A day after Jay Schalin posted an article about the long struggle to develop North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, a Boston Globe columnist cheerily urged the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to create its own Research Triangle Park. How? By resuscitating the Allston project — Harvard’s grand plan to double the size of its campus by creating an entirely new one in nearby Allston, Mass. When Harvard’s endowment sank, Pres. Drew Faust put that campus development on a very long “hold.”
Venture capitalist Steve Pagliuca thinks that Allston could be revived as a life sciences public-private partnership that would boost the Massachusetts economy. In an essay full of all the buzzwords of economic growth — “collaborative,” “economic miracle,” “sustainable job creation,” “jobs of the future,” “global economy,” you name it, he says:
Now is the time for leaders from public, private, and academic and nonprofit sectors to come together to rapidly develop a regional “industrial blueprint’’ to help strengthen and promote this vibrant and dynamic sector of our economy [life sciences].
Pagliuca may be enamored of RTP, but the lesson of all the famed high-tech centers like Silicon Valley, RTP, and Massachusetts’s own Route 128 corridor is that each one is highly individualistic, hard to predict, and full of random elements. And the role of the universities is still poorly understood.
With its stop-and-start Allston campus, Harvard does have something of a white elephant on its hands. But the idea that a public-private partnership will rescue it, earn a healthy return of capital, and create a dynamic center is pure fantasy.