Questions over development point to Boston’s crying need for urban planning
Jon Chesto’s article “Harvard buildout triggers pushback” (Page A1, Sept. 5) reveals a compelling need for comprehensive urban planning in Boston. Sadly, the Boston Planning & Development Agency has not taken this approach, essentially delegating significant features of planning to large corporations and nonprofit institutions.
A newly elected mayor needs to fundamentally restructure the BPDA, prioritizing planning over piecemeal approvals of large projects.
At the same time, Harvard, in keeping with its commitment to social justice, needs to work cooperatively with Allston-Brighton residents and a restructured BPDA to create an economically and racially diverse community on its sizable land holdings in the neighborhood, rather than an economic investment for the university and its corporate partners.
Kevin M. Carragee
The writer is president of the Brighton Allston Community Coalition, which focuses on the need for affordable housing in Allston-Brighton. The views expressed here are his own.
Why can’t this world-class university practice what it drills in its classrooms?
As one born and raised in Allston-Brighton, and a Harvard alumna now living in Oregon who hopes to return in May to Allston-Brighton, I am dismayed at Harvard’s lack of vision as it develops its vast Allston properties. Western Avenue surely needs redevelopment, and Allston desperately needs new housing. I hear from Allston friends about the exhausting community process as they face one development after another with no idea about what the vision or larger goals are.
In my courses at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, faculty and administrators stressed community outreach, equity, and coordinated planning. A student who proposed what Harvard is advocating for Allston would be harshly judged in his or her course in any number of the university’s graduate schools, from public policy to design to education.
Why can’t this world-class institution, with its innovative teachers and researchers, provide a vision that galvanizes the neighborhood? Why can’t it practice in the community what it preaches in its classrooms about opportunity and creating a resilient, inclusive, and affordable urban district? Instead, the Harvard response is essentially “Let them eat cake” — the notion that the Allston community should be grateful for whatever development Harvard decides to confer.
The writer holds a master’s in education from Harvard.
Harvard Allston Task Force member still waiting to learn about a larger vision
As a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force, I was glad to read about the university’s land holdings in Allston. Residents are far from the only ones asking for a larger vision from Harvard. The Boston Parks Department, in its comment letter, said Harvard’s vast Allston holdings are an “opportunity to provide a world-class open space system for a large area of the city on a scale not seen in Boston since the creation of the Emerald Necklace.” The Boston Civic Design Commission, in its hearing, asked Harvard to speak more to the larger context beyond individual parcels. The Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs letter on March 12 cautioned Harvard on segmentation of its development to evade environmental review and required the developer to engage in much wider outreach to the community. And the Boston Planning & Development Agency board itself warned Harvard in March 2018 that its just-trust-us approach would not suffice.
To date, we still have no larger vision. The task force on which I serve compelled Harvard to agree to slightly expanded outreach. Jon Chesto writes in his article that “Harvard leaders want neighborhood support,” but not a single leader has talked with us. We would love to hear from the school’s president, Lawrence Bacow. The neighborhood is ready to be inspired.
No large-scale project will succeed without tackling area’s transit woes
Harvard’s expansion into Allston over the last 20 years has missed many opportunities to create a diverse community with lively public spaces. While the neighbors Jon Chesto interviewed rightly look for Harvard to change its ways, the world’s wealthiest nonprofit can’t solve this problem on its own.
The roughly 150 acres Harvard has left to develop in Allston are a transit desert, and the West Station commuter rail stop is no closer to reality now than when Charlie Baker took office six years ago. Until Massachusetts has a governor who supports a significant expansion of MBTA bus and rail to connect this part of Allston with the region, no large-scale development will succeed.
Huge questions of housing and zoning must be answered to create a green, vibrant, and inclusive community. This requires the attention of Boston’s mayor, not just staff of the Boston Planning & Development Agency. As mayors, Tom Menino and Marty Walsh were largely absent on these topics, and the vacuum created by their absence contributed to the current unproductive dynamic.
Boston’s next mayor will have an opportunity to join Harvard president Lawrence Bacow, Governor Baker, Allston residents, and others to break the stalemate that is forming. Leadership matters.