Why Doesn’t Georgetown Feel Like a College Town?

Photo by Aaron Webb.

Tonight, Georgetown University Hoyas will play their first round game in the Final Four tournament. But if you walk around Georgetown, you wouldn’t know it. (Well unless you walk by Prospect St. where a giant inflatable Jack looms overhead). Despite the presence of a major university right in its midst, Georgetown just doesn’t really feel like a college town.

GM went to college in a small upstate New York town. That was a college town. On fall weekends the whole town came down to watch our mediocre football team probably lose. On winter nights they’d huddle into our ice rink and watch our quite good hockey team probably win. It didn’t matter.

But that sort of relationship just doesn’t seem to exist here. Sure, there are parts of west Georgetown that are constantly buzzing with students, which might seem more college towny. But by the time you get over a few more blocks, you’d hardly think a school with thousands of students was right around the corner.

This can probably be explained by the fact that unlike a rural upstate New York town, Georgetown (the neighborhood) has a lot more around it than the school. GU may be a big fish, but DC is a pretty big pond.

It’s too bad really. It would be nice if there was a bit more esprit de corps between the neighborhood and the school. Maybe with the contentious campus plan behind us, and the blossoming of a productive relationship via the Georgetown Community Partnership, a stronger bond will form between the neighborhood and the school.

Well until then, go Hoyas.

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8 Comments

Filed under Town and Gown

8 responses to “Why Doesn’t Georgetown Feel Like a College Town?

  1. Dizzy

    I’m going to assume this was a rhetorical question, right? College towns are defined by the college because without it, the town is utterly forgettable and non-descript. Without Colgate, Hamilton isn’t even a blip on the map. So the residents appreciate the prestige and renown that comes with the school, even if there are some impacts that they must put up with.

    By contrast, Georgetowners already have more than enough prestige and renown, because otherwise they could never afford to live there. They don’t need or want the college, and aside from a few businessmen who rely on students for a big chunk of their business (hi Ed Solomon), most would be fine with the college vanishing tomorrow, or else erecting a moat that keeps all of its denizens inside while preserving the scenic skyline.

    Why doesn’t American University Park or Spring Valley feel like a college town? Same reason. When your house is worth a million plus, you’re not going to think of yourself as a townie.

  2. Topher

    I think that’s part if it, but it’s not all if it. Cambridge MA feels like a college town (at least, significant parts of it do) and without Harvard or MIT, it’d still be a pretty significant blip on the map.

  3. Dizzy

    …I guess? What is so notable about Cambridge that is not directly tied to one of the two schools? It’s not a included-in-every-tourist-guide shopping/dining/nightlife destination. Without the schools – and it is a difficult hypothetical indeed, with Harvard being the oldest college in the U.S. and all – I could imagine Cambridge being in the same category as Roxbury or Brookline.

    I’m sure we could discuss other key variables like topography (GU is sealed off by the park on one side and a cliff/Canal road on another side) and urban fabric (Burleith is quasi-suburban in design and uber-suburban in mindset) and commercial orientation (businesses catering to tourists and the high end, rather than students). If I had to isolate one key difference, though, it would be that very few Georgetown professors or top administrators live in Georgetown (most of them probably could not afford to), while tons of Harvard and MIT ones live in Cambridge.

  4. RNM

    I would also add that the neighborhood has worked for decades to obliterate any trace of being a college town. Yes, the values of homes are currently high in Georgetown, but it was not always that way…this little neighborhood used to be very run down, actually at two different times in the 1900s living in Georgetown was far from being in a ritzy location. Still the University was here then too. It is part and parcel of this community. I live in one of those parts where the student presence is heavy and frankly adds a vibrancy to the neighborhood that is missing in other parts.

    It is amusing that this blog would almost bemoan the lack of the college town feel while generally railing against all the businesses that typically serve the college crowd. For the most part, students aren’t shopping at the non chain high end retailers that GM seems to favor…or for that matter dinning at finer restaurants (unless mom and dad are there to pick up the tab). So, when one works to make the community less inviting to the 18-21 year old crowd…well they are not going to be as much of a part of it.

    It is also worth noting that the numbers game comes into it…Georgetown is a small University, so lacks the sheer number of students to reach critical mass. Plus, see first paragraph, the constant fight to force students to live on campus works to pen them in most of the time.

  5. Babs

    Because CAG/BCA has worked tirelessly to establish that students don’t have the right to co-exist in the neighborhood.

  6. Pingback: The Morning Metropolitan | The Georgetown Metropolitan

  7. Andy2

    Also Georgetown doesn’t play basketball in Georgetown – so the feel of the town coming to all the games is missed when the play at the Verizon Center.
    I was out in Glover Park on Saturday and watched the Georgetown women play softball – didn’t realize even Softball isn’t played in Georgetown.
    Perhaps that has something to do with it.

  8. Joan Kennan

    I think Andy2 makes a good point. Also, Washington is an urban city and the Nation’s capital, so one university in a city that has so many,, will not make it feel like a “college town”. I lived in Princeton, NJ for many years and we could walk from my house to the football field for football games. That truly was a college town!

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