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City asks Harvard for rationale

In a letter to Harvard University President Drew Faust on Thursday, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino called the university’s decision to slow Allston construction a ‘grave disappointment,’ demanding that Harvard meet with city officials within the next two weeks and justify its plan of action.

‘While I understand that the current economic climate has had serious, adverse implications for the university’s ability to finance large scale development, our partnership in Allston has been based on our firm belief that we were planning a neighborhood and not just a campus,’ Menino wrote. ‘Our decisions must be made together. The university may not make decisions unilaterally.’

Faust announced in a letter to the Harvard community Feb. 18 that it would slow construction on its $1 billion Allston Science Complex after losing 30 percent of its endowment. The decision sparked outrage among many Allston residents, who called the decision further proof of Harvard’s disregard for the community.

Harvard spokeswoman Lauren Marshall said in a statement, ‘We understand the issues Mayor Menino has raised regarding the future of Allston. We look forward to working with the City and the Allston neighborhood to address the concerns highlighted by the Mayor.’

Menino demanded that Harvard meet with Boston Redevelopment Authority officials within the next two weeks to discuss the university’s plans for the vacant buildings that it owns throughout Allston, which Menino called a current ‘blight to the neighborhood.’ Also, Harvard must address concerns surrounding the community benefits of its development into Allston within 30 days.

Besides withholding approval, there is not an established procedure for enforcing Menino’s proposed deadlines, BRA spokeswoman Jessica Shumaker said. Unless the university makes changes to what the BRA has already approved, ‘we don’t have to approve anything further with the slowdown,’ she said.

BRA expects Harvard to respond to the letter, Shumaker said.

‘If there is an issue where they can’t respond to some of these requests, we’ll have to deal with it at that point in time,’ Shumaker said. ‘But we don’t expect it to get there.’

The mayor is requiring Harvard to prove that its financial situation justifies slowed construction, but it is too early to speculate how the city will respond if the finances justify Harvard’s decision, Shumaker said. In any case, a slowed construction schedule would be preferable to an indefinite halt, she said.

Menino’s letter is a small victory for Allston residents, whose concerns about Harvard’s development for years have largely fallen on deaf ears, Allston-Brighton Neighborhood Assembly founder Jake Carman said.

‘The neighbors’ display of outrage and frustration has finally reached the politicians who have been ignoring it for so long,’ Carman said. ‘I think that if we continue to organize and get our voices out there, to do creative things in the public, to keep the spotlight on the issue, we could really start to hold Harvard accountable for the things that they’ve been saying that they’re going to do for years.’

Carman said he hopes Menino continues to put pressure on Harvard, but Allston residents should not start to rely on the city for change.

‘This doesn’t mean that we can take a break from our work by any means,’ Carman said. ‘I think that we still need to keep up the pressure as residents and not sit back and let the politicians take over the process. Menino is not going to take care of it.’

The Harvard Crimson also reported Sunday that two Harvard professors whose laboratories would have been in the science complex are considering leaving the university as a result of the slowed plans.

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One Comment

  1. Why should government (city of Boston) have any say in what a private entity (Harvard) does? Govt should not attempt to persuade us that it knows how to run a business. Butt out!