New blog about Harvard's undevelopment of Allston

This Is Harvard, by an Allstonian who's begun chronicling what happens to a neighborhood full of empty buildings - such as the arrival of squatters at the abandoned Kmart.

Via Harry Mattison.



Free tagging: 


Boston Hole Watch?

With the announcement of the construction slowdown of the science complex in Allston, some of us Allston residents realized that there may very well be a large hole in the ground for many more years to come.

Between Allston and Downtown Crossing, let's hope this isn't the beginning of a trend...

Tourist Attraction

The Boston Hole Tour!

Except it wouldn't be nearly as fun as the Seattle undeground tour. It could, however, be worked in with one of those architectural walking tours that visits the Brutal Pile with regularity ... perhaps we should create a Center for Poor Planning and Bad Design?

Now that the Big Dig is (sorta) finished...

...the Boston Hole Tour fills a void!

We could add City Hall as an example of how Boston Holes might be preferable to project completion.

I wonder if there are other visible construction projects in a state of recession-inspired neglect or abandonment.

Please stop making me think

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Because I'm now thinking this would be a cool mapping project.

In addition to the Harvard Black Hole and the Menino Memorial Hole, we also have the Dianne Wilkerson Interpretive Hole, a.k.a. Columbus Center in the South End.

What other holey messes does Boston have right now?

North Point Park

To be fair, the stalled project has made North Point Park an absolutely awesome place to drink beers after work when the weather turns nice.

The clean river view, nice grass, surrounded by city but in relative quiet, and no people anywhere. Heck, you don't even have to put your bottle in a bag.

World's Toughest Writer

there aren't squatters ... yet.

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the squatters part of the post is speculation:

"There were no sounds of movement or people ... So Harvard can help the neighborhood… by supplying a huge location for squatters displaced by the housing crisis!"

I'm not saying it won't happen, but it hasn't happened yet.

So the world teeters on the

So the world teeters on the edge of a depression, but somehow Harvard should be exempt. Allston was a read paradise before Harvard arrived. Good thinking.

"read paradise"?

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Harvard does have financial limitations, but that doesn't excuse the decade of landbanking that it was doing before the markets collapsed. Look at what Harvard promised and what were delivering, even back in the good old days when their accounts were flush.

I don't think anyone said Western Ave was a "read paradise" before Harvard arrived, but it was better then than it is now.

Semi-retarded ranting

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What are Harvard’s plans for this building? They’re going to do something with it in the next 50 years. Something clever? I have a clever, shovel ready, economic stimulus idea — Sell the building to someone how will develop the building and allow small, innovative businesses to move in. This building sits at the gateway to Boston and the only impression it presents is one of decay and neglect.

Oh, come off it. NOBODY is buying anything and developing it right now. Who is Harvard going to sell it to? Why would they take some kind of huge loss on such a proposition as opposed to holding on to it until they can afford to improve it and use it for their own needs? Why would a "small, innovative business" want to move into Allston, *especially* if it means that Harvard is retracting further back into Cambridge away from them?

Look, I'm sure there are plenty of valid reasons to be disappointed with the way Harvard's Allston campus plans have turned out. But concocting completely nonsensical "it's SO simple" solutions just to prop up a strawman and beat the stuffing out of it as if you've got the world figured out is cathartic only, at best.

PS - If you want to stop the squatters, call the cops and tell them the vacant building has been broken into. They'll check it out and then call the owners to come and repair the lock on the door. Otherwise, it's just more semi-retarded ranting...but I'm sure you'll get a regular fist-shake-at-the-sky out of it as nobody does anything about it since nobody is going to fix it unless they know that it's broken.

How to save high-tech with incubation

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We really could use an incubator. But more than office space and shared photocopiers and receptionists (people don't much need those anymore), we need angel&VC funding and business networking.

I was just talking about this with a business contact yesterday. He brought a lot to the table, and he was pitching some viable ideas and asking for my help on the technical side. I was capable of doing the technical viability and project estimating, and of assembling a team, but I had to tell him I couldn't afford to do that right now without at least minimal funding during that process.

When one of my colleagues finished his PhD at MIT, a wealthy professor funded him living expenses so he'd have time to investigate doing a startup. Without this, he'd have to accept a job immediately, MA would have lost a potentially hot new company, and the professor/investor wouldn't have the potential opportunity become considerably more wealthy. A good deal for everyone involved.

MA has already missed out on a lot of startups because finishing MIT grad students couldn't afford to spend unpaid months it would take to draft business plans and assemble teams just so angels and VCs would possibly talk to them in the future. I think the situation is even worse in this economy: you'd be a fool to turn down a solid job offer so you could spend months without income on a startup, unless you were already wealthy.

I'm not talking Y Combinator. I'm talking an incubator for people who are skilled, savvy, and already motivated.

With the right management of the incubator, investing in it would be a no-brainer: low investment for potentially big rewards for investors and MA.

It might also contribute to an environment that makes high-tech talent want to stay in MA, rather than take their MA educations to CA or NY, where they perceive more opportunity.

perhaps a rant, but not "semi-retarded"

But Kaz, folks in that 'hood have every reason to be ranting.

They're looking at a long-term hole in the ground, a project that at this juncture was best never started rather than started and stopped.

There's a psychological impact of having these sites around -- call it the Detroit Effect -- that just reeks of blight and downward mobility. As someone who walks by the Filene's Hole almost every day, I'll not-so-happily attest that it changes one's perception of the entire area. I can't blame people for being angry and alarmed and projecting that it'll get worse (e.g., squatters).

Okay, so the solutions aren't that easy. But continuing to push the idea of entrepreneurial, high-tech, innovative-type initiative is one of the pieces that will help to refloat this economy.

Hindsight is a curse and a blessing

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I'm sure if Harvard had any idea the market was about to turn the way it did, they wouldn't have wanted to start the project either. We can't plan based on how we wanted it to go. Dealing with the reality of now by saying "hey, why didn't you think of the unexpected when you started!" is absolutely semi-retarded. So is suggesting that the answer is to just hand over your assets to a mythical "someone else" when there's little to nobody to be that "someone else" right now because the same condition that keeps you from moving forward is the exact same one that keeps there from being the "someone else's". Harvard is bleeding faculty right now because they're unable to finish this project in any way. They're not just losing time and money, but they're losing prestige as well now.

I'm sure if Detroit could just sell itself off to a bunch of "someone else's" they'd be a burgeoning city of unfettered wealth, too. It's basically no better an answer than "I wish they'd pray harder for a miracle".

Of course, whining about how you're community is a prime example of our collapsed economy and writing blogs where you come up with nonsensical "answers" to get mad that these solutions haven't been implemented is free though.

Couldn't call it unexpected

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People were saying for years that there was an untenable real estate bubble that was going to burst sooner rather than later. This didn't happen out of nowhere.

Oh well then

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Let me just take all of my investments completely out of the booming market today, June 13, 2006, in the hopes that on June 14, 2006 the untenable real estate bubble bursts. What? I'm fired because our accounts are completely stagnant while everyone else went on to make money for the next 2 years still?

At what point do the "warning signs" of a bubble like this mean anything? When it actually falls apart. If you act any sooner, you're either prescient or a fool. Harvard has a responsibility to continue to improve its standing in the sciences and this was the plan. If the bubble had lasted only a year or two more, none of this would even be an issue and Allstonians would have a bunch of money coming in from all of the staff and faculty at their brand new science facility.

That's not how it happened and going back and saying "well, all the warning signs were there" is the same hindsight that sounds right but is still just fallacy. They had to operate in the environment as it was given. Nobody knew exactly when the foundation would collapse or how wide-reaching the effect of such a collapse might have been. Even now that it has collapsed there are still completely different outlooks on how long it will last or how many others might get dragged into it.

If I were an Allstonian, I'd try to figure out how to make the best of the bad situation with Harvard. Extract promises for improvements when things are loosened up for Harvard to finish its work as opposed to suggesting Harvard do impossible things like sell off its acquisitions. For example, the area around Harvard and Western lacks a bit of variety for lunch places within walking distance. The park there is nice but it could use a bit of sprucing up. Harvard's agreement to take those apartments in exchange for the land at the K-Mart looked to include primarily high-end condos, whereas the deal should be restructured to better fit the local budget and the people whose apartments would be taken. Locals could be given Harvard Shuttle access as a supplement for public transportation (take the 86 OR the Harvard Shuttle). Just a few ideas, but getting mad at the current situation and ranting about things that just don't make sense is pretty pointless.

cheap "hindsight" or "accountability"?

The financial meltdown was "unexpected" by folks who were ignoring the warning signs all around them. It wasn't just outlier economists and financial experts who were predicting it; not-so-tucked away in the likes of The Economist and other "respectable" periodicals were articles assessing the American housing, subprime, and credit markets and projecting a coming disaster. These pieces were appearing during the heyday of the housing boom.

Harvard's fund managers are paid a ton of money to watch over their investments. These "best and brightest," like their counterparts on Wall Street, utterly, completely, destructively dropped the ball. Many other elite "non-profit" universities, with their funds also run by the casino economy crowd, were playing the same game.

These institutions are not victims of the meltdown; they were complicit in fueling it. Others, like the folks in Allston, are paying the price.

I think most people knew it

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I think most people knew it was precarious. The dominant strategy for most people is to milk all you can, while you can.

but neil, if they truly "knew it"...

...they would have presciently safeguarded their assets after milking the market. Logic and common sense fell by the wayside -- it really was like being in a casino.


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Thanks for your input. Based on Robert Downey's speech in Tropical Thunder I try my best to only go semi-retard and not full retard.

I think you're taking my rants too literally. No one expects Harvard to wave a magic wand and make all of Allston's problems go away. Our expectations were that they won't add to our problems, which most people would agree they have.

Not renewing leases for successful businesses does not help.
Not making real efforts to lease suitable buildings does not help.
Not making efforts to improve their property to leasable status does not help.

Likewise I don't think anyone expects Harvard to empty their endowment to build a new Allston. I think people would simply be happy with a reasonable plan that Harvard would commit to.

Have you seen the map of Harvard properties that are empty and NOT in the 50 year plan?

I'm just a dude playing another dude

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Yeah, I was probably a bit harsh, but that's also why I said "semi-retarded". Because I think it's perfectly fair to be disappointed with Harvard's current situation in Allston. I imagine Harvard is as disappointed or more so than even the residents are at this point. Nobody likes being the one stuck without a chair when the music stops. They are bleeding good faculty who aren't getting what they were promised, in terms of lab space any time soon.

You are right that Harvard has plenty of space that it's chomped up without a good plan yet (and while much of it probably would have entered their 50 year plan once the campus was started in 2011 as previously thought)..I doubt they'll be entering the plan any time soon now unfortunately. If you had hit on THOSE buildings in your first couple of posts, then I would have had a completely different reaction to your blog. But you went after the ex-K-Mart and Lincoln St properties first...which ARE in the 50 year plans (K-mart to be traded to the Charlesview Apt owners for development into new housing; Lincoln St to be ancillary to the new biology center...which is now frozen). In fact, Harvard did Allston a *favor* by buying up the "Boston Tech Center". The previous owners couldn't *give* that spot away because it's basically in the middle of residences and miles from any current biotech/tech bases like Kendall Square.

In an article about a week ago in the Globe, Harvard said that it's going to try and move forward on the park and beautification redevelopment projects even if the buildings won't be able to move forward. They also claimed to have 85% of their leasable space leased.

I shop and play in that area all of the time and I recognize that the current situation sucks compared to what was promised. I just don't know that Harvard has the ability to just wave a wand and fix everything right now. Instead of bagging on Harvard for it, I'd rather see people attempting to draw certain concessions from the university for specific improvements that they *can* accomplish more immediately. I just don't get that feeling from the "how come they don't show this on their high school brochures" attitude of your blog. I think that's a failing.