Allston-Brighton Residents Report Colleges "A Mixed Blessing"

"We're only as good as our last weekend," said Tom Keady, and that might have been optimistic.

Keady, the associate vice president for governmental and community affairs at Boston College, as well as an operative for Senator John Kerry's campaign

for president, has the unenviable job of keeping happy BC's neighbors in Allston, Brighton, and Newton.

Happy? Maybe "non-violent" would be more accurate.

Jennifer Rose, executive director of Allston Village Main Streets, concedes that the presence of students in that community from BC, Boston University, and Harvard, isn't "all underage drinking and vomiting and graffitti," but says that colleges and universities don't always make ideal neighbors.

Good for business, bad for residents seems to be consensus from members of the Allston-Brighton community, the Boston neighborhood with the most number of college students living among the general population.

This information interests Dorchester residents keeping a keen eye on the developments over on Columbia Point. A community meeting about the prospect of dorms at UMass-Boston convened on Tuesday to explore the issue, and response from the neighborhood has ranged from support to opposition to downright confusion. Construction is already underway, some think, but that's the new student center. Thus far, it's been a mixed reaction.

Which is likely to be the prevailing story whether the dorms are built or not. The owner of Eagle's Deli in Cleveland Circle near BC or the manager of Mostly Posters on Commonwealth Avenue near BU likely have few complaints about a student population with gluts of free time and the occasional disposable income.

And, Rose said, the free time is not all spent to the ill fortune of the neighborhood: "It's also student volunteering and helping with school projects and colleges doing things in the neighborhood."

But Paul Berkley, president of the Allston Civic Association, feels differently.

"There's more cars, there's more noise, there's less families, all those things that are important to a community," said Berkley, who was a guest speaker at

Tuesday's McKeon Post forum organized by opponents of the UMass dorms. "The business people love it, because [college students] come with their money and they spend it. But the business people don't live here.‰

Rosie Hanlon, program director of Brighton Main Streets and a lifelong resident of Brighton, complains that her family's home used to abut a house where monks lived. Now, she said, it's "pretty much a fraternity house," with students who feel little of a connection to the neighborhood where they live - because residence there likely will not last more than a year. A monastery it's not.

"All along the way, the big problem was there was never enough supply for the demand, and the neighborhoods become de facto dorms," said Berkley, 53, who has lived in Allston his whole life.

Berkley said the major shift came in the 1980s, when BC accelerated its shift from a commuter school to a school of greater national renown, drawing students from a nationwide base, a trend that has continued at the Heights. Today, BC has the capacity to house roughly 80 percent of its students. Almost all third-year undergraduates are required to live off campus.

"By the '90s [students] had taken large sections of the Allston-Brighton neighborhood," Berkley remembered.

But an influx of students isn't a monolithic curse, Rose insisted.

"I think people feel that it's a mixed blessing," Rose said. "Obviously, it's the hand that feeds us, obviously it's been an economic engine for many of the merchants around here.

"Maybe it's helped displace some of the more stable residents. Sometimes students aren't the best neighbors and sometimes the landlords that rent to them aren't the best either."

In Dorchester, the UMass plans, now on hold as the state education system is being reshuffled, call for on-campus housing for 2000 undergrads, but Berkley warns of a slippery slope.

"The problem is, once you create the housing on campus, then students want places to socialize," Berkley said.

"The university has to, has to, be community-conscious and not overflow and create spillage into specific neighborhoods, because you can see a real downfall," Hanlon said.

Keady's position exists largely to field, absorb, and respond to the types of complaints anti-dorm Dorchester residents fear they one day will be lodging. In an effort to minimize those complaints and assuage the residents

in the Allston-Brighton area, Keady said, "[BC does] a lot of what we call 'preventive maintenance‚'" which partly consists of regular letters from Dean of Student Development Robert Sherwood and other university brass to the student body, warning sternly of the disciplinary measures meted out to students who impinge on the perhaps more sedentary lifestyles of their off-campus neighbors.

Other forms of "preventive maintenance" include alerting neighborhood residents well in advance of moving days when students are packing into and out of apartments; sending BC officials on "ridearounds" with Boston Police

officers patrolling the neighborhoods on weekend nights; and cooperating with the police and, Keady said, "if need be, the judicial system" in keeping a rein on the off-campus festivities.

But perhaps the effort on BC's part that will most please residents is in response to pressure from Mayor Tom Menino to shoo off-campus dwellers back on. While BC tangles routinely with its neighbor to the west, Newton, about construction on university grounds, it continues to progress in providing more beds for students in on-campus dormitories. In the last three years, three dorms on College Road added one extra floor apiece, and dorms on Upper Campus have expanded vertically and horizontally in an effort to maximize space.

The upshot of this is good news for Allston-Brighton residents; Keady reported that within two years, 85 percent of the BC student body will be afforded on-campus housing, which, while increasing campus density, will help alleviate the city's housing squeeze and, theoretically, help drag down rent prices.

"They're not going to participate in the social and cultural organizations in your neighborhood," Berkley told the Reporter last week. "And they don't vote. And it doesn't look good for your neighborhood when the number of people voting in your neighborhood is down around 10-to-20 percent."

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At UMass, Gora Seeks to Build Up Campus, Community RelationsJo Ann Gora's first interview with the Reporter in November 2001.