Campus & Community

President outlines ideas on Allston planning

6 min read

In an open letter to the Harvard community, President Lawrence H. Summers Tuesday (Oct. 21) outlined a number of programmatic assumptions intended to guide the next phase of the University’s planning for the eventual long-term use of its properties in Allston.

In releasing the letter, Summers said, “This is a critical time in Harvard’s history as it is for all of higher education. The pursuit of enduring knowledge and new ideas, and the preparation of individuals to lead lives of value, have never been more important to society. At such a time, the properties Harvard has acquired in Allston afford us a historic opportunity to innovate, to grow, and to build our long-term academic strength, while also contributing to the vitality of one of our important home communities. The choices we make in the coming years about this extraordinary opportunity will do much to shape Harvard for decades to come.”

Full text of Summers’ letter

While it will be many years before much of the Allston land becomes available for University use, Summers wrote, Harvard expects to be in a position to begin some limited building within the next several years, and to pursue some additional development within the ensuing decade. It is useful now to outline a set of working hypotheses about the future use of the land, he wrote, both to sharpen discussion and analysis, and to ensure that the ultimate result is a coherent whole.

Acknowledging the helpful counsel of various individuals and groups in bringing the planning effort to this point, Summers said that a number of common themes have been prominent in the deliberations to date. For instance, the Allston properties should ultimately emerge as an integral part of Harvard’s academic enterprise, as magnetic as other parts of the campus; they should feature a mix of uses, both academic and residential; they should be effectively linked with other parts of the campus; they should engage with and be part of the neighboring community; and they should be planned in view of the reality that Harvard’s long-term growth opportunities in Cambridge (and eventually in Longwood) are finite.

Summers then outlined five programmatic elements that he described as considered hypotheses about the eventual use of the Allston properties:

n Science and technology: To maintain Harvard’s excellence in the basic sciences, and to advance our strengthened commitment to the applied sciences and engineering, we will need substantially more space for science in the decades ahead. Given the developments driving much of modern science, this will include space flexibly designed to make collaboration easier, and space that can well accommodate the more sophisticated technology on which so much of science now depends. In light of the nature of the facilities needed, and a realistic appraisal of the long-term constraints on physical growth in Cambridge and Longwood, we should begin planning with a view toward establishing in the long run a critical mass of scientific activity in Allston.

n Professional schools: Both the School of Public Health and the Graduate School of Education could benefit in a number of ways from eventual relocation to Allston, given both the nature of their academic missions and their current physical settings. In addition, Allston should be seen as a future home for wider collaborative efforts among the professional schools, in view of challenges common to the professions they serve.

n Housing and urban life: Especially in light of the difficult housing market, we need to increase opportunities for Harvard’s graduate and professional school students to live in University housing. More such housing will improve our students’ lives and enhance our overall educational environment. In addition, the Allston properties should incorporate elements essential to a vibrant urban community, such as restaurants, shops, open spaces, gathering places for special events, and reliable transportation. The extended campus should draw its energy not only from academic activities but also from the day-to-day activities of a lively urban neighborhood.

n Culture and community: Artistic and cultural activities contribute greatly to the character of the University, and also provide important links to the wider community. We should consider more concretely how the Allston properties might provide improved space for some of these activities, in ways that would both serve our academic purposes and add to the vitality of community life.

n Undergraduate life: While this programmatic element is at this point more speculative than others, Allston might in time serve as a locus for facilities and activities aimed at enhancing undergraduate life, including the possibility of new undergraduate Houses close to the Charles River. Such a development could help relieve crowding in the current Houses; provide more and better space for student activities; strengthen the bonds between the Cambridge and Allston parts of our extended campus; open up the possibility of someday relocating students from the Radcliffe Quad; and allow for the long-run possibility of welcoming more undergraduates from around the world.

As the planning process moves forward, Summers said, real estate planning and development activities will need to be closely harnessed to progressively refined judgments about academic and other programmatic aspirations. The next phase of planning will need to draw strongly on the creative, farsighted thinking of faculty members and others in considering how the broad outlines sketched above can be sharpened, tested, elaborated, and ultimately converted from ideas into reality.

Task forces consisting largely of faculty members will be formed to focus on the principal programmatic domains: science and technology; professional schools; culture, housing, and urban life; and undergraduate life. Each will gather and evaluate further input from interested individuals and groups, and will work to develop the hypothesized programmatic elements into more concrete options.

The University will seek to engage an outside firm to provide expertise in the master-planning function essential to an activity of such scale and scope. Harvard’s internal process will track closely with the institutional master planning process established for university growth by the city of Boston.

The Academic Advisory Group (comprising the president, provost, and deans of the faculties) will continue to play a key role in the planning process, as will the Harvard Corporation, which has ultimate responsibility for the use of University resources and the institution’s long-term progress.