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Globe Editorial

Lessons in town-gown detente

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June 9, 2008

UNIVERSITY OFFICIALS across Greater Boston could learn valuable lessons about institutional expansion from a tentative deal announced last week between Suffolk University and the Beacon Hill Civic Association. Permanent peace between town and gown is elusive, but the sides can achieve détente through good faith and planning.

Under the proposed pact, the neighborhood gains a "nonexpansion zone" on much of Beacon Hill and a promise that Suffolk will cap enrollment at 5,000 undergraduates for the next decade. In exchange, the powerful civic group agrees not to oppose Suffolk's 10-year master plan, which includes new student housing near Downtown Crossing and a new academic building at 20 Somerset St. An endorsement today by the full board of the civic association would provide protection for the neighborhood and breathing room for a university that contributes to the city's economy.

Suffolk and its Beacon Hill neighbors were locked in a long and bitter dispute over the university's original plan to house students on the Somerset Street site. Tensions eased when Suffolk vice president John Nucci and neighborhood leaders stopped focusing on individual building projects and concentrated instead on common goals. Both sides wanted to see fewer students in private housing on Beacon Hill. And each saw gains in shifting the university's center of gravity to less residential areas of downtown.

A similar process could reduce tensions between Boston College and its neighbors, especially concerning BC's plans to build student housing in the Lake Street area of Brighton on land purchased from the Archdiocese of Boston. Neighbors make strong arguments that there is no need to encroach on open space when there is adequate room to build dorms on the main campus.

BC is revving up with a master plan to transform its campus. But the slow route through the neighborhood is often the best.

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