In its bicentennial campus plan, developed between 1989 and 1990, Georgetown committed itself to “adopt as a long term goal … the ability to provide housing for 100 percent of its undergraduate students on campus.” A 1983 plan made similar pledges, and, in the years following each plan, the university inaugurated costly and lasting construction projects. In the 1980s, Village C added nearly 700 beds to campus. In 2003, the completion of the Southwest Quad brought nearly 800 new beds and $168 million in debt to the main campus.

These plans devoted considerable attention to limiting the amount of parking available to the university, rerouting university traffic away from residential areas and pledging to introduce procedures to control student trash and noise in Burleith and West Georgetown. Sound familiar? It should. Relations between the university and its neighbors continue to play out these tropes 30 years later.

The GUSA Senate’s 2015 report on the 2010 and 2018 campus plans confirms as much. In 2010, neighbors already prevailed in requiring the university to reroute bus routes, at significant cost and likely delay. They committed the university to a stable enrollment cap. They successfully demanded that the university not only build more housing for undergraduates, but also convert existing undergraduate housing to graduate and faculty housing.

But has this round of negotiations been particularly intolerable and unfair to students? Why have petitions, protests and fliers sprawled across campus this time?

In some respects, it has to do with space. Since Georgetown began submitting campus plans in 1958, there has always been more space on campus and the prospect of acquiring more did not seem so herculean as it does today. Not until the 1920s did the university extend beyond the buildings that currently make up Dahlgren Quad. Not until the last decade did Leo’s, the Southwest Quad, the new Jesuit Residence, Regents and Hariri fill the last obvious spaces in which to build.

Rising enrollment since the early 20th century has led Georgetown to all but exhaust its remaining space. In order to meet the requirements of this campus plan, administrators and planners have concocted increasingly harebrained schemes. Buildings have grown taller and taken on strange shapes and proportions to fit into spaces never envisioned as residential. In 2013, administrators unsuccessfully floated the idea of a satellite campus. Now, university planners suggest stacking buildings on top of one another.

Construction, too, becomes increasingly disruptive in close quarters. Students in Henle are practically walled in. Disabled students face added hurdles in navigating an already extraordinarily unfriendly campus.

In the most recent round of negotiations, the university established a fundamentally different planning structure. In order to avoid protracted and litigious negotiations with the neighborhood, it joined in inaugurating the Georgetown Community Partnership. The community partnership replaced an adversarial system with a cooperative one, but in doing so it also removed student leverage and diminished the university’s bargaining position.

Frighteningly, the 2010 Campus Plan enabled the neighborhood to enlist the university to enforce its own interests against students. The university, as a consequence of the 2010 plan, made unilateral changes to the code of student conduct, including prohibiting students from having vehicles.

Many students felt something rather antidemocratic had occurred. They worried that the university, which ostensibly exists largely for their benefit, had abandoned them.

But campus planning has never really been about students. Often, it’s boiled down to personal conflicts, finances, institutional politics, or all three.

In 1990, the university adopted a bold campus plan. The plan agreed to begin generating energy on campus from renewable sources. But, by the time drafting of the 2000 Campus Plan commenced, it was abandoned.

Administrators who scrapped the plan cited aesthetic and financial concerns. But Dean Price, who served as Georgetown’s first university architect, disagreed with their purported motivations.

Speaking to The Hoya in a 2007 article, Price claimed the plan had already attracted the possibility of significant grant funding, much like the ICC, which received a large federal grant for its use of solar technology. Price, who saw his vision scrapped, probably exaggerates.

But he makes a point well worth heeding. This new campus plan, just like each plan before it, will be the product of politics. Students can only guarantee their interests will be protected if they make it costly and embarrassing for administrators not to.

Matthew Quallen is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Hoya Historian appears every other Friday.

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One Comment

  1. It’s pretty preposterous to claim that “campus planning has never really been about students.” At a university, just about everything is about the students, because if there are no students, there is no university. I can guarantee you that administrators at all levels spend most of their time thinking about students, how actions impact students, etc. It’s pretty much impossible not to.

    Now, there’s lots of other factors as well – “personal conflicts, finances, institutional politics” as you mentioned, as well as faculty concerns, alumni concerns, and so on. Those factors won’t always be in agreement. But they at least generally have the overall well-being and sustainability of the University as a shared goal.

    No so the neighbors, many of whom could care less – or might even prefer – were Georgetown University to shrink and surround itself with an impenetrable moat, with students only allowed in and out via Canal Road, where no one lives. Unlike students, who completely cycle through every four years anyway, they also happen to hold veto power over the University’s ability to get anything done. More pressure on the administration from students to do something won’t count for much if the neighbors are dead set against it. THAT is where the opportunity lies – for students to more directly be a party to the Georgetown Community Partnership, the ANC, and other instruments through which the neighbors wield their influence.

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