Campus & Community

Allston planners hear community voices

4 min read

Community meeting draws many area residents

An Allston community meeting Jan. 20 gave Harvard’s Allston neighbors a chance to voice opinions on the area’s future, touching on everything from access to open space to traffic congestion to the location of utilities.

The meeting, at the Boston Public Library’s Honan-Allston Branch, was the latest of several public sessions on the Allston development and was organized by Harvard to give the University’s Allston development planning firm, Cooper, Robertson & Partners, a chance to hear firsthand the opinions of neighbors on pending development in the area.

“We want to have as much dialogue as possible before we determine specifics so that the plan won’t be full of surprises, full of things that won’t get community support, and things of which people would say, ‘I could have told you [that wouldn’t work],’” said Chief University Planner and Director of the Allston Initiative Kathy Spiegelman.

Harvard Planning and the Allston Initiative’s Director of Physical Planning Harris Band kicked the meeting off. He told the 80 or so audience members that with the North Allston Neighborhood Strategic Framework for Planning nearing completion, the University was entering a new phase in the extensive planning effort for Harvard’s future Allston development.

Band said the next phase will take the general guidelines in the North Allston Neighborhood Strategic Framework for Planning and begin to craft a more specific vision of the future that incorporates both neighborhood input and Harvard’s goals of enhancing teaching and research.

This phase will result in an institutional master plan, which will begin to lay out specifics about the Allston development, such as building locations, open space, utilities, and traffic improvements.

Spiegelman was careful to note that not all the land Harvard owns in Allston will be available for development in the next 10 years such as the rail yards south of Western Avenue.

David McGregor, Cooper, Robertson & Partners’ managing director, presented an overview of the firm’s observations about the area so far, and offered some broad observations.

A first observation, McGregor said, is that the area’s open space is difficult to reach because much of it is located along the Charles River and cut off by busy Soldiers Field Road. One resident suggested depressing a section of the roadway to provide broader access.

Looking at the community’s physical layout, McGregor said the most obvious place where the community and the University would meet is the intersection of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue. That location, he said, would be a good place to have a town center type of development.

With regard to traffic and transportation, McGregor described his observations that congestion is worst at the several intersections with Soldiers Field Road, where local traffic has to contend with commuters traveling from the suburbs into Boston. Truck traffic on local roads is another issue. These are things that will be considered when Harvard looks at opportunities to create transportation connections between academic buildings that will be located in Allston and the Cambridge and Longwood Medical area campuses. McGregor said the short-term solution would likely be bus shuttle services. Residents asked to be included in any such plan as a way to ease their trip to the Red Line subway station in Harvard Square. One suggested that Allston residents be allowed to ride Harvard shuttles.

Residents also raised a concern that the high water table makes the existing open space wet and unusable at times. McGregor said the flat, low-lying land is very wet and suggested that a canal or other water feature could be used to help drain the land.

Wrapping up a constructive meeting, McGregor emphasized, “We don’t have the answers, but we think we see some of the problems.”

Spiegelman said that the University will continue its dialogue with the Allston community throughout the planning process and in future meetings that will be scheduled in the coming months.