Our board has repeatedly spoken out about Allston’s initiatives in the past, tracing Harvard’s gradual expansion year after year; we’ve come to accept the path of ‘progress’ – glittering architectural intricacies and Veritas prints – as almost unavoidable. Assessing the overall assessment of the presence of our University remains, on the other hand, a permanent and arduous task.
Harvard’s presence at Allston, while relatively disruptive, isn’t necessarily a bad thing — and it isn’t necessarily the case, assuming responsible management and investment to minimize our institution’s growing pains. The new campus is not just a boon to the swarms of students who can now attend classes in slightly newer, remote buildings: if one is to believe in the productive impacts of academia at large, lecture halls and Busy labs across the river are bound to facilitate the kind of knowledge creation that can prove extremely socially beneficial. The School of Engineering and Applied Science complex, for example, could spur the expansion of research programs grappling with some of the biggest questions in medicine, climate science or other high-impact fields. impact.
The benefits of expansion are not exclusively hypothetical. Harvard’s growth will bring – has brought, in some cases – undeniable and tangible benefits to the Allston community. The proposed corporate research complex, for example, has been dubbed a “everyone’s project” by university president Lawrence S. Bacow and claims to provide opportunities for Allston residents. Outside of Harvard’s vast confines, the massive influx of Allston affiliates will almost certainly increase foot traffic in the area, expanding Allston’s business clientele and hopefully boosting the neighborhood’s sometimes lean economy.
However, the promising initiatives and gleaming buildings do not fully reflect the local footprint of the development, nor its potential fiscal impact on some residents. Allstonians have good reason to be skeptical of Harvard’s bona fides. The University’s secret land-buying strategy – which saw it buying acres across the river under the name of a generic developer for eight years, in what was deemed exemplary of the “highest level of arrogance” – sowed legitimate distrust between the University and the city’s leaders. The ensuing divide will not heal overnight, and the lackluster contemporary response from Harvard, which dismissed years of characterization errors as “fiscally prudent,” did little to help. The University must, at least, recognize that it understands how its past behavior fuels current reluctance. Going forward, transparency (not financial prudence) must be the norm: future and current plans must not be kept secret for the benefit of Harvard’s finances at the expense of the people. Residents of communities that our development plans may affect are entitled to helpful and timely updates regarding our institutional expansion.
Those future plans should also include tangible benefits for Allston’s most vulnerable — families and individuals who will likely face rising rents as their isolated corner of Boston becomes a vibrant Crimson hotspot. Harvard has already committed some $25 million to affordable housing in Allston. As laudable as this investment is, it pales in comparison to the estimated $1 billion tab for the SEAS complex. Housing affordability is an almost intractable problem and often involves heavy bureaucracy, but Harvard, using its institutional clout, should at least make an effort to engage with the Allston government to push for zoning changes that would make affordable housing projects more feasible. . The University should, at the same time, remain aware of the other externalities of its presence in the region, ensuring that future projects remain environmentally friendly (as evidenced by the surprisingly “green” SEAS building) and continue to lobby for improved public transport in the region. ; our multi-million dollar commitment to a planned new MBTA shutdown is a good start.
The bottom line for our board is that Harvard’s developments in Allston should serve its former residents as well as its new ones. Every University decision – land purchase disclosures, urban investments, housing initiatives – must convey an understanding of the colossal impacts of our growth on certain residents and reflect a desire to maximize the benefits they will reap.
While our Allston Chapter will in all likelihood bring substantial benefits to universities and society, this progress must not come at the expense of the people whose communities we are transforming. Harvard must continue to engage, humbly and respectfully, with the government and local Allston community while planning new projects, lest it fall into the all-too-common tendency of portraying itself as a life-saving savior. economic activity while sweeping away the concerns of those we claim to help.
Harvard is on track to make Allston a second Cambridge. But as we rush to our sprawling new campus, we must remember that we’re not the only ones — or the first — to call the neighborhood home.
This staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Crimson editorial board only. It is the result of discussions during the regular meetings of the editorial board. To ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to voice their opinions and vote at these meetings are not involved in reporting stories on similar topics.
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