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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, December 11, 2023

Capen Village plans approved, development on schedule

Medford City Hall is pictured.

Plans for Capen Village, a cluster of houses owned by Tufts that will be available as housing options for juniors and seniors starting next fall, will continue on schedule after approval by the Medford Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 11, according to Associate Director of Housing Operations Matt Austin.

Karla Chaffee, a member of the Medford Zoning Board of Appeals, described Capen Village as a good option for housing students.

“Housing for students associated with a university like Tufts has special protections under state law," Chaffee told the Daily in an email. "Housing students in existing homes was a favorable alternative to developing a new dormitory structure."

The recent approval means that the plan for Capen Village can now move forward with development.

“At this point we will start marketing the housing to our students and talking about what kinds of rooms there’s going to be,” Austin said.

According to Austin, the Village will be made up of thirteen houses with one house to be constructed and an addition to be added to one of the existing houses.

The first of the three phases is expected to be completed by fall 2018 and will offer students five new renovated houses with approximately forty-five new singles, Austin said.

“It would be considered on-campus housing with off-campus STYLED apartments,” senior Benya Kraus, Tufts Community Union (TCU) President, told the Daily in an email. 

Denis MacDougall, secretary of the Medford Zoning Board of Appeals, told the Daily in an email that Tufts indicated it would be open to expanding Capen Village later on if the opportunity arose.

According to Austin, the houses will include handicapped parking spaces. Regular street parking will not be allowed but students can use regular residential lots on campus, Austin noted.

Austin explained that this new upperclassman housing is intended to increase the number of rooms available for students who would otherwise be unable to live on-campus.

“We’re excited. We want to house more students on campus because we know there are students who want housing," Austin said. "Our waitlist is about five hundred people long right now."

Senior Anna Del Castillo, TCU vice president, also feels that this new housing option will be beneficial, given the high cost of off-campus housing.

“In past years there has been a major housing shortage which … can be really stressful if you’re on financial aid,” Del Castillo said.

According to Kraus, student opinions will be included in the development of Capen Village. One idea under consideration is to make Capen Village into themed housing with student-selected themes. The Capen Village project was first introduced through the Senate’s Brown & Blueprint initiative, a series of conversations designed to help Senate learn from students about spatial inequalities on campus, Kraus explained. 

Kraus described how she and senior Jordan Kemp, a TCU Senator, have been working with coUrbanize, an online mapping tool for building and space development, to bring Capen Village to a physical space online. According to Kraus, coUrbanize is being used to aggregate and map student feedback. 

“Using this coUrbanize tool, students can map their comments about different physical spaces on campus straight onto the virtual map," Kraus said. "We'll be soft-launching this website this week, with an official launch on January 22."

Kraus’s goal is to start a discussion about Capen Village by having face-to-face conversations with students and by making signs with coUrbanize to set up anonymous location-based phone surveys across campus for students.

She emphasized the importance of students creating communities in physical spaces.

“Students should expect this semester to have many more visible opportunities to discuss their ideas for Capen Village, as well as share their feedback on how they've built community (or haven't been able to build community) in their many physical spaces on campus,” Kraus said.

Austin sees Capen Village as having the potential to be a common space for students, both between the individual houses and between the residents and the Tufts campus.

“We want to provide a really great amenity to students [with] … some community space, easy-to-find laundry rooms and other things like that where they get a little bit of that off-campus feel but also feel more connected to the Tufts campus than they would otherwise,” Austin said.

Capen Village will also house multiple Graduate Resident Directors (GRD’s) in ground-level apartments who will further connect students to the campus.

Del Castillo also feels that this new housing option can serve as more than just a way of meeting housing demand. She hopes that Capen Village can inspire students to create “intentional communities,” especially for students in the Group of Six community who may lack social spaces.

Co-director of Tufts Energy GroupMarianne Ray is working towards making Capen Village an example of sustainability on campus.

The Village will have a variety of integrated sustainable technology in its houses, depending on the funding at each stage, Ray, a senior, described.

“The outcome will likely be three groups of houses with different degrees of sustainable technology incorporated into them," Ray said. "Our main goal is to be able to include monitoring devices (temperature, humidity, electricity, water, gas, etc.) in all of the houses."

This technology will create new opportunities for students to study sustainability first-hand, Ray noted. According to Ray, two professors, Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering John Durant and Biology professor Colin Orians, are already working towards adding an academic aspect to Capen Village by planning future seminars on human-technology interaction and sustainability.

Kraus said she is working on a project in a Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy (UEP) class evaluating Capen Village’s social integration on campus.

“I will be working with three UEP masters students throughout the semester, asking students how they would want to be a part of Capen Village, and what resources, structure, and programming they would want to see implemented,” Kraus said.

Kraus said that ultimately, Capen Village is a way to bring together members of the student community.

“The goal is to use [the UEP Field Study] feedback, and the feedback gathered from Brown & Blueprint, to make recommendations for how we can make the proposed Capen Village project an opportunity for students to feel greater connected to our campus community,” Kraus said.