Globe Editorial

After whetting city’s appetite, Harvard delivers a McDonald’s

September 14, 2010

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HARVARD PROMISED a vibrant, multistory neighborhood in North Brighton, but a one-floor fast-food joint hardly makes good on that vision. The university is moving ahead on building plans for a freestanding McDonald’s restaurant on land it owns along Western Avenue — an idea more evocative of a roadside strip mall than a comeback urban neighborhood. Meanwhile, the long-proposed $1 billion science complex is on hold, along with hopes for many new homes, stores, and offices.

Harvard and the Boston Redevelopment Authority want to relocate the existing McDonald’s in the Brighton Mills shopping center to accommodate a new public road for a proposed 240-unit housing complex between Western Avenue and the Charles River. The street expansion would also provide a convenient drive-through lane for McDonald’s customers.

McDonald’s has agreed to build the restaurant closer to the sidewalk’s edge and incorporate other good design features, including a dining patio and multiple entrances.

Neighbors have no argument with McDonald’s per se. But they want any new restaurant to be consistent with the overall vision, shared by Harvard and the city, for a pedestrian-friendly, dense development with four- to six-story buildings. For decades, Western Avenue has been lined with dull, low-slung buildings. No matter how one gussies it up, another one-story McDonald’s is just more of the same.

Kairos Shen, the city’s chief planner, insists that residents should look at the housing development — not the McDonald’s — as the precedent for the area. But some neighbors are upset that powerful institutions like the BRA and Harvard couldn’t remain true to their own plans. Today, residents are scheduled to meet with BRA and Harvard officials to present their concerns about the McDonald’s site.

For more than five years, Harvard and the BRA have filled meeting rooms with grand visions of a revitalized Allston/Brighton neighborhood. What they’re delivering, in this case, is burgers.

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