The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Students

Education


OP wants 100% of GU undergrads on campus by 2016

Yesterday, the Office of Planning issued its report on Georgetown University's ten year campus plan. It recommends some severe and surprising restrictions on the university, including a demand that GU house 100% of undergraduates on campus by the fall of 2016.


Photo by decaf on Flickr.

GU's proposed campus plan would cap its traditional undergraduate enrollment at 6,652. In addition, it asks to increase its overall cap of undergrads plus graduate students to 15,000. They originally proposed 16,133, but pulled it back in its pre-hearing submission. This would represent an increase of approximately 1,000 students.

OP supports GU growing its overall numbers of students, but with only graduated increases. The reports calls for the total to remain at current numbers for the next two academic years. In 2013 it would rise by about 500; afterwards, if GU meets certain conditions, the total would rise by another 500 or so.

If GU is mildly perturbed about the overall cap conditions, they're probably livid about the undergrad requirements. OP wants GU to house 100% of traditional undergrad students in GU housing by the fall of 2016. This would also be phased in.

The university previously agreed to build an additional 250 beds on campus by the fall of 2014. On top of that, by the fall of 2015, OP calls for GU to house 90% of its undergrads in GU housing. By the fall of 2016, the requirement is 100%.

If GU doesn't meet that requirement, OP wants GU's undergrad cap to be cut annually by 25% of the difference between the cap and the number of beds until it meets the 100% mark.

That additional GU housing also can't be built east of 37th Street. That's where the campus gate lies, though the campus boundary is farther east. No housing can be in the 20007 zip code, other than on the campus and behind the gates.

I believe there are about 1,500 GU undergraduates not living in GU housing. That means that after GU adds the 250 that it has already agreed to, it would need to build roughly an additional 1,250 beds by 2016.

GU would have a couple options to satisfy this. First, it could find space for more beds behind the gates. One idea I've heard was to build a dorm on top of Leo dining hall, but I don't know if that is feasible. Second, GU could buy housing for its students outside the 20007 zip code: in other words, in Rosslyn.

All in all, this is a pretty devastating report for GU and I am simply floored by it. But there are still a lot of "ifs." Most critically, while the Zoning Commission is often deferential to the Office of Planning, there's no guarantee they'd go along with this severe a proposal. One factor that is definitely not an "if" is the question of what happens if the Zoning Commission adopts OP's report: years of litigation.

GU appealed the last campus plan decision, and ultimately won. Further, while the courts have rejected various universities' claims that student caps violate the DC Human Rights Act, the court hemmed and hawed a bit before reaching that conclusion. The court might reach a different conclusion if presented with these more severe conditions.

Either way, this is a huge bombshell in this battle, and it fell squarely on GU.

Read the complete report.

Development


ANC resents AU students and their windows

ANC 3D issued their report on American University's campus plan. It's laden with contempt for AU students, from their existing living in residential areas to the kinds of blinds or tapestries they hang in the windows.


Photo by ColorblindRain on Flickr.

Each DC university is required to submit a campus plan every 10 years. This decennial process opens the wounds of town-gown relations. American University has a tense relationship with its neighboring ANC, especially with its chair, Tom Smith, who has repeatedly tried to dissuade students from participating in neighborhood affairs.

While the report includes several legitimate concerns, it also incorporates salvos of unwarranted suspicion, resentment, and prejudice toward undergraduate students. Its recurring theme demands the university do whatever it can to segregate its undergraduate students' dorms and classrooms within the core of campus, far removed from other area residents.

The most ridiculous claim is that the very sight of student dorm windows is itself a grave offense that requires action from the zoning code:

Student residences should be built with windows that do not open to limit noise impacts on neighboring residents and with tinted windows that shield from residents' views the type of window hangings that are characteristically found in the windows of AU's student dorms.
At the University of Maryland, I found that the window hangings "characteristically found in the windows" of dorms are in fact window blinds. Does the ANC object to window blinds? Do they demand Roman shades, valances, velvet curtains or simply taupe window treatments?

Another controversy surrounds the treatment of AU's East Campus site directly south of Ward Circle NW. This site is currently a parking lot and report reasonably requests the university construct a "signature building" on the site.

However, the report contains a series of demands of what should not go on that site, namely students, conferences and retail space.

In fact the report laments "the loss of commercial space and neighborhood-serving retail stemming from AU's need to find more space to meet its needs." Then just 7 pages later, the ANC chastises the university for proposing to add retail space on Nebraska Avenue, noting, "This would be the only block with any retail on Nebraska Avenue throughout its length in Washington, DC."

Which is it? Here the ANC clearly shows a preference for complaining about change over maintaining any intellectual consistency in its review.

Addtionally, while the report rightly agrees that bikesharing will reduce vehicle use, it also resents the incorporation of "the Capital Bike Share [sic] Program—for 10,000 mostly non-taxpaying residents—many of them temporary—living on premium-value residentially zoned property that is producing no property tax revenue".

Though the ANC wants the university to pay the capital cost of each new campus station, which is a reasonable request, it relays the request in a classist, prejudicial way.

Student residents, who often have little or no income, tend to pay little in taxes, but that does not diminish their rights as residents. Furthermore, it's troubling that the ANC resents any class of people "living on premium-value residentially zoned property".

That's what residents do: they reside on residentially-zoned property. The ANC suggests it's upset that a certain kind of people are taking up space on this "premium" property.

Certainly the ANC has a legitimate interest in ameliorating legitimate nuisances, but regulating window dressing should not be the matter of the ANC or the zoning code. Furthermore, the ANC obliterates it own credibility offering contradictory sentiments on the reduction and proposed addition of retail space.

Worst of all, the ANC report relegates AU's students to second-class citizenship, treating them not as fellow residents, but as a nuisance class of people who must be segregated and concentrated into the center of the campus, far from "real" residents.

The ANC should eliminate its thinly veiled opposition to students as a class of people, remove trivial complaints about window dressings, and focus on more important matters: How a university, its students, and long-term residents can exist in harmony and mutual respect.

Education


AU students need more, quality on-campus housing

American University recently presented neighbors with the latest draft of its 10-year campus plan.


Photo by the American University.

The top priorities are to increase undergraduate student housing and provide more space for student recreation, dining, and activities on campus.

The most controversial of the plan's elements is the construction of an East Campus, across Nebraska Avenue from the current main campus.

AU would like to increase its on-campus bed count capacity to 4,100 students, down from the 4,900 proposed in the previous draft. AU's dorms are currently designed to house 3,533 students, but through tripling students and agreements with the nearby Berkshire apartments, the university is able to hold over 4,000.

On-campus housing is better than off-campus housing for many reasons. It puts students closer to everything that happens on campus, from speakers to classes, and almost always means a better relationship between students and landlords.

But on-campus housing can't be built with paper-thin walls and stack students up like sardines. Meeting the housing needs of students means building exactly the kind of living that the east campus offers.

New dorms

The plan details a new dorm on South Side to hold about 200 students, an addition to Nebraska to hold around 125, and a series of dorms on East Campus meant for just under 800 residents. The increase in housing is meant to guarantee housing for both freshman and sophomores (currently, AU can only guarantee 85% of sophomores housing) and to reduce the number of triples, or the practice of cramming three freshmen in rooms meant for two residents.


Plan for the main campus. The dark color shows new buildings, the light color potential future development.

Currently a large parking lot, Nebraska Lot lies east of AU, separated from the campus proper by Nebraska Avenue, a fairly busy road. The plan calls for that space to be replaced by six buildings, four of which would be dorms (the other being used for the alumni center, the new campus center, and office space). Underneath the new campus would be an underground parking garage.

To ensure that students could only cross Nebraska at the signaled crosswalk, the entire campus would be fenced, with the only entrance/exit by foot being a gap in that fence near New Mexico Avenue (at its intersection with Nebraska). Two roads also enter the campus, but both lead to the underground garage.

Residents are concerned that this campus will be relatively close to their homes. The back of the furthest buildings rest 40 to 80 feet or more from the backs of the adjoined houses at Westover Place, and residents there are worried about how these new buildings will affect their lives.

With no real buffer between the homes and the lot currently, the height of the buildings (54 feet for the dorms and slightly lower for the others) have the potential to dominate their sights out of their back windows.

Residents also complain that noise from the dorms will disturb them. Many at recent ANC meetings have complained of potential and raucous partying (an unneeded anxiety, given campus policies) and the potential for vandalism, which is also unlikely.

Pedestrians at Nebraska Avenue


Photo by ehpien on Flickr.
Neighbors also complained that the increase in number of pedestrians crossing Nebraska would both disrupt the flow of traffic on that road and be dangerous for both students and drivers. Both claims require study, but cannot be determined at this time with the certitude residents put forward).

Regardless, the issue of East Campus remains the flash point of this campus plan, and the University doesn't seem to be willing to budge. While this draft (the third of this campus plan) showed a reduction of 800 housed students from the previous one, the number of students being housed on East Campus has been held more-or-less constant throughout the whole process.

The University insists that an East Campus remains the best place to house that volume of additional students, and that it will not negatively affect traffic flow. However, it could have done a far better job of explaining these claims at meetings with local stakeholders.

Retail and urban design

Retail would be part of the proposed east campus. Having more that students can reach by walking is good for the students, the environment, and the city's revenues.

Students should hope, though, that the University avoids the mistakes from past construction on the campus. It's hard for a business to survive on students and employees alone. Witness the failure of the McDonald's hidden away in a tunnel in the middle of campus, and the pizzeria before it.

Bringing the buildings with retail closer to the street could expand the buffer offered to our neighbors in Westover, help the businesses attract outside customers, and provide a visual cue to passing drivers to slow down.


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.
The plan also shows the Washington College of Law moving to the Tenley campus, and calls for the construction of an Alumni Center, a new Campus Visiting Center, and several other new buildings.

Another facet of the plan is growing the number of enrolled students from 10,297 to 13,600. However, grad and law students dominate this increase in population; the number of undergraduates will be modestly raised from 6,300 to 6,400.

Several other issues have been raised by the community as well. Some say that the increased traffic from graduate students and new university employees will make the horrid traffic problems around Ward Circle even worse. Others raise the concern that dangerous chemicals from Army Corps of Engineers operations during World War I still remain around the Nebraska lot, and could prove hazardous to students living in dorms there. However, it's unclear what evidence there is to support this claim.

Parking

Finally, residents complain that the reduction in surface parking on campus will adversely affect the current problem of students parking in neighborhoods and walking to campus. Students do this often to avoid the high costs of parking on campus, which in themselves are meant to encourage students to carpool or walk.

The American University campus plan has attracted a lot of attention—most of it angry and resentful. At the special meeting ANC 3D recently held on the campus plan, most of the normal complaints about students and universities were trotted out: students are all raging drunkards, the school is a neighborhood bully, further development will destroy property values, and did you hear about that time that one kid did that one ridiculous thing?

We agree more with some of the things we've heard our neighbors say than others. What we didn't hear was a lot about what the new plan means for students and what they need.

Student needs matter

What American University students want from our plan is simple: building for our needs. We aren't the only stakeholders in the process: professors and departments need be wooed and supported, and neighbors have legitimate concerns.

But at the end of the day, we are the university's customers, products, and inhabitants. We come to the school at what are often some of the most vulnerable, confusing, and thrilling times of our lives, and we rely on the campus, the community, and the neighborhood to help us make something of ourselves.

The campus plan is a part of that, and it's important that we make our voices heard in its crafting and implementation. Even if each of us is only here for a few years, together there are thousands of us here for decades. We want both the next few years and those future decades to be good ones.

Cross-posted from two posts at DC Students Speak.

Transit


ANC making unfair demands on Georgetown transportation

Monday night, Georgetown ANC approved recommendations concerning the University's 10 Year Campus Plan. This includes the usual complaints about students living off-campus, but also dedicates four pages to concerns about transportation-related issues including objections to campus shuttles traversing the neighborhood.


GUTS bus. Image from Georgetown University.

Neighbors have long complained that the free Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle buses to Dupont Circle rattle their houses. In response, some neighbors have lobbied the university to keep the GUTS buses off Reservoir Road and Q Street, the most direct route to Dupont, even though Metrobuses run on the same streets.

Instead, neighbors have asked the university to route all Dupont shuttles through the Canal Road entrance, which requires construction of a north-south roadway on campus so that the buses can turn around.

The university included this construction initiative in the Campus Plan. But the ANC's draft proposal asks that the university begin making changes immediately, while also limiting student parking in off-campus neighborhoods. These demands are excessive, and even previous compromises seem to have been made without student and staff transportation needs in mind.

Canal Road entrance

Routing the Dupont GUTS bus out of Canal Road makes it far more difficult to get to Dupont in a reasonable time. When the University Office of Transportation Management devised new routes in 2009, it tested routes down the Whitehurst Freeway.

This route is not only longer than the current rush-hour route on Q Street, but it also traverses some high-traffic areas. Of course, the current compromise route, which sends buses up Wisconsin Ave during non-rush hour traffic, is also circuitous and inconvenient. But routing the buses down Whitehurst would be even worse.


Q Street GUTS route (blue), detour up Wisconsin (red), and proposed Whitehurst route (purple).

Much larger Metrobuses also run on Reservoir Road and Q Street, and neighbors tolerate those buses on their streets. But as ANC Chair Ron Lewis told the Voice on Thursday, "The only reason the Metrobuses are on [residential] streets is that they serve stops along those roads, which are very valuable to the community."

GUTS buses are valuable for other reasons. GUTS buses are an extensive enough fleet with a short enough route that they're remarkably punctual. They run every 20 minutes during calm times and every five minutes during rush hour.

Also, they're free. Taking a D6 to and from the Dupont Metro stop every day of the workweek is $60 a month—which is what many people would pay if the Dupont route became too inconvenient. That's because only 32 percent of GUTS bus riders are students, according to a survey administered by the Georgetown University Student Association in 2008.

The rest are MedStar Employees (32 percent), staff (29 percent), faculty (10 percent) or other (2 percent). Of the respondents, 53 percent rode the GUTS bus five times a week.

I ask Mr. Lewis to expand his definition of "community" to include the people who staff his hospital, the people who work at his neighborhood's largest employer, and the 6,000 students that make up about 40 percent of his constituency.

The inconvenience of GUTS buses on residential streets pales in comparison to the inconvenience that the ANC's demands cause for students, staff, hospital workers, and community members who benefit from the shorter Dupont route.

Another possible compromise would be to combine the Dupont GUTS route and the D bus, if WMATA could work out a way for Georgetown to pay for its students and employees to get a free ride and add more frequency on the D. This would make the current shuttles also serve the community, and thereby become valuable in Mr. Lewis's eyes.

However, the GUTS buses are more on-time than the D, and run every 5 minutes during rush hour. Merging the Dupont shuttle with the D bus could be better than rerouting the Dupont shuttle down Whitehurst, but still worse than the current buses running down Q Street.

Additional demands

Unfortunately, the university conceded the arguments about Canal Road early in the negotiations. The Campus Plan already does exactly what the ANC is proposing—just not fast enough. The commissioners demand that the north-south roadway necessary to route the buses out of Canal Road be completed within "the first year of the campus plan."

However, there are some complications. For example, the ANC is unhappy with the actual blueprint of the western portion of the north-south roadway, fearing "environmental concerns and a lengthy and uncertain National Park Service approval process." The commissioners ask the university to consider another location for the loop road or a north-south road with a turnaround at the northern end.

Also, a year is still too long to wait. In the meantime, the ANC asks the university to find ways to route buses out of the Canal Road entrance using existing space. They suggest, "If necessary, buses with a relatively short turning radius could be obtained; or turntable technology is available to turn buses around in a space not much larger than the length of a bus. See, for example, http://www.carousel-usa.com/large-turntable.php."

The suggestion speaks for itself. It makes little sense for the university to invest in such extensive infrastructure when it already plans to undergo construction to implement long-term changes.

The GUTS buses also have five different routes, two of which (Rosslyn and Dupont) run every 5 minutes during rush hour. To route everything out of Canal Road, any north-south road or carousel would need to handle heavy shuttle traffic and turn buses around very quickly, or else the University would need to significantly cut service.

Students have expressed frustration that the university seems to concede on almost every argument, often to the detriment of students, and yet the ANC continues to fight the Campus Plan tooth and nail. This is exactly what we're talking about.

Student parking

The ANC adds insult to injury with its next recommendation: prevent students from parking anywhere in 20007. The commissioners write, "GU should provide students who live on campus or in the surrounding community—both undergraduates and graduate students—with a combination of incentives, better transportation arrangements, and satellite parking to assure that GU students will not have cars in zip code 20007."

First, making GUTS bus routes more inconvenient gives students far less of an incentive to use University transportation. To suggest that the University both reroute the GUTS buses and encourage students to use them more is disingenuous.

Second, students are highly discouraged from bringing cars to school in the status quo. The University already refuses daily or monthly parking to students who live on-campus. City law creates additional difficulties for off-campus students.

In 1996, the DC Council passed a law preventing only students in certain ANCs—those districts encompassing Georgetown, George Washington, and American University—from obtaining reciprocal parking permits available to other students throughout the city.

Georgetown students must get a DC driver's license and register their vehicles in the DC to park within the ANC 2E boundaries. (Frustration about this law, which is still in effect, was one major impetus for Campaign Georgetown, the mass student voter registration drive that got two students elected to the ANC in 1996.)

As a result, I don't personally know any undergraduates who have a car in DC. Regardless, once students move off-campus and pay rent to a landlord, the University should not interfere to further prevent them from parking their own vehicles.

It's good policy to encourage everyone to use smart transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road. But if the ANC were actually concerned about parking congestion, we could have a productive discussion about how to improve public transportation options. (The Campus Plan brags that GUTS buses keep 7,750 cars off residential streets every day.) Instead, the ANC only wants to discourage students from living in the neighborhood, by any means possible.

The big picture

The Campus Plan transportation proposals should give people real incentives to use public transit that is safe, convenient and environmentally friendly. The ANC's suggestions go to great lengths to prevent the GUTS buses from operating in an efficient way—while simultaneously limiting other options. If Mr. Lewis really had the whole community in mind, he would reconsider some of the ANC's demands.

Education


On-campus housing not the answer for Georgetown

In "GU takes student ghetto approach to housing undergrads," Ken Archer argues that Georgetown University has created a "student ghetto" by failing to guarantee undergraduates four years of on-campus housing. In response, he suggests four locations where the University should build "multi-use" facilities behind the gates.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

However, the University's very real financial and space constraints, historical context, and students' actual needs don't support this approach.

Historical context

It' s hard to substantiate the claim, echoed by many other neighbors, that the University has created a larger "student ghetto" than there was in the past.

Mr. Archer uses 1980 as a benchmark. But a 1979 Hoya student newspaper article reported that only 3,058 students were offered on-campus housing in 1980, or 58 percent of Georgetown's 5,293 undergraduates. Today, the University houses 84 percent of its undergraduates. In 1980, 2,235 students lived off-campus. Last semester 1,077 students lived off-campus, not including those studying abroad.*

Mr. Archer might still be right that something fundamentally changed in the 1980s. However, I think he misses the true cause. In 1986, the drinking age in D.C. rose from 18 to 21. As a result, the University implemented a harsher alcohol policy in 1987 that made drinking a punishable offense. The University also ordered the closure of the University Center Pub in Healy basement.

Students responded by moving their parties off-campus. The University instituted additional restrictions in 2007, introducing a one-keg limit and requiring that parties be registered beforehand. There aren't more students actually living off-campus now, but they might be louder.

Regardless of the cause, the 1990s were a highly contentious period. In 1996, neighbors were so bothered by the "student ghetto" that they tried to displace students by proposing a zoning overlay that would prevent more than three unrelated people from renting group homes together. The Zoning Commission rejected the proposal in 1998, ruling that it was discriminatory against students.

In response to the overlay, over 1,000 Georgetown students registered to vote in D.C. to elect two undergraduates to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Then-ANC Commissioner Westy Byrd distributed flyers warning students of the consequences of registering and was subsequently charged with voter intimidation (though the US Attorney's Office declined to prosecute).

Once the two students were elected, the losing ANC commissioners launched a lawsuit against them that dragged on until 2002. When I wrote a feature story about this time period, several people stressed to me how much better town-gown relations are now.

But opposition to the 2000 Campus Plan was just as fierce. Some of the points in the
Burleith Citizen Association's response letter could be used verbatim as arguments today. ("In fact, the University already has facilities on campus not presently used for undergraduate student housing that would be suitable for that purpose now or in the near future.")

At the time, the Board of Zoning and Adjustment sided with the neighborhood, refusing the University's request to increase its enrollment cap and requiring the University to publicly disclose information about student misconduct complaints. The University appealed, and in 2003, the DC Court of Appeals overturned the decision, declaring it was not the BZA's purview to rule on the University's disciplinary code.

The Southwest Quad also opened in fall 2003, bringing 780 students onto campus. There is a September 2003 newspaper hanging in our student newspaper office with the headline, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood: Have Georgetown's persistent town-gown battles finally come to an end?" The short answer: absolutely not.

It helps the neighbors' cause to pretend town-gown relations are worse than they've ever been, which is why some neighbors have been using this tactic for decades. The reality is, history is only repeating itself. In 1997, Mayor Marion Barry celebrated with the Georgetown ANC over their success in keeping a Papa John's from opening in the neighborhood. In 2010, Mayor Adrian Fenty held a press conference at the shuttering of our beloved Philly Pizza.

In 1979, Citizens Association of Georgetown Vice President Thomas Parrott told the Hoya he opposed the 1980 Campus Plan because it would extend campus boundaries to include Nevils Hall. In 2011, CAG President Jennifer Altemus reminisced about her time as an undergraduate living in Nevilswhile opposing the construction of University housing literally across the street.

Within historical context, it does not seem we are reaching a tipping point. Town-gown relations have ebbed and flowed for years. So we're finalizing the ten-year plan and residents say students are taking over the neighborhood? We're right on schedule.

"Multi-use" buildings are not the answer

Mr. Archer erroneously believes students are unhappy with the Southwest Quad and similar proposals because they are not "multi-use." Take it from a student: we couldn't care less.

Adding 800 beds on-campus would require building additional dorm-style accommodations, with double and triple rooms, common rooms and common bathrooms. Dorms are vastly inferior to off-campus options, which include kitchens, living rooms, single rooms, washing machines, dishwashers and all the furnishings of independent living.

We don't care if the dining hall is an elevator-ride away or a 10-minute walk. We want our own kitchens. We want area for entertaining. We want independence. We want apartments.

Mr. Archer's specific recommendations don't work for students. Considering Darnall's square-shaped floor plan, extending over Epicurean could only be marginally useful. But to any student, the proposal to expand Darnall would just be a sick joke.

Darnall is commonly considered the worst freshman dorm. Every floor houses about 50 people in 173-square-foot doubles. The beds are so close together that roommates can reach out and touch hands. For freshmen, this is fine. I myself survived Darnall Floor 1. But no upperclassmen would live there willingly. At New Student Orientation, ifsomeone says he was assigned to live in Darnall, the appropriate response is, "Oh... I'm so sorry."

The University actually provides townhouses and several nice apartment complexes: Village A, Village B, Nevils and Henle. But apartment complexes are more expensive than dorms, and they are not as space-efficient. In 1979 the Hoya reported that building Village A cost about $58,000 per unit—$169,180 in today's money. It's also harder to
build apartment complexes in the tiny slivers of space the architectural firm suggested.

Likewise, the University is already using the parking lot at the end of library walk to reroute the GUTS buses, as the neighbors have demanded. If the University could add apartments on top of O'Donovan Dining Hall or the new athletic facility, maybe it would attract some interested upperclassmen. But the architects did suggest adding on to Village C, so they likely already considered adding on to other buildings as well.

Considering that expensive apartment-style accommodations are the only options that will keep students on campus, when University officials insist there is no room to build on the traditional campus, they're not being wily. They're being realistic.

Going forward

The campus plan is a balance of sometimes competing interests: the University's desire to expand its offerings and bring in revenue, the neighbors' desire to preserve Georgetown's historic character and family-friendly atmosphere, and the students' desire for access to quality, affordable housing and state-of-the-art University facilities. This
balance requires compromise.

One seemingly obvious solution has since been taken off the table. I would like to see a reconsideration of the 1789 Block proposal, which could have housed 250 students in apartment-style accommodations. Neighbors considered this space "off-campus," even though it is University-owned and wedged between existing classroom buildings and University housing. After their ceaseless complaints, the University relented and struck the project from the plan.

In regards to noise, Mr. Archer says, "27% of student group homes have had run-ins with the police in the past year." Honestly, I'm surprised it' s not more. Neighbors urge each other to call the Metropolitan Police Department about noise before even talking to their student neighbors or calling the Student Neighborhood Assistance Program.

Admittedly, parties get out of control, and destructive behavior should not be tolerated. But calling the MPD about noise complaints takes resources away from real emergencies, like the too-frequent robberies, muggings and sexual assaults.

Neighbors are also quick to blame students for houses in disrepair. I have some Burleith horror stories of my own, as CAG likes to use as evidence for their cause. When I
subletted a room this summer, we had to exterminate bedbugs and pantry moths. The landlord left us to pay for the damages.

Students don't want to live in filth. But it's a seller's market. We don't have the resources or bargaining power to advocate for ourselves, and it's not a summer subletter's job to take on beautification projects. More of the condemnation needs to be directed at landlords who take advantage of students and fail to maintain their property.

Most importantly, neighbors should direct their frustrations at specific problem houses rather than write off students as a group. Responding to a student question at the Campus Plan meeting last Thursday, Ms. Altemus said, "We welcome students into the neighborhood if they obey the laws." If only she meant it.

Ms. Altemus and Mr. Archer do not decry our behavior—they decry our very presence. But under DC Code, it is illegal to discriminate against people based on their "matriculation status," which is why the Zoning Commission struck down the overlay preventing more than three unrelated people from living together. As a group, we have as much of a right to live here as anyone else.

Finally, DC Students Speak and other involved students are making good-faith efforts to engage residents about the campus plan. About 30 students showed up to last Thursday's meeting, and 784 people have signed a petition in support of the plan. My newspaper, the Georgetown Voice, has been attending these meetings from the very beginning. We want a stake in this community. Writing us off as a "student ghetto" doesn't even give us the chance.

* Since there has been so much debate about these numbers, I'll explain my methodology. The 1979 Hoya article said that 1,558 students won the housing lottery, 660 lost and were then "forced to look for off-campus housing," and 1,500 spaces were reserved for freshmen and students with health problems or special circumstances.

A History of Georgetown University, Volume 3 Appendix A, says for academic year 1980-81, the University enrolled 2,091 college students, 462 nursing students, 1,201 school of foreign service students and 838 business students, adding to Mr. Archer' s total of 4,592. However, he forgets to count the School of Languages and Linguistics, which merged with Georgetown College in 1995 and enrolled 701 students in 1980-81.

This brings us to a total of 5,293. If Georgetown had 5,293 undergraduates and housed 3,058, then 2,235 lived off-campus, though not all requested housing.

I have not yet found good statistics about how many students studied abroad during this time. However, considering that study abroad has gotten immensely popular in recent years—according to the Office of International Programs, 57 percent of current students study abroad at some point—I think it's most accurate to exclude students who are studying abroad from the current off-campus count.

The 2010 Campus Plan shows specific enrollment figures for students on the main campus dating back to 2006. There are fewer students on the main campus in the spring because more students study abroad that semester, so under the 2000 Campus Plan, Georgetown reported the enrollment as an average of the two semesters.

I have chosen the most recent data available, fall 2010 alone, when there were 6,130 undergraduates enrolled at the main campus. The University provides 5,053 beds, so assuming every bed was filled last semester, 1,077 students lived off-campus.

Education


GU takes student ghetto approach to housing undergrads

On December 30th, Georgetown University filed its 10 Year Campus Plan with the DC Zoning Commission. While the Plan has led to frayed relations between the university and the Georgetown neighborhood, the central dispute concerns what is not in the plan: an increase in on-campus undergraduate housing.


Photo by decaf on Flickr.

Why should Georgetown University be expected to build additional on-campus housing for undergraduates?

If you visit the couple dozen blocks around the University in West Georgetown (west of Wisconsin Ave) and Burleith, you will find a student ghetto that simply wasn't there in 1980. The area is becoming characterized by dilapidated houses and unbagged trash strewn across lawns.

27% of student group homes have had run-ins with the police in the past year. The university touts this as a success. Residents, particularly young children, are awakened at all hours by screaming students, and many have begun moving away.

Current students often object that the University has conceded to resident opposition to other elements of the Plan. It seems to them that the residents will never be satisfied.


Red markers are undergraduate houses. Yellow markers are graduate houses.

The principal concern for two decades, however, has always been developing on-campus housing equal to growth in undergraduate enrollment. When the University agrees to this development as it once did, it knows that it will find a residential community more open to compromise on other initiatives even though they may raise residential concerns.

The university has two objections, however, to the expectation that it build additional on-campus housing.

The adverse impacts standard

First, the university asserts that Georgetown provides on-campus housing for a larger percentage of their undergraduates than any DC university other than Gallaudet. In reality, it's actually almost identical to GW, AU and CUA.

This would be meaningful if it mattered, but the Zoning Code puts in place a standard that is relative to each university: enrollment must not result in adverse impacts on the adjoining communities.

What's so special about Georgetown? Why does housing 20-30% of undergraduates off-campus adversely impact Georgetown more than Spring Valley, Foggy Bottom or Brookland?

Georgetown has a unique housing stock. Because it was built pre-zoning, its homes arose organically from a real community, providing the human scale of construction and diversity of home sizes that naturally follow from the needs of a multi-generational community.

With hundreds of small and medium-sized rowhouses with thin walls and little or no front yards, Georgetown's housing stock cannot sustain the introduction of over a thousand 18-22 year-olds without turning into a student ghetto.

This housing stock embodies so much of what has been lost in America's built environment over the past 50 years, as smart growth leaders like Duany and Speck and Kunstler demonstrate in their thoughtful sketches of Georgetown.

As Travis Parker from the DC Planning Office said recently to Georgetown residents, Georgetown is what it is because it was built before zoning, such that OP's current zoning rewrite aims "to enable other neighborhoods to have what Georgetown has".

We can't appeal to Georgetown's example while simultaneously allowing the displacement of the multi-generational community which sustains and is sustained by its housing.

Requiring Georgetown University to meet the "adverse impacts" standard of DC law, however, is supposed to prevent any such displacement from occurring.

The central challenge, then, is how to maintain the world-class status of the area's leading university and the multi-generational community living in an historic district on the National Register right next door.

Where to build on-campus housing:
The second response provided by the University to the expectation that it build additional on-campus housing is that there is nowhere else to build.

Page 13 of the plan claims that the university looked for more locations and found problems everywhere, chief amongst them the limited amount of green space. Other problems mentioned include "topography limitations, and engineering and design challenges".

This, too, is not really relevant. The University has increased undergraduate enrollment consistently over the past several decades without an equal increase in on-campus beds.

However, investigating the claim that there's no more room for on-campus beds gets to what may be the heart of the problem. When the University says there's no more room for on-campus beds, what they really mean is that there's no more room for single-use dorms.

But mixed-use buildings are not only an important consideration in any dense, urban development, they are also more attractive to students who don't want to live in "just dorms". One student reporter makes the same point.

Neighbors often cite the fact that an architectural firm identified space for 800 additional beds on campus—if the University built on every plot of open space there exists on campus. (And built only dorm-style housing that no student would ever opt to live in as an upperclassman.)
How about the following 4 locations:
  1. Athletic Training Facility: This to-be-built structure could quite easily include additional floors of dorm space.
  2. O'Donovan Dining Hall: This 2-story structure is next to the 9-story SW Quad dorms. It's quite common to have dining halls in dorms. Why not add multiple floors of dorm space above the dining hall?
  3. Epicurean Dining Hall: Again, dining halls in dorms are quite common. Why not extend the Darnall dorm out over the front of Epicurean?
  4. End of Library Walk: While this is admittedly green space, it is unused by students given its remote location against the Canal Rd entrance and surrounded by parking and cars. It's really just unnoticed landscaping, not civic space. This was proposed by the University's architect as a potential dorm spot.
When asked about these sites, the VP of Communications says "the proposals you suggest are interesting", but that "it would be inappropriate to comment on whether or not they have merit without the benefit of a full analysis".

She insists that "we've conducted a thorough review of locations for residence halls on campus", but when asked whether these fairly uncreative proposals were considered, she "cannot confirm whether or not these were included in our review or not".

The only conclusion that one can reach is that the Georgetown town-gown dispute is not being caused by an anti-density stance on the part of the residents. It's being caused by an anti-development stance, particularly mixed-use development appropriate to a dense urban context, on the part of the University.

The University's flip-flops on housing

There was a time when the University agreed with this. In the 1990 Campus Plan, the University committed to "adopt as a long term goal of the University, the ability to provide housing for 100 percent of its undergraduate students on campus" and "to create a residential college environment".

The residential college model relies on mixed-use dorms in which residential life is integrated with other aspects of campus life, particularly intellectual life. In-dorm dining halls are where students and adults (faculty, grad students, clergy) living in the dorm together commune over meals.

It was the right vision for Georgetown, not least because it's the model adopted by several universities ranked higher than Georgetown. Harvard, Yale and Princeton are the most well-known universities with residential colleges, and all three house over 90% of undergraduates on campus.

Apparently the plan changed, because the dorms that were finally built in 2003 (the Southwest Quad) are single use dorms that, in the words of the GU student reporter, "no student would ever opt to live in as an upperclassman". It is another student ghetto.

And the beds that they added were outpaced by the increase in enrollment since the previous dormitory construction.

Not only is single use on-campus housing unattractive for upperclassmen, Georgetown's housing is the 2nd most expensive in the country.

The path forward for Georgetown, both to comply with DC law and to better compete with higher ranked universities appears to be the path that GU was on 20 years ago: Offer a residential college environment in mixed-use facilities at a more affordable price.

If you agree, sign a petition opposing the Campus Plan. If you don't agree, sign a petition supporting the Campus Plan.

Either way, come to a special Georgetown ANC meeting this Thursday, January 20th, 6:30 pm at Duke Ellington School for the Arts to hear the different positions and make your voice heard.

Government


College students deserve a voice in local government

In a city as disenfranchised as DC, it seems especially important to make sure that all residents have the opportunity to cast a vote. But one group is systematically denied a voice in local decision-making: college students.


Photo by arifzaman on Flickr.

It's true that students at schools like Georgetown, Howard, and Catholic are, in a sense, not permanent residents, and many of them may be unfamiliar with or uninterested in local elections. Most of them will probably move out of the neighborhood after four years or so.

But decades and decades from now there will still be students in that same area with similar interests, and there's no mechanism for taking their needs into account.

For example, in the elections last month, two American University freshmen ran write-in campaigns for ANC seats. ANC 3D chair Tom Smith filed complaints against both of them with the Board of Elections and Ethics, although one, Deon Jones, managed to get elected to the long-vacant 3D07 seat.

The other, Tyler Sadonis, who was running for Smith's own seat in 3D02, lost, although according to Smith himself nearly 60 AU students showed up to vote in that precinct. This was an unusually high turnout, but many students were prevented from voting by poll watchers specifically targeting students.

Smith has since called (huge PDF) for the repeal of voting reforms passed by the DC Council last year, including same-day registration and early voting, citing the fact that some AU students attempted to register without the proper identification.

Even if all 60 AU students who tried to vote in 3D02 had been allowed to, Smith still would have been easily reelected with 228 votes. But those students should have been welcomed and encouraged to participate in their local election, rather than intimidated and targeted for challenges.

Nor is this an isolated incident: AU student Sami Green says she's tried to get on the ballot in 3D07 eight times in the past two years. Sometimes she failed to get enough signatures, but other times her petitions were rejected on various technical grounds.

Meanwhile, down in Burleith, neighbors are vociferously opposing Georgetown University's 10-year development plan, which would expand graduate student enrollment from 6,275 to 8,750 while adding only 120 beds on campus. According to Burleith residents, the student presence in their neighborhood is already intolerable, between late-night parties and "walk-by noise." You have to sympathize with them; apparently they were unaware they were moving in next to a 200-year-old university.

The Burleith and Georgetown residents demand that the university build more on-campus housing to keep students away from them. But what if students want to live off-campus? Unfortunately for them, there's no practical reason Councilmember Jack Evans should even consider what students want, because it's mostly the residents who get to vote. Indeed, Evans told the Burleith Citizens Association that he supports them and opposes the campus plan. Why should he say otherwise when the political incentives are so clear?

Up in College Park, the University of Maryland's neighbors have shown a similar hostility towards the idea of students living outside the confines of campus. Elected officials are currently trying to prevent the construction of a residential project on the Maryland Book Exchange site, across the street from the main entrance to UMD. They may or may not be right that the project would adversely affect locals, but there's little question it would be good for the 830 students who'd be able to live there. Unfortunately they aren't really a party to the debate.

Some may argue that college students are free to register to vote at their college address or even run for local office if they meet residency requirements. (Others incorrectly warn of legal consequences for students who try to register at their college address.) But hostility and obstructionism on the part of local residents can be discouraging, and the transient nature of student life means many students are still getting to know their adopted neighborhood when their four years are up.

Unfortunately there are few easy options for increasing student representation in local decision-making. Foremost among them is gerrymandering, which can create a seat on a local body that's effectively reserved for students. Gerrymandering is what created SMD 3D07, the seat won by Deon Jones. Jones will join Georgetown student Jake Sticka as the only two college students serving on ANCs. That's less than 1% of the 276 commissioners citywide, in a city where college students represent nearly 15% of the population.

An intercollegiate campaign called DC Students Speak was launched last year partly to correct this imbalance. They've identified 11 SMDs with majority student populations that are represented by non-student commissioners. The campaign hopes to register and mobilize enough students to correct this imbalance somewhat.

For their part, college neighbors should be more welcoming of students, especially those interested in getting involved in their communities. It benefits everyone if DC-area college students graduate with an attachment to their adopted home, since they may choose to stick around and contribute to the tax base. And it's the right thing to do. Everyone deserves a voice, and only by making everyone's voice heard can we build a city that works for everyone.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC