An interesting, and challenging question…
This week, the DC Zoning Commission will hold their final hearing on the Georgetown University 2010-2020 Campus Plan. As has been discussed at length in many places, this plan has met with massive opposition from some neighborhood groups and from the ANC2E.
In the ongoing battles of campus plans, this impasse seemed to be almost predestined and the battle lines were drawn long ago. But for the GGW readership, it raises an interesting conundrum, of how progress can be made can happen when opponents of a particular project refuse to acknowledge any concessions made by the other side.
Throughout this process, the “dialogue” between two sides has reflected some other gridlock in parts of the District. The University has made concessions at several points directly in response to opponents’ concerns, including removing the tall smokestack, agreeing to add more than 200 residence hall beds, removing the proposed housing and retail in the 1789 block, and reducing the proposed increase of graduate students by thousands.
It seems clear at this point that there are probably no concessions that the university could make that would satisfy the Citizens Association of Georgetown and Burleith Citizens Association, or the ANC leadership, short of one — building enough housing for 100% of undergraduate students.
This position suggests that the simple presence of students in the neighborhood is the problem. This ignores the many positives that students bring to the community, and the fact that many of us choose to live in this community because of its liveliness, and its urban density. My wife and I feel safer if we’re walking home from a restaurant at 9:30 or 10:00 at night, knowing that there are people—mostly students, and the vast majority of them quiet—walking on streets that might otherwise feel dark, empty, and unsafe.
The real issue is the bad behavior of some students, and what steps the University can or should take to mitigate those negative impacts on the neighborhood. And there is a real conversation that could be had here, but is not.
The absolute opposition of some ignores some significant concessions that the university has offered, including the ones detailed above paragraph, as well as recent moves to run daily supplemental trash pickups in the neighborhood (picking up 1.5 tons per day), expanding the number of officers on the reimburseable MPD detail to address noise and safety on weekends, or adding a night-time shuttle to take students directly between campus and the M Street nightlife. We have lived in our apartment on 35th Street for the past five years, and between this summers re-bricking of the alley by DPW and the University’s additional trash pickups, the alley’s condition is now is the best it’s ever been.
Rather than acknowledging any progress as a result of these moves, the ANC’s report describes the trash pickup as belated remedial action, goes on to posit some kind of induced demand, saying that by the University picking up trash in the neighborhood, they are encouraging students to create more trash. This seems unlikely on its face, and it ignores that the University has now removed more than 120 tons of trash that would have otherwise been visible in the neighborhood. Similarly, the late-night shuttle is derided as too small of an impact, while in the next breath, there are calls to end the SafeRides shuttle that brings students home from campus.
The biggest shame of lockstep opposition is that it prevents the real dialogue that can and should be part of a campus plan process. Assuming that “students living in the neighborhood” is itself the problem, as the ANC, CAG/BCA and most recently, the DC Office of Planning have suggested, essentially takes any meaningful discussion of mitigation steps off the table.
The Georgetown neighborhood has changed in the last decade. That change hasn’t come in the form of more traditional undergraduates living in Burleith and West Georgetown (the only apples-to-apples comparison shows a decline of a few hundred traditional undergraduates). The change may have come in the form of single-family homes converted to group homes, but GU opponents have not provided any numbers to back up that assertion. And in the event that undergraduate students were moved onto campus, the rental markets in neighborhoods like Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights show plenty of demand for group housing among young professionals, who unlike students, would not be subject to any university policies.
One important change that has taken place, however, is that the neighborhood is now home to more families with young children, which presents new challenges in how the university can be a better neighbor. I have spoken with some neighbors with young children who have some legitimate concerns about noise or trash in the neighborhood, and they have reported varying degrees of satisfaction with the University’s measures, though many have said that when they call SNAP, they get a good response. (This is in contrast to some in the neighborhood who encourage neighbors to avoid SNAP and call 911, then say that SNAP is ineffective, and use the historical number of 911 calls as evidence of worsening behavior). In all of the conversations I’ve had with our neighbors, I have not heard a single one of them suggest that all students should be living on campus. Yet that message is the one that rings through the opposition.
As a Georgetown resident, and as a Hoya, I think we deserve a better dialogue. How do we get through entrenched positions to a more meaningful conversation?
Your thoughts, concerns, suggestions, and vehement arguments are welcome.
(Disclosure: as noted on this blog multiple times, I am a two-degree graduate of Georgetown. I have also lived in the Georgetown neighborhood for the last five, and 11 of the last 15 years).Tweet