EXTENSIONS & EXPANSIONS

Boston-view

Steve Eliopoulos for Tufts University

As local lore has it, when a relative asked Charles Tufts what he would do with his land, and more specifically with “that bleak hill over in Medford,” Tufts replied, “I will put a light on it.”

The Universalist Church founded Tufts University in the 1840s with a gift of 20 acres of land from Boston businessman Charles Tufts. Tufts’ land was located on one of the highest hills in the Boston area, Walnut Hill, between Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts. This land was once inhabited by Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribes,  They are the American Indian who are in Northern part of America. They consisted of many tribes which was in the 17th century however, now they have been divided in 2 main tribes that are; Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head that are in Massachusetts. Try this for dividing different software for trading. and later the Ten Hills Farm, a slave plantation owned by Isaac Royall, whose house and slave quarters remains preserved a few blocks away in Medford. Charles Tufts’ family also owned African slaves until the late 1700s, allowing for the family to become wealthy and donate land for our university. Students, for the Tufts Observer, wrote a thorough piece with plenty of valid concerns:

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It is in this context of Tufts’ own violent history and establishment of its borders that we speak out about its current institutional expansion, which continues to uphold its wealth and power by displacing people in surrounding communities. Over the past 30 years, community members and students have spoken out against Tufts’ expansion into Chinatown, Medford, and Somerville. This expansion is characterized by the increasing number of Tufts-owned administrative buildings, a growing student body, and the subsequent displacement of residents living in these immigrant, working-class neighborhoods hosting Tufts.

Indeed, Tufts continues to expand into surrounding neighborhoods, without providing housing for students. Because many Jumbos (the school mascot) are relatively wealthy, and because they live together and share housing costs, they are often able to pay more than local residents. Students limit the supply of housing and drive up the costs, forcing many local residents to move because they can no longer afford to live in the area. When the Red Line arrived at Davis Square, prices rose dramatically, and this will undoubtedly happen again with the Green Line Extension to College Avenue and Boston Avenue, which may soon become “College Square“.

Displacement is not pretty. Unsurprisingly, local residents have resorted to vilifying students.

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The authors of the Tufts Observer piece arguably sympathized with this woman’s hateful rant, noting that Tufts students have “elitist” attitudes towards locals, calling them “townies”, when we are the ones “occupying” their land. I agree that Tufts students must be aware of their attitudes towards local residents, and I agree that many Tufts students come off as arrogant and superior.

However, it appears as though political correctness applies double standards, allowing local residents to insult college students with no ‘trigger warnings‘, while college students must be held to higher standards. I think that this belittles and demeans local residents. They should be held to the same standards. Unfortunately, students are afraid to express controversial ideas on college campuses, keeping civic discourse from moving forward, and keeping stakeholders silent and oppressed. (This is a serious problem plaguing campuses in the U.S.)

Stoking the populist fears of residents, Somerville has been exploring zoning ordinances that prohibit more than four unrelated people from living together in a single apartment, thereby singling out college students. This will only further strain the housing supply, because Somerville refuses to increase density and build taller. These exclusionary zoning tactics are also inherently discriminatory, reminiscent of zoning laws that prohibited poor (black) people from living in wealthy neighborhoods by mandating only suburban typologies, thereby limiting density and affordable housing. We should be increasing choice, not decreasing choice. Supply and demand.

Using terms such as ‘occupy’ and ‘colonize’, the authors are fervently anti-development, but this ‘underdogma‘ perspective is actually quite harmful and dangerous; poverty does not necessarily dictate virtue and weakness does not necessarily dictate righteousness. How far back must one retreat in order to not be occupying? Is the woman, whose YouTube video they defended, also occupying indigenous land? Are the Chinese-American immigrants in Chinatown occupying former Italian-American and Irish-American land? Clearly, this insider-outsider perspective is fallacious, and urban problems must be solved through a more nuanced approach. Cities are dynamic and ever-changing. The authors never defined ‘local’ residents, because it is hard to define the term.

Tufts is the largest employer in the area, providing local benefits like library access, fields for community use, community service projects, and reduced application fees for Somerville High School students. Higher education fuels Boston’s economy, allowing the city to remain globally competitive while other cities rust away. Progressives should be supporting change and development, not hindering it. Progressives should be advocating for public transportation, not fighting to eliminate the MBTA Green Line Extension, which promises to create jobs, improve job accessibility, and enhance sustainable modes of transportation. I agree with the authors; Tufts must build more housing for students. But the surrounding neighborhoods must also be allowed to build more homes for residents! Can we find a balanced approach?

The authors left out the redevelopment of 574 Boston Avenue from their piece. A few years ago, I met with the talented and inspirational artisans who had been working there for decades. Tufts, which owned the building, was planning on evicting them, and I wanted to learn about their creative community before it was destroyed. The entire process was saddening, as these artisans dedicated their working lives to this building’s informal, interdisciplinary atmosphere, and they had to move. Where would they go? Could they find somewhere affordable nearby? Born and bred to a working-class family in Brooklyn, I, too, may soon need to leave my childhood home because it is too expensive, so I understood their confusion, fear, and pain. Among the many talented artisans: Rick Berry, Paula Garbarino, Judy McKie, Kim Schmahmann, and…

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John Brown’s Space

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Paula Garbarino’s Space

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Tufts Daily article (April 2013):

University plans to remake a Tufts-owned building at 574 Boston Ave. into teaching and office space will result in the May 31 eviction of its current residents, a community of artisans who have run their businesses there for over two decades.

Tenants on Nov. 30 received a notice from Walnut Hill Properties, Tufts’ non-academic property manager, which gave them six months to move out, according to a Feb. 4 Boston Occupier article.

“Tufts has been considering the best use for 574 Boston Avenue for several years, as the university’s need for space has been increasing,” Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler told the Daily in an email. “We will be working closely with the city and the local community as we move forward and expect to meet with the neighborhood as our plans develop further and we are closer to applying for a building permit.”

For the artisans, eviction means the demise of a large community of woodworkers, instrument makers, metalworkers and other artists who have made a home out of the four-story, 96,000 square-foot building.

John Brown, Paula Garbarino and Chris Keller (A ’76), woodworkers who design and build custom cabinets and furniture from the building, said they are frustrated at the loss of this communal workspace.

“There’s a big brain trust in that building, and it’s all going away,” Brown told the Daily. “We all can’t move to the same location because that building, that 574 Boston Ave., doesn’t exist anywhere in the area, and boy, have we looked for it.”

The building fostered a vibrant community of artisans who have shared ideas there for decades, Garbarino said.

“It is lovely to be able to go to work in your own greater neighborhood, to go to work in a place with light and air and fabulous neighbors who can give you advice and help you out,” Garbarino told the Daily. “I really value the greater community of people in that building.”

The artisans occupied the building on a month-to-month basis since all leases expired several years ago, Thurler said. Tufts has informed tenants about their intentions to renovate the building for many years.

Although the university did make the artists aware of its future plans, Keller said Walnut Hill was ambiguous about the situation until the artisans received the letter in November.

“There had been rumors floating around for at least a decade,” Keller told the Daily. “We all knew that eventually Tufts would want to do something else with the building – or we assumed they would.”

The university has been working to facilitate this move for those affected by the eviction, Thurler said.

“We have provided tenants with contact information for local commercial brokers who are well-qualified to provide relocation advice and assistance,” she said.

Despite university efforts, Garbarino said that many artisans have not found adequate spaces to relocate. For example, she has looked at 16 buildings but has not found a comparable place to 574 Boston Ave.

“When you go look at other commercial space and it’s all metal buildings with no windows and a cement slab to work on, it’s not the same – it’s not at all conducive to creative spirit,” Keller said.

These artisans lived and worked in an organic social, economic, political, and physical environment. The open-door space incentivized creativity, akin to Building 20 at MIT. The environment itself was conducive to their creativity.

Yet Tufts rightfully owned the building, and they’ve beautifully renovated the structure for the years to come. Tufts recognized that the Boston Avenue corridor will be dramatically transformed in the coming years, due to the Green Line Extension. In fact, the 100-year-old industrial building was originally fueled by its location adjacent to transportation provided by the Boston & Maine Railroad, now the right-of-way for the Commuter Rail and Green Line Extension.

Tufts University’s President, Anthony Monaco, wrote me an e-mail about 574:

Over the decades the property changed hands frequently with a variety of industrial uses including paper box manufacturing, wool scouring, and metallic fabrication.  When Tufts purchased the property in 1988 the building housed a firm named EM Decorating and other tenants.  Tufts purchase of the building at that time by Walnut Hill, our real estate corporation, was somewhat risky.  Walnut Hill Properties was formed 40 years ago to buy property for Tufts’ strategic purposes and to hold the properties in a self-sustaining manner until they would be needed. So for 25 years, until 2013, Tufts provided space at low cost to the artists, craftspeople and tradespeople that you recall. That community could not have flourished without Tufts’ support. When Tufts needed the building for its mission they were treated with respect and given assistance in relocation.

An understanding of the past should inform our future, especially if that past includes a community that has emerged through co-location and the synergy of shared creative work.  Much of our thinking about 574 Boston Ave renovation, both in selecting the interdisciplinary academic groups that will occupy the building and the design of the architecture, is grounded in a desire to create a unique creative community that will contribute every day to our mission.

We have designed the building to have many places in which people can come together, including informal group meeting spaces, collaborative technology, a coffee kiosk, individual and group study spaces, and a reading room in addition to the seminar rooms, teaching labs, classrooms, research labs and offices. We expect 30+ faculty, up to 200 graduate students, post docs and staff, and hundreds of undergraduates to be in the building every day.

The architecture of the building is designed to recall the building’s history and to link that history to contemporary academic purposes. We have the preserved the original dimensions of the building; exposed, sandblasted and preserved the interior wood structure and preserved the dimensions and material organization of the envelope windows, concrete structure and panels. We are using metal and graphics that recall it’s industrial history. We are now exploring ways to incorporate innovations of the 21st century as artwork in the building, drawn from Tufts faculty.

In all, we believe that our current plan to reuse 574 Boston Ave honors its history and many generations of people who worked there.  It is an urban development project of a very special kind, thoughtfully crafted and adapted to its next purpose.

I agree with President Monaco. The building has gender-neutral bathrooms, showers, kitchenettes, huddle rooms, phone rooms, conference rooms, classrooms, and lab spaces for Physics and Astronomy, Occupational Therapy, Community Health, Human-Centered Engineering, Robotics, Entrepreneurial Leadership, and a portion of Child Study and Human Development. Unlike many Tufts buildings, which have plenty of chairs but not many reasons for hanging out, 574 has plenty of mixed uses that can foster a dynamic, creative culture. It is actually fun to explore the space, and I wish I could be taking classes here, viewing the Commuter Rail and Green Line outside of the window…

Tufts has branded itself as a school that understands the importance of interdisciplinary research, and this building meets and exceeds the forms and functions necessary for that mindset. Charles Tufts, who wanted to place a light on the hill, would be happy if he knew that on the top floor of 574, natural light will pour into a 20-foot-wide corridor. Here are some of my photos from August:

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Future Green Line ROW

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Future Green Line ROW

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Along with many other initiatives, such as an Air Rights Building atop an MBTA Green Line Extension station, Tufts is proactively and sustainably planning for its transit-oriented future.

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Tufts University plans to construct a 100,000-square-foot academic building above the MBTA’s College Avenue station in Medford, which is slated to open in late 2020, along with a footbridge that will connect the new facility to the Medford/Somerville campus. Preliminary designs for the new academic space call for classrooms, meeting and seminar rooms, offices and conference and teaching spaces. The lobby and atrium, classrooms and meeting spaces will be available for use by the community.

The new building is part of a public-private collaboration among the City of Medford, MBTA, Tufts and Cummings Foundation. Through the partnership, the MBTA and Tufts have signed an agreement that grants Tufts a 99-year lease of air rights over the College Avenue Station and commits Tufts to pay for associated project redesign and construction changes. Tufts will also pay for ongoing maintenance and security around the station, which will amount to significant ongoing savings to the MBTA. Tufts will be granting use of its land to the MBTA for the construction of the new station at no cost to the MBTA. Tufts has committed to pay $550,000 over four years to the City of Medford to support improvements throughout the city.

In addition, in lieu of property taxes, Tufts has pledged to pay the city $250,000 in the year that it receives a final certificate of occupancy for the Tufts building. At the start of the second year of occupancy, Tufts and the City will negotiate in good faith on an extension of the PILOT agreement, with the understanding that future payments be not less than the year one payment.

The university is moving forward with the design and application for permits for the footbridge that will connect the station to the campus and increase pedestrian safety by reducing foot traffic across the busy intersection of College and Boston avenues. The project will also include more accessible sidewalks, a landscaped pathway to the adjacent neighborhood bordered by Burget Avenue and retail space, such as a coffee shop, for T riders, neighbors, faculty, students and staff.

While Tufts is still determining how best to use the space, the building is envisioned as a home for “outward-reaching” academic endeavors that will benefit from being near public transportation. Proximity to the new T station will foster greater collaboration between faculty and students on the Medford/Somerville campus and those on the health sciences campus in downtown Boston, Monaco said. He noted that the building will not be used for student housing or for “wet” laboratories.

The opening of the College Avenue MBTA Station on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville Campus will create a new joint development gateway on campus, and it has the potential to measurably increase sustainable transportation among members of the campus community. Last semester, I worked with a team to develop a set of recommendations for the Tufts Campus Planning Office and the Office of Sustainability that will help achieve this vision. In particular, we examined how the College Avenue station, part of the planned Green Line Extension (GLX) project, can be leveraged to shift modes toward sustainable transportation.

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Tufts is no stranger to air rights, having created the Tufts Development Corporation in the 1980s in order to explore buying South Station air rights for its Chinatown campus. However, it sold the air-rights to Hines Development Corporation because the vibrations from the train traffic made the site unsuitable for high-tech firms, which is what Tufts had intended for the area. Moreover, the added complexity of decking over diesel tracks made the process quite difficult, as seen by the fact that South Station Bus Terminal did not encompass the entire area so that diesel fumes did not have to be ventilated mechanically through the structure.

Yet unlike the Red Line entrances at Davis Square, which are two one-story structures, completely vacant of any additional uses in the heart of booming Somerville, space will be maximized for the Green Line station at College Avenue and Boston Avenue. Indeed, unlike the MBTA, which is a risk-averse public authority, Tufts has bravely proposed visionary plans.

We must make sure that the Air Rights Building gets built, which requires the Green Line Extension to reach Tufts. Rather than decry change, we need to adapt, and we need to propose productive, practical, visionary solutions. The T and Tufts must work together to design smart extensions and expansions. After all, our school is a place for active citizenship…

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Born and bred in Brooklyn, my name is Rayn Riel, and I’m a Senior Editor at PlaNYourCity. I’ve circumnavigated the world twice in order to research transportation finance and joint (real estate) development practices in 30+ countries and 25+ U.S. states. I’m a graduate student at Tufts University and I’ve designed Tufts’ only undergraduate urban planning degree, I’ve founded Tufts only undergraduate urban planning student group, and I’ve also been working as a GIS Lab Assistant. Having interned at the NYC Department of City Planning for the past two summers, I interned at MTA NYC Transit and at the MTA HQ Real Estate Department this summer. I will graduate with a B.A. and M.A. in Urban Policy and Planning in May 2016. I intend to become a “Riel Estate” professional.