Posts about Georgetown University
Something unprecedented is happening at the most grassroots level of DC's democracy. For the first time ever, 9 college students are choosing to run for seats on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
These candidates represent part of a broader trend of enhanced student engagement in local affairs. Since DC Students Speak launched at Georgetown only 2 years ago, the organization has developed chapters at campuses through the District. Consequently, thousands of students have made the decision to register to vote in DC.
Unfortunately, too often, a heightened level of student engagement has met animosity from a few older residents. David Lehrman, an ANC commissioner in Foggy Bottom's ANC 2A01 who is facing a student challenger, recently told the Current that students "should be thinking about dating the prettiest girl and getting into the best graduate program," rather than focus on local government, and accused his challenger, GWU junior Patrick Kennedy, of running for "resume-enhancing" purposes.
This "soft bigotry of low expectations" often deters so many of my peers to become involved in civic affairs. The reality is that not only is a more aware college student population better for students, it is also in the best interest of the District.
There are almost 85,000 college students in the District of Columbia, who make up a substantial portion of the overall population. The District does itself a disservice by not engaging this large chunk of the populace. Having college students being more civically aware means more college students volunteering for non-profits, and pushing for reforms necessary to the District's vitality.
A major element of increasing the level of civic engagement is having college students run for local office. It demonstrates that students have a stake in local affairs, and are an actual political constituency. Washingtonians have to move beyond debates about who is a "native," and recognize that regardless of whether one is here for 4 years, or has been here for 40 years, everyone should be welcome in civic life.
Thankfully, after years of hard work, the interests of college students are gaining more recognition. For instance, when Councilmember Jack Evans (ward 2) came to campus at Georgetown recently, he told a meeting of DC Students Speak that college students completely have the right to live off campus, and that they should be encouraged to run for office. This is definitely a change in tone in Evans' rhetoric from only a few years ago.
Left to right: Patrick Kennedy, Jackson Carnes, Peter Prindiville, and Craig Cassey.
3 students are running at George Washington University: Peter Sacco, Jackson Carnes, and Patrick Kennedy. Sacco and Carnes are running uncontested, with Carnes on the ballot in 2A07 and Sacco as a write-in for 2A08, while the race between Kennedy and long-term incumbent David Lehrman has turned out to be a very competitive race in a district, 2A01, that contains many students and non-students.
Nicole Goines, who is also an American University student, is running for ANC in Brentwood's ANC 5C05. Connell Wise, a student at Marymount University, is running in 6E07, in the Mount Vernon Triangle.
Having so many students run for office represents major progress, but there is still much work yet to be done. What is at stake is more than just 9 college students running for local office, but how to get all groups of residents to participate in the civic life of this great city.
When DDOT's renovation of O and P Streets in Georgetown completed last month, students expected the main Metrobus serving Georgetown University to resume its route to campus. To their surprise, WMATA announced last week that the G2 route will not resume its normal route until December.
Under normal circumstances, the G2 follows O and P Streets through the neighborhood all the way to the main gates of Georgetown University, but for the past 18 months it has ended at Wisconsin Avenue.
ANC Commissioner and Georgetown student Jake Sticka said, "This is particularly unfortunate given that the new campus plan bans students from having cars. This is an unexpected hardship for students going to internships in town."
WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel says that because WMATA believed utility work would continue after the September street renovation, "service restoration was included in the next schedule pick, which is December." Metrobus operators select routes based on seniority in what is known as the pick system.
As it turns out, there is no utility work happening on the G2 route right now. In fact, DDOT won't allow digging on the affected streets for 3 years, unless there's an emergency, to protect the street work that was completed.
Nonetheless the G2 won't go to the university until December, because restoration wasn't in the schedule pick.
Stessel says "no one should be surprised, as this is what we said we would do all along." Some ANC commissioners, though, said they don't recall hearing of any delay.
Communication with residents was a source of frustration in the early months of the O & P renovation project. DDOT responded with a website and other improved communication to help residents change their routines to avoid construction hassles.
Without the G2 bus, students and university employees can get to Dupont Circle using the University-provided GUTS shuttle and the D2 and D6 Metrobuses. These routes pick up from the west and north ends of campus. That's a good walk from the classrooms on the east end of campus and from the off-campus housing where many students live.
Georgetown University needs space to grow. Montgomery County needs a university to anchor a research and development center they want to create in White Oak. There's a college campus for sale in the neighborhood that can satisfy them both.
Jonathan O'Connell reports that Georgetown is interested in buying the National Labor College, a 47-acre campus at New Hampshire Avenue and the Beltway. The AFL-CIO bought the former Catholic school to educate union workers nearly 40 years ago, but chose to sell it due to declining enrollment.
Over 300 potential buyers expressed interest in buying the campus for its redevelopment potential. One was Tysons Corner Center owner Macerich, which considered building a "high-end retail outlet center for name brands like Prada" on the site.
Georgetown would use the property to consolidate its sports programs in one location and to use the Lane Kirkland Center, a conference facility completed in 2006, for meeting space. Meanwhile, growing Montgomery College may want it for an entire new campus, though they haven't submitted a formal bid yet. While both schools would make a great use for the property, having Georgetown at the National Labor College is particularly interesting.
Last week, county planners submitted preliminary recommendations (PDF) for the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, which envisions creating a new center for research and technology around the Food and Drug Administration's new campus on New Hampshire Avenue, a half-mile from the National Labor College. Under the plan, which is similar to the proposed Great Seneca Science Corridor in Gaithersburg, the area could have as many as 40,000 new jobs and 8,000 new homes.
Rendering of LifeSci Village, a proposed research and development park with housing, offices and shops. Image from Percontee.
The county's already picked a developer for what would be the plan's largest component, a massive mixed-use development called LifeSci Village. However, a county-funded study by consulting firm Partners for Economic Solutions last year found that the Science Gateway won't work without an affiliated research institution.
Georgetown could potentially fill that void. The university conducts a lot of research, and while much of it is not in science or technology-related fields, they are looking to expand. Georgetown is looking for up to 100 acres for a satellite campus somewhere in the District of Columbia to accommodate their future growth needs.
While a few potential sites exist, many of them would require building a school from scratch. The National Labor College, with dorms, classrooms, a library and an auditorium, would allow Georgetown to hit the ground running. That is, if they sought to use the campus for more than athletic fields and conference rooms.
With a new campus, Georgetown could expand into new fields of study and scientific research. Meanwhile, the White Oak Science Gateway would have a prestigious anchor that could draw scientists and companies from around the world. In turn, they would attract investment in the kind of amenities that East County residents are clamoring for, like more jobs and better shopping.
Potential rapid transit routes in the White Oak Science Gateway. A stop would be located at the National Labor College near the bottom of the map. Image from the Montgomery County Planning Department.
Of course, one advantage to sites in the District is proximity to Georgetown's main campus, while the National Labor College is over 10 miles away. If built, Montgomery County's proposed Rapid Transit Vehicle system would have three routes serving the White Oak Science Gateway and a stop serving the National Labor College, improving its accessibility to the main campus and the rest of the region.
As I've written before, the National Labor College campus is a big opportunity for East County to reinvent itself. However, it also gives Georgetown University a chance to grow and become an even stronger research institution. Meeting the school's athletic needs is important, but there's potential for much more on this site.
Yesterday, the Georgetown Hoya student newspaper published a provocative editorial calling on students to not vote in DC, and rather vote absentee in their home states. That's terrible advice.
The reasoning behind the piece was that with DC disenfranchised in Congress and its 3 electoral votes guaranteed for Obama, students would "get more bang from their ballot" by voting in more competitive and consequential elections back home.
The heart of the editorial points to the slim 537 votes by which George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida in 2000. It notes that 250 current Georgetowners are from Florida, and concludes that "you never know beforehand if voting will make a difference."
There's some undeniable truth to this reasoning, but it's myopic. The editorial throws a bone to the admirable DC Students Speak effort, but kicks the legs out of that campaign by stating "it's evident that poor student turnout in DC has been problematic." In other words, because students don't vote here, why bother voting here?
Here are some other numbers: Georgetown University has over 7,000 undergrads. GWU has over 10,000. In 2008, Jack Evans beat Cary Silverman for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 2 on the DC Council, 3,100 votes to 1,700. This year he ran unopposed and only drew 2,900 votes.
If 30% of college students living in Ward 2 would vote for an alternative candidate they would swamp Evans. Or, if they supported Evans, he would have to count them as one of his most important constituencies.
The Hoya's pages are often filled with angst over the way students are treated by the District government. Don't they see the connection?
The editorial's view reflects an unfortunate yet common attitude among DC residents who work in or cover national politics (or, as the case may be, aspire to do so): namely, that local politics is bush league, that it's something to be concerned about only when there's a scandal, and that the epic battle between the national parties to control Congress and the White House is all that matters. That couldn't be further from the truth.
Local politics do matter. As David Alpert wrote recently: "If you live in the District, you should vote here. It's the right thing to do. It gives you a stronger voice in local affairs." For students in particular, these local affairs can dramatically affect their daily lives.
Don't like MPD's new noise policy? Want better public transportation to your internship? Don't want the Zoning Commission to force your school to house you on campus? The people making all these decisions answer to local politicians, the same politicians that students could throw out of office if students organized and voted in DC.
Yes, registering to vote in DC carries with it the added price of removing your (tiny) voice from Congress. And that sucks. But removing your relatively larger voice from the local conversation based upon the statistically improbable chance that your vote might be decisive back home is just delusional.
The agreement on the Georgetown University campus plan says that so long as relations go well, the parties will start discussing in 2018 some long-term goals, including one to "identify and develop next 100 acres."
The agreement doesn't give context for this goal. Given the timing, I'd guess the purpose of this new 100 acres is to relocate the hospital and medical school. But regardless of what purpose this 100 acres would serve, the bigger question that jumps to mind is: where is GU going to find 100 acres?
Georgetown University's main campus is 100 acres. There aren't many available parcels close by that are that large. But there are a few:
St. Elizabeths is a historic psychiatric hospital located across MLK Ave. in Ward 8. It has 350 acres spread over its west and east campuses. At one point the hospital served 8,000 patients. Nowadays it serves only a very small group of patients, primarily those determined mentally incompetent to face trial (including Albrecht Muth).
In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to consolidate its many offices around the DC area onto the west campus of St. Elizabeths. The District kept the east campus, and is planning to redevelop it. The east campus is 170 acres itself. So there's definitely room if GU wanted to be an "anchor tenant" of the development. The city would probably be happy to make a deal with GU if it meant the construction of a top notch hospital square in the middle of the city's poorest ward.
Alternatively, DHS has dragged its feet actually moving to the west campus. A senior DHS official said that they doubted the move would ever happen. It's remotely possible that DHS might be looking to back out of the deal, and GU could step in.
Old Soldiers Home
The Old Soldiers Home is a massive 250-acre plot of land in Ward 5 that contains the historic Lincoln cottage, where Abraham Lincoln escaped the summer heat. Right now the campus still houses a small population of retired veterans, but about half of the property is a golf course.
In 2005, the administrators of the home proposed to develop the southern section of the property. After some pushback from the surrounding neighborhood (and, as I hear it, from retired generals who like to golf) the plans seem to have been shelved.
It's a lot less likely an option for GU than St. Elizabeths, but you never know.
Reservation 13 is the location of the old DC General hospital. The city has been working on plans to redevelop the parcel for years. Despite having issued an RFP several years ago, the city recently went back to square one on the project.
If building a hospital is part of plans, rebuilding a hospital on the site of the old DC General could make GU's pitch appealing to the city. But I doubt this would happen.
For one, the whole Reservation 13 is only 67 acres. And the city doesn't want to go from one single use to another for the property. Second, even if the city thinks it's a good idea, the neighbors really don't want one large institutional use for the property.
Those are the only properties I can think of in the District proper. GU, of course, could explore site in Virginia or Maryland, but I suspects they want to remain more central.
So if I had to bet, I'd say St. Elizabeths.
Georgetown University and leaders in surrounding neighborhoods have reached agreement on a groundbreaking campus plan that envisions a more residential campus.
Leading universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton have adopted a similar residential college model, which integrates students' intellectual and residential life while creating fewer impacts on neighboring communities.
In the 1990 Campus Plan, the University committed "to create a residential college environment". I advocated a return to that vision last year, and am thrilled that Georgetown and its neighbors have reached accord on this vision.
Here are the specific elements of the agreement. Next, it will get comments from the public and go before the Zoning Commission for approval.
The campus plan will now last for a 7-year term, beginning January 1, 2011 and ending December 31, 2017, instead of a 10-year-term. During this time, community and university leaders will work on a 20-year-plan.
The ten-year campus planning process is broken, as GGW contributor Jacques Arsenault explained last year. It sets neighbors and Universities up to push as hard as they can once a decade because they know they won't get another chance at talks for 10 years.
Georgetown and its neighbors have recognized this and are defining their own process, to be approved by the Zoning Commission, which is more collaborative. It makes a lot of sense.
The University and neighbors will create joint committees to design programs to bring the University and neighborhood communities together, and address issues when they arise.
Only 3-4 decades ago, the University and the neighbors formed a single community with extensive interactions and relationships. Just watch the film The Exorcist to get an idea of what Georgetown was like in the early 70s - neighbors, priests, faculty and students interacted often.
There is significant desire among Georgetowners to return to this period of community and shared purpose. Most neighbors actually care deeply about the intellectual and character formation of Georgetown students, and most students and professors care deeply about the families outside the university gates. These committees reflect that shared feeling.
Students in "Magis Row" student townhouses on 36th Street NW will be housed on campus by Fall 2013 so that the "Magis Row" townhouses can transitioned to faculty and staff housing.
Central to the residential college model is faculty who live on or near campus, and thus interact with students in their residential life. The high cost of housing in DC makes it hard to do this, but Georgetown University is making a commitment to house professors and staff in what is currently student group housing.
New emphasis on a living and learning campus that centralizes student social life on campus.
Two GGW contributors, Jake Sticka and Kara Brandeisky, penned an excellent appeal to improve social life on campus as a solution to the campus plan dispute.
Georgetown leaders are committed to improving social spaces on campus in order to create a true residential college atmosphere in which living and learning are not physically separated.
Living off campus will be treated as a privilege, not a right, and granted based on one's disciplinary record.
In the 60s, priests walked the streets of Georgetown enforcing a curfew for students living off-campus. Most universities now isolate students into large dorm complexes or off-campus quarters.
Part of the residential college model is avoiding the wall that many universities erect between residential life and a student's intellectual and character formation. Georgetown University is taking more responsibility for the formation of students living off-campus with this measure.
450 additional beds will be created on campus.
As part of the commitment to the residential college model, University leaders will add 450 more beds to accommodate students moving on-campus. Along with measures to improve social spaces and liberalize alcohol policies on campus, the addition of 450 beds will help shift the locus of students' social life onto campus, where it is more integrated with the intellectual life of the University.
The University will propose significantly improved measures for relieving parking and traffic congestion in Georgetown. Their first proposal is to not allow off-campus undergraduates to bring cars into Georgetown.
Topher Mathews, Kara and I posted a plea last year to the University to find innovative, progressive ways to better manage transportation demand on the campus of the largest employer in the city.
Georgetown University has a serious commitment to environmental sustainability and is serious about joining the discourse over smart growth and planning.
There's more to the plan, and you can read about it on ANC2E's web site. Leaders on all sides of the Georgetown campus plan dialogue are to be congratulated for this accord and the spirit it embodies.
Scandal rocks Draft Wells campaign: The nascent campaign to draft Tommy Wells for mayor in 2014 has been suspended amid new allegations that under Wells' oversight, DC Public Libraries has been blatantly allowing people to use its books for free. The US Attorney is probing similar conduct at the Department of Parks and Recreation. (City Paper, Todd)
Evans eyes Georgetown for Redskins: A new plan from Councilmembers Jack Evans and Michael Brown would demolish Georgetown's campus and move it to Hill East. The current campus would become a practice facility for the Redskins. Some Georgetown neighbors immediately endorsed the plan, because the new facility will create almost no noise and attract very few people to the area. (Post)
Pedestrian safety solved: A new policy from the Montgomery County DOT will make it illegal to cross any arterial streets in the county, eliminating dangerous crossings. People without cars needing to traverse a roadway can get on a bus and ride it to the end of the line and back again. (Gazette, Ben Ross)
Escalator reliability reaches 100%: Metro has achieved a new milestone for escalator maintenance. They have now reached a reliability rate of 100%; all escalators are currently broken at the same time. (Examiner, Matt Johnson)
Hop on I-395 PE: With Virginia's new program to sell naming rights to roads, Sudafed has proposed sponsoring all of Northern Virginia's congestion. (WBJ, Steve Offutt)
LOV-0 coming to a road near you: Google is reportedly working on a new program to design "passengerless cars," which will transport no people at all. In anticipation of this breakthrough, VDOT announced a plan to implement "Low-Occupancy Vehicle" lanes for their exclusive use. (Wired, Neil Flanagan)
DC4D4Thomas: DC for Democracy has endorsed Harry Thomas, Jr. as a write-in candidate for the Ward 5 special election. Members cited Thomas' consistency in talking about revitalizing the ward's main streets without making anything happen, creatively moving around money dedicated to serve youth, and his plan to solve transportation problems by setting up a series of Audi dealerships. (Geoff Hatchard)
Norton targets Wyoming: After several unsuccessful efforts to lobby state legislatures to support DC statehood, Eleanor Holmes Norton announced a new strategy to try to remove statehood from Wyoming, as it is smaller than DC. (DCist, Nick Clark)
The DC Zoning Commission will hold its final hearing tonight on the Georgetown University campus plan. Some neighborhood groups and ANC 2E continue to strongly oppose the plan, despite a number of concessions on the part of the university. Does DC's campus planning process actually help solve problems or just create strife?
The process does not encourage effective dialogue or compromise. In this case, the university has made concessions at several points directly in response to opponents' concerns, with seemingly no effect on the tone of the conversation.
The university has removed a proposed smokestack, agreed to add hundreds of residence beds, removed proposed housing and retail on the 1789 block, reduced the proposed future graduate student population by thousands, added a direct shuttle between campus and M Street, and expanded the number of police patrols and trash pickups. Yet neighborhood groups remain opposed.
It seems clear at this point that there are probably no concessions the university could make that would satisfy the Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG), the Burleith Citizens Association (BCA), or ANC leadership, short of building enough housing for 100% of undergraduate students. That would be an extremely difficult and expensive proposition for the university, and it's not clear where this housing could go.
The opponents' position suggests that the very presence of students in the neighborhood is an insurmountable problem. This ignores the many positives that students bring to the community, and the fact that many non-student residents choose to live in Georgetown because of its liveliness and urban density. My wife and I feel safe walking home at night knowing there are other people walking about. Without the presence of so many students in the neighborhood the streets would be emptier, and would feel darker and less safe.
Students in the neighborhood are not inherently a problem. The real issue is bad behavior from some students, and what steps the university should take to mitigate those specific negative impacts. That is the sort of conversation that could happen, and that the planning process should encourage. Unfortunately, it hasn't.
Instead, positions have become entrenched and opposing sides treat each other as enemies. For example, the university established the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) to respond to neighborhood issues, but residents have encouraged neighbors to avoid SNAP and call 911 for any student-related problem, then say that SNAP is ineffective and cite the rising number of 911 calls as evidence of worsening behavior.
As a Georgetown resident and a Hoya alum, I think we deserve a better dialogue. But how do we get to a more meaningful conversation?
Structural changes may be necessary.
Campus plans are reviewed every 10 years. The very nature this 10-year cycle leads to brinkmanship and negativity. Some people feel that they have no leverage with the university in the intervening 9 years, and that they must obtain a decade's worth of concessions all at once. Universities think the same way. They increase their focus on town-gown issues in the years leading up to a campus plan hearing, and sometimes don't treat intervening years as seriously.
Also, like in many local political issues, the loudest voices have the most impact. People with extra time, or who feel particularly aggrieved, become the main voices of the neighborhood, while the larger number of everyday people goes unheard. I have spoken personally to many neighbors, and while many have specific concerns about student behavior or Georgetown, none of them suggest the extreme position of the opposition groups (and the DC Office of Planning) of pushing 100% of students onto campus.
This is a difficult problem. It may take some experimentation on the part of the city to determine if a better process is possible. Here are a few ides.
Option #1: Abolish the 10-year campus plan process entirely.
With the rewrite of the city's zoning plan, DC could determine which development projects or campus issues should be subject to zoning review, and use the regular public hearing process for them. While doing this would remove some of the long-term planning conversations, it would also remove some of the once-a-decade brinkmanship, which would ensure more frequent conversations between universities and neighborhoods.
Option #2: Create a college and university category in the zoning code.
The current zoning code classifies colleges and universities as residential areas and requires a "special exception" for any non-residential use. This is despite the fact that many of these institutions were established decades or centuries before the zoning laws, and have never been primarily residential. Undergraduate students represent around 10% of the city's total population, but the zoning code treats them as abnormal, and frames discussions of university expansion as having an inherently adverse impact.
The creation of a specific zoning category for colleges and universities would allow a larger discussion of the positives these institutions bring to the city, what negative impacts they may create, and the proper roles and responsibilities of universities in 21st century Washington.
A new category would be particularly helpful given the number of universities that have been opening buildings in the District lately, whether for "semester-in-DC" or more comprehensive educational programs.
Option #3: Broaden the conversation about the campus plan.
Several meetings were held in the run-up to the zoning commission hearings, but a small number of people have controlled the debate. Ideally more people should be brought into the conversation. Rather than allowing public opinion to be filtered through the parties directly in support or opposition, perhaps a citywide body such as the Office of Planning should be holding town halls to get more broad public input.
Option #4: Broaden the involved parties.
Universities are integral parts of their communities in many ways. They may offer library or gym memberships, allow for auditing of classes, or open some lectures to the general public. More such efforts by the university to directly connect students with non-student neighbors would begin to build the relationships and trust that are necessary for more positive outcomes. Rather than thinking of universities as an "other" to be opposed, neighbors might be more inclined to look for mutually beneficial solutions.
I have lived in Georgetown for the better part of the past 15 years. I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees from Georgetown University. We can do better. We deserve better. Let's make it happen.
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