Harvard unveils plans for new Allston neighborhood
University starts small, with focus on 14 acres along Western Avenue
HARVARD UNIVERSITY unveiled some broad brush strokes of its plan to build a new neighborhood along Western Avenue on the edge of its campus in Allston.
The project, dubbed variously as Allston North or the Enterprise Research Campus, is an attempt by the university to build a neighborhood that feeds off and reinforces the research and innovation taking place at Harvard and other nearby institutions, including the Longwood Medical Area, Boston University, and MIT.
At a meeting Wednesday night with Allston residents, Harvard officials laid out some broad themes for the entire 36-acre area while offering a bit more specificity on 14 acres adjacent to Western Avenue. The working concept for the 14 acres called for two office/lab buildings, each about 200,000 gross square feet and 140 feet high, along with a hotel and conference center and a residential apartment building, each about 250,000 gross square feet and 190 feet high. Retail and commercial space would be located on the ground floors of some of the buildings.
Harvard’s vision for the remaining 22 acres included streets, development sites, residential projects, and lots of open space, including a 50-foot wide promenade running down the length of the area’s main street, named Cattle Drive after the livestock that used to come into the area by train. The other main streets running between Western Avenue and Cambridge Street are called Stadium Drive and East Drive.
The area right now is one vast open space that people drive through on the Massachusetts Turnpike, but after years of planning and discussion things are finally starting to happen. Harvard is already building a new School of Engineering and Applied Sciences along Western Avenue adjacent to the proposed Enterprise Research Campus. State transportation officials are moving ahead with plans to rebuild a deteriorating elevated section of the Turnpike adjacent to Boston University, straighten the Turnpike, build a new bus and commuter rail station called West Station, eliminate the crazy-quilt roadways in the area, and connect the new neighborhoods (Allston South is on the drawing boards) to the Charles River.
It’s incredibly complicated, with lots of moving parts and competing interests. But Harvard officials say there is an opportunity to knit Boston together, improve traffic flows in the area, and spin off businesses with the potential to make breakthroughs in bioengineering, computer data science, robotics, and materials science.
Kevin Casey, associate vice president for public affairs and communications at Harvard, said the companies will all be driven by research. “There’s going to be startups. There’s going to be large companies. There’s going to be small companies,” he said.Casey said Harvard was starting small, with preliminary plans for just 14 acres, because many of the issues related to the larger neighborhood development will have to be addressed in collaboration with the state Department of Transportation.
Many of the 50 to 60 Allston residents who attended the meeting at Harvard were worried about what impact all this development would have on their neighborhood. Officials from the Boston Planning and Development said an Impact Advisory Group with representatives from the neighborhood would have plenty of opportunity to weigh in on Harvard’s preliminary plans and later when the university begins to submit formal plans in conjunction with developers.