Georgetown's Town-Gown Rift
The Latin phrase (normally not in the form of a question) is Georgetown University's motto—"both are one”—first found in St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, regarding Gentiles and Jews together, on coins of the Spanish Empire, and later for the Jesuit school's unity of learning and faith. Today, this phrase cannot be uttered between the University and the historic neighborhood to describe Georgetown, as the University's new 10-year plan has moved neighbor groups to protest anew and loudly so.
Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans finds the plan a "disappointment," while University president John DeGioia believes the campus plan to be "modest." A recent Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting did not echo such mild words.
The University has argued: "Georgetown’s plan includes a handful of new projects that would enhance on-campus academic and recreational spaces, including pedestrian-friendly walkways, construction that would allow buses to turn around on campus and renovations to the Medical Center. The new plan also carries over some projects not completed from the 2000 plan, including an addition to Lauinger Library, the renovation of the New South building for student space, and construction of a new athletic training facility on campus. The 2010-2020 campus plan reflects more than two years of conversations with the university community and local residents, and includes deliberate efforts to respond to concerns about enrollment, off-campus student life, safety and congestion in surrounding neighborhoods. For example, in response to community concerns, Georgetown removed its proposal to develop on-campus student housing in the 1789 block of 36th Street and decided not to request an extension of the chimney height on the heating and cooling plant."
Citizens groups still strongly disagreed. They see the addition of more graduate students and lack of any new on-campus housing as threatening to the historic district's quality of life.
Indeed, the Citizens Association of Georgetown—which acknowledges the immense value of the University, founded in 1789 in a Maryland village established in 1751—has started a Save Our Neighborhood Fund: "CAG has carefully reviewed the G.U. plan and believes it violates D.C. zoning regulations and would negatively impact the quality of life in Georgetown's residential neighborhoods."
CAG contends that the plan would increase graduate student enrollment by more than 2,100 students, thus "increasing the total student population from approximately 14,000 to more than 16,000 students, provide no additional undergraduate on-campus housing and add 1,000 parking spaces to accommodate anticipated additional traffic to campus and the hospital."
Moreover, CAG continues: "We will testify before the Board of Zoning -- the ultimate decision-maker regarding the campus plan. We need your help to prepare for this hearing, and to educate our neighbors, our community leadership, the University's leadership and our city decision-makers about this issue."
Georgetown student activists have been knocked out of their bubble by the neighborhood response to the plan. "It is definitely possible to understand [the neighbors'] concerns to some degree, but at times [they are] almost irrational," said one student at an ANC meeting. And in the non-news category, let us affirm that some students have been the university's worst ambassadors, causing late-night noise, rowdiness and vandalism.
"[The students] cannot follow basic rules of living," ANC commissioner Tom Birch said at the same meeting. Students are left to ponder that some Georgetowners their parents' age don't really like them.
The previous 10-year plan wrought enormous changes within the campus: the Southwest Quadrangle (the University's largest-ever construction), the Davis arts center and the new business school building, to name the biggest. The university is jammed against its west (Archbold-Glover Park) and south (The C&O Canal and the Potomac) with spillage, pushing north to Burleith and Foxhall and east into the west village of Georgetown. Such geography does not excuse University administrators' past poor decisions, such as the fumbling of Mount Vernon campus. Indeed, just as the University has a presence in Qatar, and its students volunteer in Appalachia and Anacostia, the nation's oldest Catholic institution of higher learning would do well to connect even more often and consistently to its neighbors just three blocks away.
The Georgetown ANC will vote on the campus plan at its monthly meeting, Feb. 28. "We've gotten the comments from the community organizations and the university. So, it's time for us to take a position," said chairman Ron Lewis. Expect lawsuits to follow—just like last time.
Again, Hoya paranoia spreads, and generational resentment grows. Not that anyone is really seeking a "Can't we all get along?" moment. There need be no call for an idealistic "Utraque Unum." Nevertheless, both of us are here, in this together, and we can say hello to each other. It is merely a separate peace that we can abide.