Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harvard Fails to Live Up to Its Promises, and the BRA Fails to Enforce Them

The Boston Globe ran a story last Thursday about how Harvard University promised in 1997 to install streetscape improvements to North Harvard Street in North Allston by 2002:
A decade ago, Harvard pledged to replace the asphalt and fence and plant up to 52 trees here.

It never did.

The BRA brokered a deal with Harvard to extend the date to July 1, 2006 -- a year ago -- but, alas, still no new concrete sidewalk, chain link fence, or trees. And the BRA has not enforced the deal, although they have issued a press release:
"We expect [the improvements] to be done immediately," [BRA Spokesperson Susan] Elsbree said last week.
On both sides of Allston-Brighton, every month we hear BRA employees try to assure the neighborhood that agreements reached as part of the Article 80 institutional master planning process will be "legally binding" and "enforceable." Yet the BRA can't even seem to twist Harvard's arm to get a little bit of work done on one worn-out street carrying lots of pedestrian, bicycle, Havard Shuttle Bus, MBTA bus, truck, and automobile traffic.

The Boston Globe published three letters today from area residents outraged by this failure to enforce existing agreements, including one letter written by me:

HARVARD UNIVERSITY'S failure to follow through on long-promised street improvements in North Allston is yet another example not only of Harvard's broken promises but of the Boston Redevelopment Authority's failure to enforce agreements made in the master planning process ("A street of broken vows runs in Allston," City & Region, July 12).

Allston-Brighton is currently besieged by massive new expansion proposals by Harvard to the north and Boston College to the south.

Every month at neighborhood meetings we hear BRA officials claim how the master plans will be enforced, whether it be lighting hours or dormitory use. Harvard's failure to improve North Harvard Street, however, demonstrates the hollowness of the BRA's words.

Harvard should agree to a hiatus on BRA approval of their new projects until they satisfactorily resolve past promises. Only then will they live up to their school motto: Veritas.

But wait, it gets worse. The BRA's failure to assure compliance with such agreements may be endemic, since another case was recently reported in SAMPAN (thanks to Harry Mattison for finding this one):
Four years after the City of Boston approved the development of a controversial apartment tower in Chinatown, most of the promised benefits of the project have yet to be delivered.
You might think that the BRA's team of compliance officers would be swarming all over Harvard demanding they live up to their agreements. But despite the broad array of projects and agreements that the BRA oversees, they didn't even have a Deputy Director for Compliance until 2004 -- seven years after Harvard agreed to the improvements in the first place! The BRA's 2004 press release states that:
The compliance position grew out of the BRA’s desire to formally monitor the commitments made in the Article 80 process.
You mean that they didn't even bother to have the "desire to formally monitor the commitments made in the Article 80 process" until 2004, eight years after Article 80 was adopted? What has Christine Colley been doing during the past three years? Shouldn't the BRA's compliance officer be proactive in enforcing these agreements, rather than being reactive by sending out a press release a year (or five years, depending on who is counting) after the work was supposed to be done?

If the Big Dig were overseen by as few regulators as the BRA uses to review these master plans and ensure their compliance, then every tunnel would have collapsed by now. It's no wonder many members of the community are deeply distrustful of the BRA.

Will somebody please grab the steering wheel of that BRA before it mows down more neighborhoods?!?!

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