Photo by Dionhinchliffe.
On Sunday, the Washington Post published an editorial on the Georgetown University campus plan. It was highly critical of the DC Office of Planning and the effort by community groups to insist that the final plan call for the housing of all undergraduate students on campus.
Imagine a city telling its largest private employer — one that pays millions in taxes and salaries, strives to hire local residents and voluntarily does community service — that it can’t grow anymore, that it might have to cut back. That seems far-fetched in light of today’s scary economy, but it’s essentially what D.C. officials are telling Georgetown University by insisting it either house all its students or cut back enrollment. The District seems distressingly disinterested in promoting a knowledge-based economy.
The editorial attempts to contrast the Office of Planning’s position against the city’s overall goal of adding residents. It argues that:
What’s most troubling about the city’s posture is the notion that an increase in young people, particularly those in search of an education, is somehow undesirable. What happened to the idea that these are the very kind of people that should be lured to make the District their home?
It’s an interesting argument. And it’s definitely the case that the presence of universities greatly contributes towards making a city a haven for the so-called Creative Class. But to suggest that the city is “disinterested in promoting a knowledge-based economy” simply because it maintains enrollment caps on universities is a bit hysterical. Besides, the vast majority of jobs in this city are either in the government or government-related, which will be here whether GU enrolls 14,000 or 15,000. Also, the editorial seems to have been written by someone without a strong familiarity with the situation; before it was corrected, the editorial talked about the neighborhood of “Fox Hollow”.
But that is really beside the point. What GM finds most interesting about this editorial is that it is clearly the product of a concerted lobbying campaign by GU. The thrust of the article is directed at the Office of Planning report, but that was issued in May. The only reason the Post is writing about this now is that the final Zoning Commission hearings are coming up.
Over the past month or so, GU has been rolling out a host of new initiatives to address the issues of off-campus students. They now pick up trash from students’ houses twice a day and run a late night shuttle to M St. They also increased the reimbursable detail of MPD officers patroling the neighborhood. And just last week, it announced that it will start working with DCRA to identify bad landlords.
As far as GM can tell, these are great initiatives! (One major quibble though: by picking up the students’ trash from bags, the school is encouraging students to leave trash out in bags, which attracts rats. They should insist that the students use cans, just like everyone else is supposed to do. It’s a small thing, but it really matters towards reducing the rat problem.)
But the thing is, there is nothing about these initiatives that they couldn’t have been rolled out last year. By rolling out these initiatives a month before the final hearings, it sets up the opportunity for GU to say,”Hey, we listened to their complaints, and we fixed it. So you can just disregard all that earlier testimony.”
The Post’s editorial fits neatly into this strategy (for instance it mentions that “Georgetown has increased police, provided additional garbage pickup and disciplined chronic troublemakers.”) So that’s why GM is convinced it was published as a result of GU lobbying. Which, to be clear, is not a criticism! If GU wants to win this fight, it better be doing stuff like this.
For what it’s worth, GM is the Secretary of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, but he’s not involved with CAG’s Campus Plan effort. Mostly he just wants the issue behind us.