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Friday, January 12, 2007
  Apparently Derek Bok Is Doing Something...
...despite the aspersions of a couple of posters below, who lament his eight-hour days and alleged fondness for vacations.

Yesterday, Harvard released its grand master plan for Allston. A few things strike me as notable: the inclusion of undergraduate housing; the environmental sensitivity; the addition of new "open space on land currently covered by asphalt" (although the phrase is vague); and the apparent support of Mayor Tom Menino.

"This plan offers tremendous opportunities for Boston. Over the next two decades, Harvard will become a major presence in our city," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. "It will not only enhance the Allston neighborhood, but it will strengthen Boston's reputation as a world center for life sciences, create thousands of new jobs, and provide opportunities for new collaborations between Harvard and the community."

In other words, Menino's firmly on board. That will make life much easier for Harvard.

On the page linked to above, check out the links for the aerial view of Allston as it is today and Allston as Harvard planners envision it.

The first thing you realize is that Harvard is blessed that Allston is currently such a dump. What an ugly place! (Sorry, Allston residents, but it's true.) You could doodle on a pad for five minutes and come up with something better than what currently exists.

The second most noticeable aspect is that a section of Storrow Drive has suddenly gone...underground. Well, why not? It's a shame that that side of the river is so cut off from the water. But the severity of the transition looks a little odd—and why not extend that grass overpass east and west, to both bridges, which would look much better?

Also, this would appear to be the great bulk of the new "open space," because there sure isn't much anywhere else. Since it's all between Harvard campus and the river, is this essentially private park land, funcionally privatizing a large section of the river? And what's with the bizarre line of trees, breaking what should be a lovely view of the river, and chopping what should be relatively uninterrupted grass into aggressive, strangely angled sections? You folks already did this with the Yard, and it didn't work there either.

A third thing is that the new plan greatly increases the density of development in Allston, which would obviously add to the traffic across the river going both ways. But other than some discussion of shuttle buses and better bike lanes (good luck with that in February), there's no bold suggestion for how to deal with the increased traffic—no new bridge, for example, no monorail. That seems a problem. These bridges are a nightmare as is.

Fourth, that new building on the Allston side towards Boston, the one that looks something like a cement bench, is ugly now, and will still be ugly in 50 years.

Fifth, the new undergraduate houses, wherever they may be, don't appear to be in the Georgian style—there doesn't seem to be any new Georgian architecture on the Allston side—and they may not even be on the river, unless they're to the east of the business school. In which case, boy, are they ugly. In fact, a lot of this architecture—and I know it's early—looks deeply uninspired and generic.

Six, looks to me like some athletic facilities just disappeared...hmmm. We know Bok isn't a big athletic booster. Is this part of a long-term anti-athetics conspiracy?

Huh. Now that I think about it, it seems this conversation needs to broaden. Harvard undergrads, athletes, and alums, as well as Allston residents, need to get involved....

Because Harvard's plan essentially privatizes an entire neighborhood, and to the untrained eye—mine—there are some real questions here.


P.S. The Globe runs with an artist's rendering showing Allston looking towards Cambridge, which gives the appearance of much more open space—and makes the Storrow Drive overpass far less noticeable—than the view looking toward Allston from Cambridge.
good comments, Richard

first, this looks watered down from original thinkging on the project.

housing is nice as is a museum-real cultural amenities?

science-do you really think the longwood medical area folks and mgh are going to go to allston? probably not...just a thought but, look at partners master plan and see if there is overlap.

as for the community-they have been sold out by all the players at the table. and, in fact, they and boston are probably more responsible for that ugly building on western ave than harvard. food for thought re the 'community process'.

as for storrow and traffic-good luck getting that through a permit process-didnt we just have one of the fiascos on our hands called the big dig. galvin (secretary of state) is a a real local and a neighbor with an eliot spitzer eye for nonsense and has been successful bringing financial services and the beloved catholic church to heel. be prepared for a lot of rock and roll on the political side. which brings this to the next level of questions-who'll work on that no that stone is/has left. there is no one there who can effectively navigate btw the university, the govt and the community.

all and all a rather bland plan without and wow factor...
For what its worth, it looks like some of the athletic facilities (primarily Ohiri Field), have been relocated in the images on-line, but still part of the Master Plan.
The Richard mode of Harvard thinking:

> If something good happens, credit Bok.

> If something bad happens, blame Summers' legacy.

Never mind that this plan has essentially been in place for months, that Summers saw it through for years beforehand, etc., etc.

I don't get it--why do you hate Summers so much? He's a washed-up man who tried to do his part for Harvard--at least give him some credit where it's due. It's called "decency."
I don't hate Summers—who is hardly a "washed-up man"—at all. Nor do I have any similar fondness for Bok. I just call 'em as I see 'em.

As far as the Allston plan goes, I'm not sure I'm giving anyone credit, as the more I think about it, the less inspired it seems to me.
Hey Richard, were you walking around Cambridge Commons today? there was someone who looked much like you parking a red sports car. If it was you, what were you doing at Harvard?
Sorry, no. I drive a green VW, and I was here in Manhattan yesterday.....
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