A Case Study in Town-Gown Relations

After the D.C. Zoning Commission delayed judgment on Georgetown’s 2010 Campus Plan until April, relations between neighbors and students continued down their path of public frustration. Unfortunately, the hostile relations seem set to continue until the final judgment comes after a date for the hearing is set on April 30.

But, as the Washington City Paper pointed out last week, Georgetown’s situation is not unique, among universities either nationally or locally. Yet, the paper points out, poor town-gown relations have a unique situation in the District.

In addition to Georgetown’s problems, parking battles have flared around The George Washington University’s Mount Vernon campus and American University. The District’s historically poor relations between campuses and neighborhoods reveal a lot about the District’s internal politics. According to the Paper, “Washington is also a place that has never, unlike some other big cities, been quite comfortable with becoming a bustling, urban center. Ours is a town where there’s no agreed-upon answer to the basic question of whether we really want to allow a bunch of quiet-seeking residents to stifle a university’s growth.”

Furthermore, the District’s poor town-gown relations at Georgetown, GW and American are intricately related to the fact that neighbors enjoy an amazing amount of say in local politics, especially on issues concerning zoning regulations, parking rules and the like. At American, neighbors objected to minute details over the construction of a new dormitory — from the color of stone to the amount of trees surrounding the building.

D.C.’s town-gown relations are not so unique in other respects. Though our political environment may be different than in other towns, students in close proximity with other neighbors causes inevitable problems. Several neighbors interviewed complained of vomit on their stoops, finding drunken students on their front lawns and vandalism on their homes during weekend nights. All in all, given the structure of local politics and student demographics, struggles between the university and neighbors seem posed to continue. While the City Paper hesitates to pick a side in the current dispute over the Campus Plan, it does highlight neighbor concerns, both legitimate and ridiculous.

Photo credit: Washington City Paper

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