A state-of-the-art science complex was supposed to spring forth from the expanse of concrete and steel on Western Avenue in Allston. But given that Harvard no longer has the money to finish what it started, announcing last month that it would put the university's expansion across the river on an indefinite hiatus, The Quad asked readers for suggestions on how best to use the space until Harvard drums up a new way to finance the $1 billion project.
Responses ran the gamut, many advocating recreational and athletic uses or artistic endeavors, such as outdoor theater. Some had an environmental or socially conscious bent.
Make it a BMX bike trail park and erect rock-climbing walls on one side, suggested Alfredo Parra of West Roxbury, along with several other ideas. "It's just obstacles that need to be put in place and won’t take a lot of money," he wrote.
Or a motor go-cart park with a three-story track that can be installed and removed without much fuss, he suggested.
Parra's most ambitious idea was to turn the space into an amusement park, a possibility that could help Harvard pay for the science complex.
"It can raise money and give the locals a nice place to spend the summer," he wrote. "All you have to do is lease the space to people who own these amusement park rides, and when it's time to build, just ask them to wrap it up and go!"
In a similar same vein, Allston's most outspoken resident, Harry Mattison, who sits on the neighborhood planning task force, suggested a miniature golf course designed by Allston and Harvard artists. "Inexpensive, creative, and fun!" he said.
Mattison also pitched "mobile BBQ" or other "restaurants" that could operate from Harvard's empty lots. A model could be Belmont's Silk Road BBQ, a portable roadside grill that operates out of a parking lot of a former auto repair shop that has earned rave reviews on Yelp.
"The location couldn't be much less inviting, but it is good enough for these guys to have run a business there for the past several months, serving good food to appreciative customers," Mattison wrote on his community blog. "If something like this can work in a Belmont parking lot, it can work on Western Ave. if Harvard is willing to try."
Harvard undergraduate Rebecca Cohen dreamed up a temporary garden with raised wooden beds to be constructed atop the bleak concrete. The beds would be filled with Harvard's very own compost, created from campus food scraps and landscape waste.
"A mix of vegetables and flowers would provide aesthetic appeal and would be a marked improvement from the state of the property now," she wrote. "The establishment of such a garden would prove Harvard does have a true commitment to the growth and improvement of Allston."
Cohen envisions the garden as a community utopia of sorts, where students and Allston residents could work side by side, tending to the flowers and produce. Food they grow could be donated to local food pantries or homeless shelters. Residents could spend time with their families in the garden. And the space could also be used to host outdoor art exhibits or community musical events.
One Allston resident suggested painting lines on the concrete slab for a variety of games: tennis, basketball, shuffleboard, four square, and dodge ball.
Or, the resident sarcastically remarked, "Continue current strategy: hire expensive consultants to design needs assessment survey, issue numerous press releases about what may happen, send lots of colorful flyers to neighbors with pictures of smiling children. Repeat."
But that's not constructive.
The Quad took the most creative ideas to Harvard officials last week and inquired about their feasibility. They responded via a no-nonsense written statement, that a "work team," with expertise in design, urban planning, business strategy, real estate development, and public policy, "is open to considering a variety of ideas and approaches and expects to work with the city, the broader community, and our own faculty and staff."
One reader suggestion to build the "world's largest public skating rink" seemed to hold some promise. Harvard beat us to the punch, though, unveiling an indoor skating rink at the now defunct VW dealership next door to the construction on Jan. 15. The 40-by-60-foot rink is free to all and open Fridays and weekends through the end of March.
"This interim use is an effort to bring creative, community-oriented uses to Allston properties while seeking long-term tenants for its buildings," said the university's initial announcement.
Who says Harvard doesn't listen?
The Quad highlights doings on local campuses. For online updates, go to www.boston.com /MetroDesk and click on The Quad. To submit tips, e-mail Tracy Jan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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