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Old 11-18-2008, 04:51 PM   #1
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Harvard Square in Allston?

HARVARD SQUARE IN ALLSTON?

Harvard Square ain?t what it used to be. Charlie?s Kitchen and Mr. Bartley?s may still be there, but The Taystee, Wursthaus and Elsie?s have all decamped to Mom ?n? Pop Heaven --together with the various liquormongers, the quaint and funky consignment clothiers, the provisioners, bookstores and bars that once made the Square a prized retail destination for locals, Bostonians and --on weekends-- suburban pilgrims sniffing out Bohemia.

You could get a Croatian dictionary at Schoenhof?s, a Marimekko at Design Research --or at Bernheimer?s you could pick out for your honey a few c-notes? worth of turquoise amulet looted from the pharaoh?s tomb. Blacksmith House had a dobos torta some days of the week, and you could purchase Bauhaus drawer-pulls at Dixon?s when no one else carried them. You could catch a Rita Hayworth double feature at the Orson Welles, and chase it macrobiotically with a bowl of flavor-challenged rice at the restaurant beneath. Suffocating. Just think: you coulda died for the Alouette and Westphalian baguettes in the Garage; and at Iruna, the nonchalant Spaniard served up miniature squids swimming in their own ink.

Not stuff you could find in Charlotte.

Truth is, things were never really what they appeared to be. Stealth chains had infiltrated even before the halcyon Sixties were done; they just wore false beards. The Boylston Street basement saloon with the copper bar and pioneering Bass on tap belonged to New York?s Restaurant Associates --and so did ZumZum, the fast food joint with the yummy but overpriced bratwurst. And you forgot J.Press and Ann Taylor were chain stores, because they?d been around almost since the dawn of time. Brigham?s was the local chain food, along with the 24/7 Waldorf, and the Bick. WordsWorth affected valiantly to belong to local bookworms, but nobody was fooled.

Commercially fertile as a jackrabbit in heat, the Square in turn gave frequent birth to chains of its own; these would spring upon a receptive nation a year or two after their Harvard Square debuts. Tweeter Etc., Charrette Corporation, Emack and Bolio, House of Blues and various haberdashers fanned out from the Square?s hotbed of entrepreneurial creativity, and the Square?s premiere pot dealer opened a national antidrug consultancy.

For decades, powers-that-be successfully excluded McDonald?s and Dunkin? Donuts, but when Abercrombie and Fitch displaced the Taystee and other seemingly immortal fixtures in the Square?s very hub, the cognoscenti knew it was all over.

The irony, of course, is that Abercrombie itself is now gone.

* * *

PLUS ?A CHANGE?

These days it?s popular to trash Harvard Square.

Handwringing often alternates with lamentations and the gnashing of teeth over the Square?s putative mallification. To this oldtimer and frequent re-visitor, however, it seems like nothing much has changed. Most of the stores are different, but the whole remains the same.

It?s like you: aside from your brain, how many of your cells are the self-same ones they were last year? And yet, you?re the same person you were last November. And next year, when you?re made of all new cells, you?ll still be you.

Anyway, the Business Journal says the tide has turned away from chains: http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/st...12/story3.html .

And on top of everything, the retail experience, though important, is not even the essence of Harvard Square?s strange power to attract.

* * *

Over the years, I?ve lived in an even dozen places in the Boston area. In the suburbs: Milton and Newton; further in: Coolidge Corner, Jamaica Plain, Union Square, East Boston and Porter Square. In Back Bay, it was Marlborough and Newbury Streets. I have fond memories of all these places. But best of all --by far-- were the years spent living in Harvard Square on Trowbridge Street, Franklin Street and Dana Street.

If I won the lottery tomorrow I?d rush to snap up a little place near where Green Street meets Putnam, and I?d live happily ever after. (If I won it five times I?d add to my collection an efficiency on West End Avenue in the Seventies, a town house in the perched village of Haut-de-Cagnes near Nice (so aptly named!), a little condo in Pacific Heights, a mews house near the South Kensington tube station, and a tout petit Latin Quarter garret near the Pantheon. Life for a globetrotting Hobbitt.)

* * *

We talk a lot on this forum about what makes a place unique, without taking full cognizance that the UNI in unique means ONE. One of a kind. By that measure, not many places are unique in their essence, including Harvard Square. But it almost is; that is, Harvard Square is almost unique in its essential character.

And that is ? ?

Well, it?s not Georgian buildings. It?s not traditional buildings, or cutting-edge buildings, or buildings of any particular style. It?s not short buildings or tall buildings or in-between buildings. In fact it?s not buildings at all --although it is partly the relationships between buildings.

It?s neither specialty retail nor neighborhood shopping. Though both these are Harvard Square assets, they?re not the essentials of the UNIqueness of this place; they?re easy to find elsewhere.

It?s not that the preservationists did a good job of saving what?s best from the past, nor is it --for goodness sake ! -- that it reflects dynamically the best thoughts about the future.

It?s not cultural institutions or traditions, though --like many another place-- Harvard Square has plenty: the Loeb, the Fogg, the Sackler, the Sanders, the Brattle, the Busch-Reisinger, the University Museum, the Crimson, the Hasty Pudding, the Game.

It?s not parks, old buildings or the pervasive sense of history; Cambridge has a long way to go to match in this regard its namesake in England --though Harvard Yard simultaneously wows the rubes and regales them with green. Combined with Winthrop Square and the distant riverfront, it?s all the park the nabe really needs; the Common is almost superfluous.

It?s not only the walkability; lots of places are walkable besides Harvard Square. And for the same reason, it?s not the streetlife --though the streetlife is certainly a consequence of what it is.

It?s not just the college town vibe or the urban bustle; you can find the former in Princeton and Chapel Hill, and the latter at Berkeley and Columbia.

It?s not just the large student population --UMass Amherst has that. It?s not just an adjacent, urban commercial district --B.U., Northeastern and Columbia can boast of some of that across the street.

Well, actually it is ALL of the above, but that still doesn?t yield the dish that?s so tasty. For that, you need a pair of secret ingredients that zero in on Harvard Square?s near-uniqueness. These are:

1. Passionate Embrace. Like lovers intertwined, university and city are shot through with each other: not just across the street or nearby, but almost incestuously intimate. Sometimes Harvard University and Harvard Square even co-exist in a single building (Holyoke Center --big but emphatically not out of scale or out of place-- and the new building on Mt. Auburn Street). Cambridge and Oxford are similar salmagundis of town and gown, though the buildings are segregated by use if not placement; and NYU shows likeminded propensities, but there it?s done by taking over commercial buildings, evicting the retail and converting to academic uses. Mixed-use doesn?t actually invade the buildings in either case.


Figure-ground of the slightly-more-than-square-mile in the Cambridge city limits that contains Harvard Square and over 40,000 inhabitants, including students, within walking distance of the Harvard T-stop. The curve?s radius is ? mile, and the square is a mile to a side. University buildings are in red, purplish buildings are used for university and retail functions. Harvard owns many additional properties as commercial investments.

2. And ? the ultimate secret weapon: a subway station right in the middle. This is the animator of the mix, the easy gateway from the cosmos. The greater world?s entry point, near-seamlessly connected via transit and airport to the very corners of the world (though it would help if the Blue Line reached to Charles/MGH). I can think of only one other place on the face of the planet that shares this one feature with Harvard Square, along with everything else on the list above; and it looks quite different --proving, I think, that looks are not the core of essence.

That makes Harvard Square nearly unique.

And now, SURPRISE ! ? every element enumerated above is available in Allston!


* * *

People who design cities should like cities. Problem is, cities these days are mostly not designed by people who like cities. The people who make decisions that eventually give rise to development say they like cities, they believe they like cities, but actually they hate cities; they love suburbs instead. Is it any wonder they put effort into making cities more like the suburbs?

I?ve had lengthy philosophical discussions with one of the principals of the first firm that worked on the Allston campus. This man has been around; he likes cities a lot, and has worked on many projects that have transformed major cities. Problem is, though his heart?s in the right place, he personally lacks artistic brilliance. The result is work that many of us on this forum would regard as uninspired. Add to that, the avalanche of amateurish advice and short-sighted demands coming from self-appointed representatives of the community, and you have a formula for something very brown indeed.

If I were a betting man, I?d bet against anything even remotely as good as Harvard Square materializing in Allston.

Of course, there?s always the possibility of someone showing up who?s an artist ? and who takes the almost-uniqueness of Harvard Square seriously enough to emulate.

Like John Harvard himself, that person will have a bronze statue a coupla hundred years from now.

.

Last edited by ablarc; 11-18-2008 at 09:31 PM.
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Old 11-18-2008, 09:03 PM   #2
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

THE PROCESS:

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Originally Posted by Harry Mattison View Post
A few years ago there was a real effort to reach a consensus with Harvard, the community, and the BRA to resolve issues like where new housing should be built in North Allston and North Brighton. The result was the North Allston Strategic Framework for Planning. It made a lot of good suggestions but really did not go far enough into detail to figure out the best places for the 2000+ new units of housing it proposed.

The "framework" admitted that more work was needed and proposed, among other things, a "Holton St Corridor Special Study" to consider the future of the Brighton Mills shopping center and the land shown in the photos that stellarfun posted above.

For at least 2 years many people have been stressing the importance of this study and the BRA has told us over and over it will start "soon" without actually ever starting it. It is true there is not total community agreement or professional-quality counterproposals for how to redevelop all this semi-empty land. We have spent the last two years talking about ad-hoc development of Harvard projects and Harvard and the BRA have insisted that there be no consideration for other issues like how and where new housing could be built across the neighborhood. That may be changing - last week Kairos Shen announced that the BRA would soon start a serious and comprehensive planning process to shape the future of the community.

I think a lot of people here support new housing on the north side of Western Ave. It is hard to understand how much those 20 acres should be built-out (5 stories, 10 stories?) without understanding how transportation, open space, and other improvements will me made to support that influx of new activity.

Having some low-income housing in the "core" of the neighborhood could be a good thing if it were part of a mixed-income development. I agree with my neighbors that a big block of segregated low income housing in the middle of the existing community is not the answer.

What mixed-income housing developments in Boston or elsewhere do people on this forum really like? How do they compare to what Charlesview is proposing?
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Old 11-18-2008, 09:20 PM   #3
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

Voila. There's an article.
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Old 11-18-2008, 09:54 PM   #4
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

Damn it man, you need to start a blog! This stuff is gold and needs to be shared with the world.
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Old 11-18-2008, 10:36 PM   #5
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

I love reading your posts. Period. This stuff is truly inspirational to me and I'm not exaggerating. Thank you.
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Old 11-18-2008, 11:34 PM   #6
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?



^ Harvard Square, 1865. Unrecognizable today, but unquestionably the commercial hub the square is and has always been. And yet...so much of what makes Harvard Square unique is that, in most parts of the neighborhood (other than this one), the cityscape was never fully replaced. Like Montmartre, old farmhouses stand next to apartment buildings. There is color, history, diversity. A layering. No one street in Harvard Square had the name it used to:



How would one reproduce this in Allston? Any development there is bound to fail with such lofty goals. Harvard Square was not built in a day, and could not be built in the span of a life. It achieves its uniqueness by being what most places in the United States are not - a very utilitarian, living museum of architecture from the 17th century to the present. Everything is represented, but it only got that way by accident. That's why we have colonial houses across the street from the Holyoke Center. It's why the square has so many nooks and crannies that nestled and incubated the independent stores even in the darkest days of the chains' invasion (by the way, Schoenhof's is still around).

No genius could bring this to bear in the Allston of our lifetimes. The best that can be hoped for is the creation of conditions that may - some centuries down the line, produce something as varied and vibrant as Harvard Square.

That is, if we're really sure replicating it is the best idea at all.

At the very least, all I would hope is that the current plan genuflect to a period in Harvard Square's history less dark than this one:


Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Plan, by Okamoto/Liskamm, for Harvard and Brattle Squares, 1968


Plan for Barry's Corner, Allston, 2008

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Old 11-19-2008, 12:06 AM   #7
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

ablarc, you are the MAN.

the outline for the article i just sent to chitch and jimbo was basically a sophomorish and simple understatement of what you just said.
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Old 11-19-2008, 12:19 AM   #8
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

Quote:
Originally Posted by czsz View Post

Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Plan, by Okamoto/Liskamm, for Harvard and Brattle Squares, 1968
This is truly terrifying.
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Old 11-19-2008, 01:59 AM   #9
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

Yup.

Quote:
In the early 1960s, the possibility that the subway might be extended and the Bennett Street yards declared surplus triggered a general debate over the future of the entire business district. In 1963, the Planning Board suggested that Harvard Square's greatest potential was as a regional center serving an upper-income market, noting that the northwestern suburbs were not yet served by large suburban shopping centers.

Perhaps the most extensive study of the Square was commissioned by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) in 1968. The CRA's consultants, Okamoto/Liskamm of San Francisco, considered subway station sites in Brattle and Eliot squares and presented two proposals for a completely redeveloped business district. Both contemplated the clearance and redevelopment of eleven city blocks south and west of the Square, closing all through streets, and diverting traffic through underpasses. One scheme would have enclosed all pedestrian spaces under glass canopies; the other combined open plazas with below ground arcades.

The focus of both designs was a group of four sixteen- to twenty-story office buildings placed at the corners of a large plaza in the approximate location of Brattle Square (Fig. 9). Ten-story apartment buildings similar to Holyoke Center were proposed for Church and Dunster streets. The overall capacity of the plan was 1.3 million square feet of office space, 584,000 square feet of retail space, 855 apartments, 185 town houses, 400 hotel rooms, and 2,030 parking spaces. The response was predictably negative, but the report did sensitize the community to the development potential of the Square.
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Old 11-19-2008, 07:00 AM   #10
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

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^ Harvard Square, 1865. Unrecognizable today, but unquestionably the commercial hub the square is and has always been. And yet...so much of what makes Harvard Square unique is that, in most parts of the neighborhood (other than this one), the cityscape was never fully replaced.
Yes, and never fully replaced even here; you can clearly see the shape and location of the public spaces is still the same, though all the individual buildings have been replaced. Like cells in your body. By some measure, you could say it's still the same place.

Quote:
Like Montmartre, old farmhouses stand next to apartment buildings. There is color, history, diversity.
Montmartre is a particularly apt comparison, and exactly for the reasons you give. Like Harvard Square, it's a pre-existing agricultural village absorbed into a metropolis that grew around it while it retained some aspects of its original identity. An absorbed town. Greenwich Village is like that too, and so are Hampstead, Richmond and Georgetown.

Quote:
A layering.
Exactly. I should have stressed this more. Thank you.

Quote:
How would one reproduce this in Allston?
With awareness and a sharp eye for the genes of what's already there beneath all the abuse and destruction. Study of existing and former street patterns and their reasons for being. Preservation of the worthwhile.

Quote:
Any development there is bound to fail with such lofty goals.
Too much pessimism. You're reacting to recent precedent (which is indeed depressing) and the likelihood of its repetition, given the cast of characters. But it doesn't have to be so. From time to time in history, things improve --especially if we don't lose heart, because then we're empowered to take steps to improve things ourself. History is only partly automatic; much of it is willed.

Quote:
Harvard Square was not built in a day, and could not be built in the span of a life.
This is true, but its genes were good from the get-go --and its original tissue consisted of stem cells. That's what made it omni-potential (and optimo-potential, too). The danger with Allston is it might be injected with bad genes and something besides stem cells to shut off organic evolution. An excess of expertise (bogus, of course --as expertise so often is).

Quote:
...living museum of architecture from the 17th century to the present...
...and gratifyingly unselfconscious about it.

Quote:
Everything is represented, but it only got that way by accident. That's why we have colonial houses across the street from the Holyoke Center.
Not entirely by accident; preservationist roots are old and deep in Harvard Square. I bet there were preservationists in 1865.

Quote:
It's why the square has so many nooks and crannies
You have to preserve the irrational, the quirky, the unintended and the happenstantial. That stuff exists embryonically this minute in Allston, I'm quite certain; it just needs some sensitive individual to find it, point it out and document it. Then some of it needs placement into law --as easements, etc.

Lions? Who knows where the lions came from? If you knew... In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man ...

Quote:
Schoenhof's is still around.
Glad to hear it. Did it move from Mass Ave?

Bernheimer's probably still exists, too. Like visiting a museum of tiny, valuable things. Is the old man still there? He must deal with smugglers and tomb raiders.

Quote:
No genius could bring this to bear in the Allston of our lifetimes. The best that can be hoped for is the creation of conditions that may - some centuries down the line, produce something as varied and vibrant as Harvard Square.
Absolutely! And in today's corrosive development climate it will take something close to genius to even adequately recognize the potential, to pry the latent into the light; and it will require a courageous person to develop and defend a worthwhile vision based on the pre-existent genes --the genius loci-- of this place. The place it wants to be. "I asked Allston what it wanted to be, and it answered..."

Ask the place, not its spokesmen.

Quote:
That is, if we're really sure replicating it is the best idea at all.
You and I have identified many of the general principles that underlie the goodness of most good places, and they're in stark contrast to how things are actually done these days. Those general principles are worth replicating in all places, because we know they work reliably. But they need to be protected from irrelevancies, pettiness, meddling and self-interest misdirected by conventional wisdom --which, these days, is generally as unwise as it can get.

Quote:
At the very least, all I would hope is that the current plan genuflect to a period in Harvard Square's history less dark than this one:


Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Plan, by Okamoto/Liskamm, for Harvard and Brattle Squares, 1968
And yet, in its own altered way, this is exactly where things seem to be heading. We may recoil in horror at the product, but aren't we reproducing in its essentials the process that got us to that product? Who's really looking at the essentials and the genius loci? Instead, we get numbers: densities, unit counts, building heights --control freaks' attempts to micromanage physical form.

Pshaw.

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Plan for Barry's Corner, Allston, 2008
Quote:
Originally Posted by vanshnookenraggen View Post
This is truly terrifying.
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Originally Posted by czsz View Post
Yup.
At least, please could we put the subway stop in the middle?

.

Last edited by ablarc; 11-19-2008 at 05:42 PM.
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Old 11-19-2008, 09:20 AM   #11
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

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the outline for the article i just sent to chitch and jimbo was basically ... simple ...
Simple is good. When do we get to see it?
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Old 11-19-2008, 01:41 PM   #12
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

Schoenhof's is on Mt. Auburn now, across from the Gold Coast.

And, believe it or not, the preservationist movement (which began in Boston in the early decades of the 19th century) didn't coalesce in Cambridge until after the unveiling of that ghastly 1968 plan. There was actually a ripple effect - Harvard's residential neighbors wanted the university to develop within "red lines" so it wouldn't encroach on their lawns, forcing it to buy up - and try to "redevelop" - the square. The first major fight was actually over the proposed JFK library, which was originally planned for the current Kennedy School grounds. There's a good summary here.
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Old 11-19-2008, 02:37 PM   #13
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yvonne Abraham, Boston Globe
Over the next 50 years, the university will remake a big chunk of a city that is often allergic to architectural innovation. It's a chance for the nation's oldest university to do something brave with the 200-plus acres it owns in Allston.

But they must contend with two things MIT doesn't appear to have encountered: conservative faculty members who prefer red-brick, Georgian reproduction to real innovation and active, suspicious neighbors.

Faced with those factors, Harvard has whiffed in the recent past.

The Spangler Center at Harvard Business School, completed in 2001, is a riot of retro, a slave to that thing they did so well over there at Harvard Yard -- in the 18th century.
This Boston Globe columnist thinks it's a question of architectural style. What do you say to someone whose thinking is so shallow?

How do you counteract such influential folks' confirming of the public's similar shallowness by putting it in print?
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Old 11-19-2008, 02:40 PM   #14
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

I think you have identified the biggest problem we have in our 'take it to the street!' campaign.

Exactly what are we taking to the street?

We know what we think is right but how exactly do we convince other who disagree? It seems obvious to us, but what they believe seems obvious to them.
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Old 11-19-2008, 03:26 PM   #15
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

It's obvious to me the Earth is flat.




(Anybody can see that.)
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Old 11-19-2008, 03:34 PM   #16
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

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Exactly what are we taking to the street?
Light to those fumbling in the dark about what gives a city a sense of place.
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Old 11-19-2008, 04:35 PM   #17
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

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It's obvious to me the Earth is flat.




(Anybody can see that.)
And it can be just as easily proven that it is not.
What I'm asking is how can we prove (or a least convincingly demonstrate) that their thinking is shallow. It is the exact same question you asked earlier. Until we solve this we have nowhere to go.
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Old 11-19-2008, 05:14 PM   #18
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

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What I'm asking is how can we prove (or a least convincingly demonstrate) that their thinking is shallow.
Showing won't cut it. You gotta live it, statler!

This isn't a game-show, but there are fabulous prizes, like more livable neighborhoods, better schools, cleaner, safer streets.

First, if you don't already, talk to your neighbors. Test the waters, see what they think, if they care, if they are (or wish to be) involved.

Attend community meetings and speak out in an educated, structured, and purposeful manner. Know your topic, understand your opposition. Be prepared to be disagreed with.

Arrive early, stay after. Speak to individuals, address the group, take notes.

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Until we solve this we have nowhere to go.
I'm sure there's some sort of planning board in every town in the Commonwealth.
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Old 11-19-2008, 05:17 PM   #19
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

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And it can be just as easily proven that it is not.
There's a building just inside the Beltway full of graphic artists faking satellite photos.





(I've heard they had to give them permanent jobs after they got through faking the moon landing.)
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Old 11-19-2008, 05:50 PM   #20
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Re: Harvard Square in Allston?

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And it can be just as easily proven that it is not.
What I'm asking is how can we prove (or a least convincingly demonstrate) that their thinking is shallow. It is the exact same question you asked earlier. Until we solve this we have nowhere to go.
The discussion can't be taken to a science lab; it belongs in the realm of belles-lettres, such as: "should we have elected a president who pals around with terrorists?" or "will a lifetime of doing good bring you spiritual peace?"

Prove those if you can.
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