Thursday, January 17, 2008

Op-Ed in A-B TAB: House Undergraduates On-Campus Rather Than Banning Them From Living in 1- and 2-Family Houses

This week's edition of the Allston-Brighton TAB includes an op-ed piece written by me regarding Boston College's proposed institutional master plan.

In particular, I address BC's proposal to ban off-campus undergraduate students from living in 1- and 2-family houses in Allston-Brighton and part of Newton.

I argue that BC's proposed ban amounts to a Trojan Horse gift.  Accepting the present would bring with it the simulutaneous acceptance of the proposition that BC does not need to house all their undergraduates on-campus.  That would leave something like 600 undergraduate students living off-campus through the year 2018:
A far better idea, however, would be for BC to do the obvious: move all their undergraduates into on-campus dormitory housing. In this scenario, it would be unnecessary for BC to ban its undergraduates from living in one- and two-family houses, because they would already have moved out of those houses and into new dorms. As an added benefit, the students will be far more comfortable in on-campus dormitories than in an off-campus wooden horse.

Cassandra warned against accepting the Greek gift, but Apollo’s curse prevented the Trojans from believing her. “All heard, and none believed the prophecy,” wrote Virgil. We would do well to learn from Troy’s mistake by heeding Cassandra’s warning this time around — and pushing that horse back south of Commonwealth Avenue where it belongs.
Note that BC's proposed off-campus housing ban is not contained within the Institutional Master Plan Notification Form filed with the Boston Redevelopment Authority on December 5, 2007.  Instead, the proposed ban is something that BC officials have announced verbally at community meetings, and have pitched in meetings with editors and reporters at various media outlets, such as the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.  (The ban would presumably be accomplished through a written agreement between BC and the BRA, as opposed to being part of the IMP itself.)

As a result of BC's pitch, the topic received a substantial amount of press in late December:  the Boston Herald reported the story (albeit without seeking contrary comment) and their editorial board endorsed the idea; the Boston Globe editorial board stated that the idea seemed a good one; and WBZ chimed in with a brief story.

Thanks to the editors of the TAB for publishing this piece.


Anonymous said...

So, BC needs to house all undergraduates on campus, but do not build any dorms on the Brighton Campus or Shea Field.
OK, I get it now.....

amartin said...

in all honesty, and this is not meant as a flame, but where does the idea come from that BC must house all its students on campus? BU has thousands of kids living off campus. Schools throughout the country have students that live in apartments off campus.
Are there statutes on the books that you think support this stance? Just not sure where this directive that BC house all its students comes from. I think its pretty darn impressive, that depite its small, contained campus, BC manages to house nearly 90% of its students on campus.

Living off campus is a great experience for college students. They learn how to deal with landlods, how to pay bills, cook their own food etc.

Again, not trying to flame or antagonize, just looking for honest debate.

and I agree with the poster above, it seems hypocritical to demand that all students be on campus while at the same time fighting tooth and nail to stop dorms from being built on Shea and the Seminary. The reality is that the Seminary is part of the BC campus now.

dave said...

The idea to house all BC students on the main campus is from: (a)progressive neighborhood planning and (b) past (negative) experience with students living in the neighborhood. Yes, there are other surrounding students from other colleges living in the neighborhood, but this is a focus on BC for now, not the other school. In all fairness, the issues stemming from other colleges like BU, NU, Harvard, etc are other challenges that faced by part of the community and we can only address one issue at a time. BU is in the process of building a 20+ story student dorm on the main campus and BC should follow their example. As much as Harvard's expansion worries the community, it is not dorms that are planned to be built but administrative and research faciliites.

The reality is in fact that BC owns the former St. John's land, but the reality is also that BC should have taken into more consideration the impact to the surrounding neighborhoods before purchasing the land.

Michael Pahre said...

Point of correction from "dave"'s comment above:

Harvard University does plan to build undergraduate housing in North Allston, 3-4 undergraduate "houses" worth (I estimate around 1500 students). Those students would be moved from their North Cambridge quad housing (Currier, Cabot, and Pforzeimer Houses).

Harvard has proposed siting those North Allston undergraduate dormitories at a location that is as far as possible from North Allston resident houses -- and as close as possible to their current "river houses" in order to co-locate the undergraduate houses.

Harvard submitted those proposals in January 2007, but postponed their consideration so that the Science Complex could be dealt with first. Recently, Harvard President Drew Faust noted that Harvard plans to re-submit their new institutional master plan sometime around Fall 2008.

Regarding "amartin"'s comment, I believe you need to re-read the op-ed (which is the subject of this blog post) and other, related information more carefully (particularly regarding Shea Field). You are, in effect, accusing me of making a statement that I have not made.

amartin said...

Michael- If I misconstrued your statements, I apologize. I have read all your comments over a period of time. Dave, thank you for the thoughtful response. I understand that it is a neighborhood goal to have all the students on campus, I am just trying to get a sense of whether the neighbors think this lawfully has to occur or they simply would like to see it happen and therefore are fighting for it. Again, I think you'd have more success if you didn't fight every single issue that BC raises. But its certainly your right to actively campaign as you see fit.

Kristen said...

A question: where else would you expect BC to build? Where else is this land that dorms should be housed on? It certainly seems like the St. John's land is the most space available and close to the main campus (instead of "invading" other areas of the local neighborhoods). I'm sorry, but you can't have it all. If you owned the land then perhaps it would be another story, but you don't. It isn't really up to you.

Kristen said...

An additional point: I don't believe Harvard students would respond any differently than BC students if there was an Allston blog devoted entirely to BC slander and negativity. Of course the students are angry!

dave said...

Thank you for the clarification about Harvard's expansion. We all know this is of great concern as well but this is an issue for another time and place.

I understand your stance on the issue and you also have every right to voice your opinion as well. Thank you as well for your thoughtful response. This issue concerning the BC expansion touches a nerve within the surrounding neighborhood because many see the expansion as a threat to the remaining quality of life in the surrounding neighborhood due to problems resulting from (some, not all of) the student population.

You ask: where else would you expect BC to build? The short answer is: on the main campus. The slightly longer answer is to look at building dorms on the current land occupied by the student "mods". They can be multi-story buildings which are also closer to classrooms. Without going into great deatil there is also more space along the campus which BC can house students as well. Your comment about "having it all" has no weight. We in the community are not asking "for it all". We are just asking for BC to take into account the impact on the surrounding community, and what other options are available which BC has shown no compromise.

dave said...

To suggest this blog is devoted entirely to BC slander and negativity is a very inaccurate statement to say the least. This blog is set up to voice the concerns of the surrounding community with the neighboring college, not to create slander.

Rob said...

Responding to Dave specifically, constructing a 20 story dorm on any part of the current campus is really not feasible. I believe the tallest dorm currently is 8 stories high (I may be off by one story in either direction but the general point is accurate). The city of Newton would never stand for this. And frankly, I'm confident a vocal portion of the A-B side neighbors would never support it either. Additionally, it would not fit in with the character of the campus and would be disproportionately out-of-scale. BU can build a dorm of that size given the much more urban nature of their campus and the similar height to pre-existing buildings.

dave said...

I would like to make a few points about your response.

First, let me clarify my statement concerning BU's 20 story building. I apologize if I came across as suggesting BC build a 20 story building similar to BU's current design. I was merely suggesting some sort of multi level building (using BU as an example) that BC could build without going in specifics. One such option could be to build several attached buildings on the current "Mod" site similar to the size and shape of Fox Hall located on the main campus.

Second, I find your response of Newton never standing for such a proposal interesting because it suggests that it may be fine to take into account, or take seriously, one town's objections but disregard another town's concerns.

Michael Pahre said...


No one has proposed a 20-story dorm be built at BC. It is very inaccurate for you to say that anybody in the Brighton community has ever proposed such a thing.

Quite on the contrary. For those who have actually been involved in the process -- neighborhood, BC, and the city of Boston -- know that the discussion that has gone on has been solely about 4-5 story dormitories proposed by BC on their main campus vs. 6-8 story buildings proposed by many people in the neighborhood.

There is quite a lot of open and productive dialog going on between the city, BC, and the neighborhood residents. If you are unaware of that dialog because you only get limited and inaccurate information from some other blogger or website who is also uninvolved in the process, then you need to rethink whether or not to leave a comment here.

If you have not been following the process itself in detail, and are unaware of the true positions held by people on these issues, then please refrain from posting comments.

There is a huge problem in that so many of the commenters here -- who have been driven to this blog because of the issue of the inflammatory language on the BC sports fans websites -- are ignorant of virtually every position that anybody in the community has taken. This is a problem that keeps showing up in comments to this blog posting, to other ones, etc. I have been trying to let people speak back-and-forth, but the mis-information being repeatedly tossed by BC sports fans is wrong and should stop.

If you lack proper information, then please refrain from making repeated mis-statements.

I hope that I don't have to start rejecting comments right-and-left because they include mis-information in them. But I will take that action if need be.

Rob said...

Michael, I was responding specifically to this comment by Dave:

"BU is in the process of building a 20+ story student dorm on the main campus and BC should follow their example."

That seems pretty clear cut to me what he is saying. My comment was addressed specifically to him by name. If he misspoke or needs to clarify it, then he can gladly do that and I'll have no problem with it at all. I'm not a bombastic individual throwing shots at people.

I think it's pretty rude of you to call me out like that when I did not suggest "the Brighton community" said that as I specifically referred to an exact quote in this thread from Dave. I am a BC alum that has been involved in numerous development issues in this city before and understand this process pretty well.

Save your vitriol for those posters that truly are uninformed. I am not one of them. If you want to continue to alientate otherwise reasonable people who do understand some of the A-B concerns and would like to see a compromise, continue to make comments like that.

amartin said...

Michael- I have been reading your blog for quite some time and believe i have a pretty good handle on the neighborhood's position. is it within the community's right to advocate that BC house its students and specifically do so on a certain parcel of land where the mods currently sit? sure, go ahead. but is not then also reasonable for BC to push for having green space, and open spaces on their own campus and to thus resist building high rise dorms in the middle fo campus? I certainly think so. I think BC has taken a lot of steps to get students on campus and work with the community, including the new St. Ignatius dorm and proposals to build dorms on Seminary and Shea field. But that doesn't seem good enough to the neighbors, as both proposals are being fought tooth and nail. BC's desire to have an open, grassy quad on lower campus is just as legitimate as the neighbor's demands. Meanwhile, it appears to me that BC is compromising by offering to build more dorms on their already crowded campus on Shea, build dorms on the land they spent millinos of dollars for, and also by banning studnets from 1 and 2 family homes. But I see no similar compromises from the neighbors. they are sticking to their singular focus that BC build large dorms in the middle of the current mod area. That's what many BC supporters find frustrating.

william said...

Can you please provide a definition for "progressive neighborhood planning." To me it sounds like a meaningless term that can be slapped onto any idea that you have for limiting BC's expansion. And it is not unproductive to compare the BC situation to other colleges and universities in Boston. I notice it's nice to compare BC to what other schools have done when it helps you, but you have ignored that fact that under BC's Master Plan, it would house a greater percentage of its undergraduates on campus than any other school in Boston. That seems to be a pertinent piece of information, right?

Rob said...

Thanks for the clarification, Dave. I understand what you mean.

As for Newton, I was commenting on what would likely happen in that hypothetical scenario. I wasn't suggesting pitting one group against another. It was just an observation, not an editorial by me in that regard.

dave said...

When I defend the surrounding neighborhood's proposal to house the student population as a result of "progressive neighborhood planning" I am referring to developing a gradual well thought out BC master plan with the surrounding neighborhood's input as a result from past experiences dealing with the student body living in and around Brighton.

And yes, I do acknowledge the fact that BC has made efforts to put more and more students on campus and I commend the administration for that, but for the administration to take credit and be held at high esteem for housing most of the students on campus, yet continue to push for building dorms on the former St. John's land is hypocritical.

Michael Pahre said...

Another death threat has been directed this morning at a Brighton community activist. This behavior is absolutely idiotic.

While I understand that many people would like continued comment back-and-forth here on general town-gown relations or BC master plan details, threats of violence have no place in the discourse.

So I am locking down comments on this blog post.

I hope the gentle readers of this blog will understand the necessity of this action based on the increasingly vitriolic comments that continue to be posted here and elsewhere.