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Harvard and City of Boston Cautiously Moving Forward with Major University Expansion Plans

How do you meld an Ivy League campus and a diverse neighborhood studded with light industry? As Harvard University steps up preparations for a huge expansion on the other side of the Charles River from Cambridge, the city of Boston has also started working out a formula for this urban alchemy, releasing its own plan for the area last month.

The university owns almost 350 acres of the Allston neighborhood and plans to vastly enlarge its campus on this space, and this summer hired New York firm Cooper, Robertson to produce a framework – conforming to the city’s plans- for the expansion. The plans in their current form advise on height, density, building types and other issues, according to university officials. The phased expansion, which will take place over decades, will include housing, classroom, and lab facilities. Cooper, Robertson recently tapped Frank Gehry and landscape architect Lori Olin to contribute to the effort.


Meanwhile, the Boston Redevelopment Authority in December released the final version of its strategic plan for the area, North Allston, prepared by Boston firm Goody, Clancy & Associates. Harvard, along with neighborhood groups and businesses contributed to the city's plan. At press time, the mayor was scheduled to release a final report (expected to be very similar) this month. The proposed city guidelines aim to balance the university's academic and residential needs with the surrounding community’s, limiting building heights in populous areas, preserving river views and open space and keeping the neighborhood viable with affordable housing, job training and other economic assistance, according to city officials. The plan also calls for the preservation of 1, 2 and 3-family houses.

Another major issue is the plan’s impact on the neighborhood. Rober Van Meter, Executive Director of the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation, stresses "that the campus be permeable and accessible to the neighborhood.” The city's plan stresses the need to preserve local jobs and provide transitional help for workers and local businesses affected by Harvard's expansion, according to BRA officials. Harvard's current presence in Allston includes its graduate school of business, athletics complex, and service buildings.

"It sticks in the craw of some people who live and work in the area that, to some extent, [Harvard officials] present Allston to outside groups as an industrial wasteland, and Harvard's going to remake it," Van Meter adds. "Certainly there are unsightly industrial parcels, but it's also a healthy residential community…There've been comments to the effect that what's good for Harvard is good for greater Boston," he says. "There's substantial truth to that, but it's not unalloyed."

Ted Smalley Bowen