Town, Gown, and D.C. Why are the inevitable battles of students and neighbors so especially nasty in Washington?

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Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

When some desperate PhD candidate someday submits a definitive cultural history of town-gown relations, here’s hoping the dissertation includes the story of the Great Burleith Private Garbage Truck Battle of 2011.

The controversy’s most recent iteration entered the public record late one night in the beige and taupe room at One Judiciary Square where D.C.’s Zoning Commission meets. Ron Lewis, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E commissioner, was facing off against Todd Olson, Georgetown University’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students.

In years past, residents of the affluent neighborhoods abutting the school had complained about the trash generated by students who rent houses there. So, last year, the school hired its own garbage trucks to supplement public trash collection. The city’s trucks come once or twice a week. The school’s come every day. Twice.

But if you think this sort of thing—a major research university prostrating itself before neighbors who resent a population of perfectly legal renters—would tamp down the animus, then you don’t understand the bizarre universe of D.C. campus politics. In this world, a university paying for private garbage service isn’t evidence of goodwill at all.

The bespectacled, tweedy Lewis began a cross-examination. “When the trash isn’t being picked up by your truck, it’s visible obviously, correct?,” he asked Olson.


“In some locations at some times,” Olson replied.

“And like most trash, it probably doesn’t smell so good, right?” Lewis shot back, springing the trap.

There you have it: The school’s effort to clean up stinky student garbage was clear and damning evidence of that garbage’s all-pervasive stink. Extra trash collection only means there’s extra trash.

For neighbors who’ve spent years battling refuse, rats, rowdiness, and other unpleasantness they blame on the presence of students, even a piece of institutional kowtowing—most locals would love twice-a-day garbage service!—comes across as a sign of disrespect.

It’d be easy to mock the sturdy Burleithers for seeing dark clouds in every silver lining. But the Great Burleith Private Garbage Truck Battle of 2011 is hardly the only case of collegiate neighbors making upscale Washingtonians act like sophomores who see a conspiracy behind the dean’s every decision.

In Wesley Heights last year, a neighborhood group demanded that American University prohibit students from hanging decorations in windows of a proposed new dormitory, lest they offend local aesthetic sensibilities. Residents near Georgetown University have pressured the school to institute shuttle bus service between the campus and M Street NW, should noisy students disturb residents while walking back to their dorms. The bus, having been duly established, is now derided by neighbors as the “drunk bus.”

And then there’s parking. In the neighborhood around George Washington University’s Mount Vernon campus, as well as in American University Park, locals have pressured the schools to forbid students from parking in otherwise legal street spaces. Campus cops have gone so far as to write tickets on legally parked cars that simply look like they might belong to students—because, for instance, books are visible through the windows. Now neighbors are complaining about accidentally receiving such tickets.

What’s going on here?

To some extent, it’s just a local version of the tensions that happen everywhere from Palo Alto, Calif., to Princeton, N.J., and anywhere else that comparatively comfortable neighbors live next to comparatively entitled students. All the same, the specific nature of town-gown tension here also reveals a great deal about the District’s essence. It’s a place where the bureaucratic rules for campuses—much of the recent upheaval is tied to the schools’ decennial efforts to gain required approval for mandatory 10-year campus plans—encourage an adversarial system replete with exaggerated gripes and over-the-top demands. It’s a place where well-off locals, lacking an infrastructure to participate in national politics, have a long history of using back channel access to get their way.

And 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.

The story of how we organize building on D.C.’s campuses works a bit like a seminar on how D.C. organizes itself.

On the lawn in front of Gwen Verhoff’s Burleith home, there’s a red-and-white sign: “Our Homes/Not GU’s Dorm,” it reads. Several of her neighbors have the same sign. For the record, no one has proposed tearing down the strip of tidy rowhouses to make way for a residence hall. What Verhoff, a retired ESL teacher who’s lived in the neighborhood since 1975, objects to is the number of students renting there. “When I first lived here, students rented an entire room,” she says, not entire houses.

In a 2010 survey, the Burleith Citizens Association found that 166 of the neighborhood’s 535 houses are student-occupied—not counting basement apartments in owner-occupied homes. Georgetown’s own numbers were slightly higher: The school counted 191 properties with undergraduate and graduate students, or 36 percent. Critics won’t hesitate to remind you that, back in 2000, Georgetown predicted during testimony for that year’s campus plan that there would only be 20 student houses in the neighborhood.

Now, it’d be easy to lampoon the neighbors’ posture: It’s a free country, after all. Do we really want to government to say just who can rent a house somewhere? All the same, Verhoff and her neighbors have some legitimate gripes. There are a half-dozen student houses on her block, she says—a number that’s on the lower end for the area. Last fall, a party next door ended with a fistfight on the lawn. “I could hear fists hitting flesh,” she says. She’s also bothered by smaller gatherings in the tiny strip of adjacent back yard, which she says makes it difficult for her to enjoy her screened-in porch. And because her bedroom faces the street, she says, she hears everyone leaving the neighbors’ house late at night.

“I don’t think they’re trying to be mean and vicious,” she says. She adds that every year students come by, often with a plate of cookies, to ask that she talk to them before calling the police if a party is getting out of hand. But, Verhoff says, “at 1 a.m., I’m not getting out of bed, putting on clothes, and going next door to talk to drunk people.”

“Nicest kids, at three o’clock in the afternoon,” says Karen Cruse, a resident of West Georgetown. “At three in the morning it’s a different story.”

On one hand, these kinds of gripes are the inevitable, difficult byproduct of diversity. People with fundamentally different outlooks and lifestyles—not to mention schedules—are living in close proximity. In a lot of places, the blowback would be limited to some griping over the back fence. But in the District, where zoning rules create at least the impression that neighbors can influence land-use policy at adjacent universities, campus-specific spats take on a different form.

Scan the letters submitted as part of Georgetown’s decennial campus plan process and you find a slew of woe-is-me missives from residents who see themselves as victims of the students—and want the government to do something about it.

“Over the years my family and I have been victimized by Georgetown students: They have left debris all over my front yard, pulled up plants, hung underwear in the tree in my yard, thrown golf clubs over the fence into my back yard, climbed over the fence into my yard,” West Georgetown resident Lee Harrison Child wrote to the Zoning Commission last spring. “I’ve had intoxicated boys pass out on my front boy last year woke me up to let him in because he thought he lived here!”

“I am constantly cleaning up beer cups, cans, and bottles from my front yard and have had many plants stepped on or broken,” Stefanie Bachhuber wrote. “Just last spring, I had my miniature, old-growth boxwoods devastated after a student fell into them one night. It is going to take years to bring them back to proper health. And one morning, I woke up to Silly String sprayed all over the sidewalk, my plants, and my iron stair railing (that took a good scrubbing to remove.)”

“I constantly experience red plastic cups for beer and liquor all over my front yard and steps, along with vomit, not to mention used condoms,” Betty and Roger Frankel wrote. “They continue to pull up all the flowers in my front yard that I plant each year, and I have lost several small boxwoods. The noise level is so bad my husband and I now buy Flents Foam earplugs by the case. We cannot sleep if we do not have these earplugs because the noise level is over the top.”

Bottom line: These folks make a pretty good argument that it’s no fun to live next to students. But there’s a bigger question for people who care about having the District be a dynamic, diverse, urban place: What’s the cost of controlling college kids—and who should bear it? If the presence of students is a good thing for a vibrant city, where should one place the Frankels’ understandable unhappiness in a hierarchy of needs?

On a January night, I hit the streets with Georgetown’s Student Neighborhood Assistance Program, which is designed to make sure neighbors get immediate relief from disruptive students. According to Georgetown spokeswoman Stacy Kerr, the SNAP patrols are part of a suite of mitigation efforts that costs the university about $1 million a year.

Just after midnight, I’m in the back of one of two SNAP trucks that patrol Burleith and West Georgetown. In the front is Cory Peterson, an area coordinator for the university’s Office of Residence Life. Peterson wears a heather gray sweatshirt and windbreaker, dark blue knit skullcap, and comfortable sneakers that add up to a look that’s more R.A. than peace officer.

At 12:30 a.m., we come across a few small knots of students. It’s easy to see why neighbors find them to be a constant source of noisiness: In a group of five high-on-life 21-year-olds, normal outside voices get amplified and bounce against the rows of houses on an otherwise silent street.

“It’s rare that MPD would come upon a situation that we didn’t know about first,” Peterson says, describing the close relationship between the cops Georgetown hires on weekends and the SNAP patrol. And, at least on the night I’m with them, this seems true. Peterson monitors every individual we pass, and takes notes on a clipboard about how many students he sees. The loop the West Georgetown truck makes takes about 25 minutes, if there are no stops.

When Peterson notices a guy we saw on the previous loop still lingering on the same corner, we pause while Peterson watches him. “Looks like he’s texting,” he says. We move on. Next time, the texting guy is gone. Peterson sees another man hanging around outside of a door, and we wait to see if the woman who opens the door knows him. She appears to, so we move on. Peterson notices a recycling bin is knocked over. The driver hops out and sets it back upright. We move on.

Generally, louder students quiet down quickly when they see the truck coming. (Neighbors like Cruse are quick to note that the noise returns once SNAP turns the corner.) Some snap their fingers at us—apparently it’s a thing they like to do—like preppy extras from West Side Story.

Around 2 a.m., we encounter a drunk couple leaning on a picket fence and arguing loudly. Peterson politely reminds them that there are people upstairs, asleep. The woman interrupts him sharply to declare that she and her sparring partner are fine. He points to the house behind her, asking her to remember the residents.

“Where?” she asks.

“That house,” he says.

“What house?”

“This house!”

“That house?”

Eventually, she huffs that she didn’t realize they were being such a problem. For the first time that night Peterson seems a bit rankled. Shortly afterwards, another drunk kid, who had been quietly making his way home with a few friends, suddenly yells at the truck: “Suck my cock!”

Peterson shrugs it off. “I’ve been called worse,” he says.

There are two takeaways from my night with the SNAP patrol. First, universities—with dollars, with their own internal discipline system, and with the help of earnest killjoys like Peterson—can change the dynamic in a student-heavy neighborhood. But second, they can only change it so much. In the end, if you’re going to have students, which most urban economists would tell you are a very good thing for a city, you’re going to have silly string on your boxwoods, no matter what you do.

But would you want to be the person who has to explain that to a bunch of longtime residents occupying $900,000 houses?

Some neighbors have their own solution in mind: Get rid of those damn kids. One Burleith proposal is that Georgetown build enough dorm space to house all of its students on campus. The only complicating factor: What if the students want to live in the neighborhood?

Washington may lack certain basic rights under the U.S. Constitution. But on the local level, residents are more empowered than people in many states to do one thing: say no. This goes for bars and restaurants and would-be condos. And it goes for college dorms and science labs, too.

The 10-year campus plan process allows neighborhood groups to weigh in on universities’ operations—and District law mandates that their recommendations be given “great weight.” Every decade, American, Georgetown, University of the District of Columbia, George Washington, Howard University, Catholic University, and Gallaudet University all go through the procedure. There can be fireworks everywhere, but they’ve tended to be loudest around GWU, Georgetown, and AU, which are in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.

Typically, campus plans get to the Zoning Commission under one of two circumstances: 1) Talks have either progressed enough that both the university and its neighbors are in agreement or need a little arbitration. 2) Talks have broken down to the point of intractability on both sides. Hearings are where the process starts to look less-than-pretty. With only a decennial opportunity to stick it to the neighboring academic Goliath, the system incentivizes neighbors to play up tales of woe and to make especially outlandish demands.

In the end, most of them get whittled down into a status quo that leaves no one especially happy.

In the case of Georgetown, the neighbors got an unexpected gift last fall from the city’s Office of Planning, which recommended in a report that the university cap its enrollment at 6,652 undergraduates and house 100 percent of them on campus by 2016. Georgetown says it doesn’t have room for more beds beyond the 5,000 or so it already has on campus. The university and its surrounding residents have also argued about parking (neighbors don’t want Georgetown types hogging street spaces), jobs (neighbors are wary of the school adding new employees who might hog said street spaces), and student behavior. This particular 10-year plan has been up for debate since 2009; the next hearing is in May.

Somewhat ironically, American University faced the opposite problem from Georgetown: It’s actually trying to build dorms—but, of course, running into community opposition. One dorm’s location was unsatisfactory; the school agreed to move it. Another set of dorms, which are slated for construction atop what is now an unattractive surface parking lot, apparently won an OK from the Zoning Commission only after a series of arguments about window decorations, the color of the stone in the buildings, and the number of trees to be located between the buildings and the street. (A resident of the adjacent Westover Place gated community expressed fears that students would look into neighbors’ bedrooms from their rooms, as if college kids with access to all the pleasures of a coed dorm would instead play Peeping Tom on well-heeled Washington adults).

Neighbors submitted hundreds of pages of testimony, blasting the university as having a “total lack of willingness to be forthcoming and to constructively engage with the community.” Neighbor Elizabeth Nottingham clinched her letter complaining that another proposal from American, to move its law school to Tenleytown from its current Massachusetts Avenue location, will create traffic and be terribly noisy (law students are known for being noisy!). She insisted, “In short it will be objectionable, and I object to it!”

The process continues.

Things were comparatively quiet during GWU’s bid for approval of its plan, which wrapped up about two years ago. The biggest issue then was the expansion of the Mount Vernon campus—the only place the school has left to grow. The university bought the Mount Vernon land in the late 1990s and, in its 2010 plan, sought to build out the campus with half a dozen new buildings. There was some arbitration over details like building size, but the plan was OKed in March of 2010. (Some GU neighbors will tell you that GWU won its plan so easily because it had steamrolled locals in previous decades.)

Ultimately, D.C. area campus plan fights are pretty typical of any District real estate battle: You can find almost as much hyperbole in the arguments over the Tenleytown Safeway, or the West End Library, or any other place where denser visions of city life bump into residents’ leafy ambitions. It also helps explain why so much of D.C.’s campus unpleasantness is located at AU and Georgetown, neighborhoods where people have more resources and simultaneously feel more put-upon by creeping density.

By the time the current rounds are over, the universities will probably get most of what they want. The dirty little secret of the process is that, for all the absurd demands and ill-will the process generates, the schools usually win more than they lose. It’s essentially a performance-based process. Both sides make a slew of requests, many of which they plan to abandon in order to get what they really want. Georgetown offers up garbage service, but really doesn’t want to play ball on housing everyone on campus. AU will redesign a dorm to fit a neighbor’s suburban-style image, but really wants to build the East Campus facilities.

But if the schools are always OK, all of the posturing doesn’t exactly yield good results for the city. In the case of AU—where, unlike nearly every campus on Earth, it’s bafflingly hard to find a sandwich shop on a neighborhood street—new development could leverage a degree of retail and transit that would actually benefit the entire city. But it’s unclear whether that will be the sort of stuff that the school has to give up in order to get its biggest projects through. Neighborhood ambitions, despite years of urban-planning sentiment to the contrary, seem focused on keeping campus buildings and retail hidden, rather than leveraging growth to get themselves some of the fun stuff that comes when your million-dollar grown-up house happens to sit near the residence halls of a bunch of young people.

Likewise, for all the alarms about traffic, neighbors made little noise about improving public transit as a condition of campus growth—or even saving the N8 bus route, which the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency axed last October. In the end, the AU campus plan conflict was a particularly Washingtonian kind of urban planning politics, more focused on saying no than anything else. Like so many other land use debates, it focuses less on what the District is—a big city that, among other things, has a lot of students in it—than on its most upscale residents’ various suburban fantasies about what sort of place they’d like it to be. No wonder campus politics are so acrimonious.

The past few years have seen one interesting byproduct of town-gown planning politicking: Students, who in D.C. once focused on the big story of national politics, have gotten involved in the most mundane local level by running for Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Winning an ANC—there are a few Single-Member Districts where dorm residents make up the majority of constituents—presumably puts students in a position to rebut some of the charges against their ilk.

I meet Deon Jones, an AU student and ANC 3D commissioner, at the university’s student hub, the Mary Graydon Center, in January. Jones says his district includes fewer than 40 non-students; one house in his constituency is the D.C. home of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Clean-cut and dressed in a slim black peacoat, tie, black pants, and shined shoes, the Atlanta native has come straight from Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church at Rhode Island Avenue and 4th Street NE. He carries his choir robes in a small, wheeled suitcase.

A sophomore who lives in the dorms, Jones is empathetic to the neighbors, to an extent. “AU is doing the biggest development they’ve ever proposed, so in some ways you can understand how that may frustrate the neighbors,” he says. On the other hand, he points out that Westover Place, the gated community of neighbors who are most vocally opposing the new development, was itself an opposed development during its construction in the late ’70s.

When it comes to town-gown animosity, “the peak period for our campus plan were the first few meetings. ‘Anti-AU’ was the bandwagon,” Jones says, laughing. “I always say, ‘I’d rather drive a BMW than a bandwagon,’ so I tried to see all the sides.”

In the half-empty Nebraska Avenue Commuter Lot—home of the future East Campus—Jones gestures to where commercial buildings will sit facing Nebraska Avenue NW. “It needs to be something here,” he says. “American needs dorms. Students are tripled up and others live off-campus because of the lottery. This can’t just be a parking lot for all of its life.”

Jones says Barack Obama’s election inspired him to run a write-in candidacy for an open seat on ANC 3D at age 19. His relatively short time dealing with the campus plan has been an eye-opener. “When I think about local politics, it’s so dirty and so special-interest, it leaves little room for compromise.”

It’s easy to think that Jones would make a very nice neighbor indeed.

But it’s not likely that people like him will actually ever resolve the perpetual conflict over D.C.’s campuses. In part, that’s because town-gown battles are the kind of diversity divides that are truly intractable: Different people, with different interests, that are going to stay different.

Which is why, if universities want to find a way out of their decennial maze, it might be less about mitigating some students’ lack of neighborliness and more about playing up their own charms. The sad thing about D.C.’s dysfunctional relationships with its colleges is that almost no one makes a case that ought to be obvious to anyone from a less-educated ZIP code: Being next to a campus is a great amenity.

Universities have libraries. They have ball fields. They have lectures. Georgetown and GWU have world-class hospitals. Would you rather live near one of those, or in just another tract of middle-class houses whose residents lead quiet lives?

D.C.’s colleges, if they really want to get neighbors on board, could do more to advertise these positives. Yes, they allow locals to join gyms. They allow people in adjacent ZIP codes to audit classes. And they occasionally invite neighbors to discount sports games and cultural events and lectures. But they don’t advertise it enough. They should be blanketing the neighborhoods with fliers, sending out student ambassadors, and helping spread the word that living in Burleith or Wesley Heights or Foggy Bottom means getting access to great stuff you wouldn’t have if you washed up in Chevy Chase or Dupont Circle. The smart thing to do—especially for institutions in the business of being smart—is to switch their focus from damage control to playing up the positives.

Of course, even the most generous access to campus amenities would only win so much love.

Karen Cruse of West Georgetown, for instance, says she knows all about the lectures and film festivals and campus Shakespeare productions and the like. “There are a lot of positive things,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t get upset about the negative.”

Our Readers Say

I for one cannot wait for the neighbors to be driven from Burleith and the rest of Georgetown. When I was a student at Georgetown, they behaved far more rudely than any students did.

Ms. Hilton did a good job documenting the insanity of their demands, but she was too soft on SNAP and petty tyrant Corey Peterson. SNAP has been known to "bust up" a group of five people sitting quietly on a porch at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. If you think they don't have any actual authority to do that, you're right!

Also wish Hilton would have addressed the fundamental flaw in the neighbors' argument: the university has been in Georgetown since 1789. Hardly a surprise that there are university students in the neighborhood.
As a graduate of GWU, I find this well written story fascinating. As a student, I lived in Silver Spring, riding the bus to Pennsylvania Avenue every morning. Married with a family, I headed home on the bus as soon as my last class was over. I guess I missed all the fun!

Anyway, everyone has to find a way to get along. Students are there to stay. Neighbors could put up fences, landscape with more hardy plants, add motion type floodlights and become mentors to students. Students need to get to know the neighbors, offering gardening and other help,and inviting neighbors to special college programs. If you can't beat them, join them.

DC is my favorite city, and I would move there in a minute if I could afford it. Both neighbors and students are very fortunate to have access to all that this wonderful city offers.
I like having universities in the city. I like having a university adjacent to my neighborhood. Unlike all too many, i don't think either or any of the sides is always right and the other always wrong. I do, as a DC taxpayer, wonder why we must continue to subsidize these large, wealthy institutions with services paid for from taxpayer funds and to exempt them from fees or taxes to cover essential services provided to them. There is a tax equity argument for Payment in Lieu of Taxes from these and the thousands of other locally-tax exempt institutions in our community and neighborhood. Yes, i understand they will argue they generate economic activity and indirectly that may bolster local revenues. But puzzle me this: a for profit hospital sits on one side of a block. A nonprofit hospital or university sits on the other side. They both receive tax-payer funded services like fire and police protection, local roads, metro, etc. I cannot distinguish between the services they provide to the community. But one pays fees/taxes. The other doesn't. Why and to what effect?
I was always baffled by the neighborhood associations around my state university, just as this baffles me.

Were the neighbors unaware that the university was there when they moved in? I'm not saying that it excuses excessive rowdy behavior on the part of the university students, but when you choose a neighborhood, you must take these things into account. There's a difference between reasonable expectations (providing a bus) and unreasonable expectations (not allowing students to park in legal spaces).

Some people have too much time and money for their own good. Amazing to think what these neighborhood residents could achieve if they tackled some of this city's ACTUAL problems.
"Universities have libraries. They have ball fields. They have lectures. Georgetown and GWU have world-class hospitals. Would you rather live near one of those, or in just another tract of middle-class houses whose residents lead quiet lives?"

I think the answer to that question is pretty obvious: in the case of the neighborhood NIMBY brigades, it is quite plainly the latter. These folks are affluent enough that they don't need libraries - they can buy any book they want - and they can drive to whatever ball field or lecture or hospital they want. They want to have easy access to those things, and they do. But they don't want to live next to them. It's about having your cake and eating it too: the benefits without the externalities.

In any case, excellent article, Shani.
I will assure you that this happens to more than just college towns. But primarily to college communities. But sit in on any community meeting from Tenley Town to H Street Main Street and you will have resident that disdain the reason and anchor business that lead them to choose that neighborhood.

These residents did not buy a house in the suburbs and one day woke and someone sticked a college near them, with all the restaurants, bookstores and retail that goes with. They were attracted to the neighborhood for the restaurants that came for the college or even the college themselves. So how can they complain?
@Tom M:

"But puzzle me this: a for profit hospital sits on one side of a block. A nonprofit hospital or university sits on the other side. They both receive tax-payer funded services like fire and police protection, local roads, metro, etc. I cannot distinguish between the services they provide to the community. But one pays fees/taxes. The other doesn't. Why and to what effect?"

One's ultimate purpose is to generate profit for its owners/shareholders, while the other's ultimate purpose is to generate benefits to society. That's the logical reason behind treating for-profit and not-for-profit entities differently, anyway. You're welcome to disagree with that dichotomy, but it has a pretty well-established foundation here. I don't think that a charity dedicated to fighting cancer or poverty or child abuse brings any greater benefit to an area by having their offices located there than a law firm does. Maybe less, even, since the lawyers have more money to spend around. But we tax the former and not the latter, and I can see why.

To your specific example, though: Universities all have their own police departments and often their own EMS services as well (GERMS at GU and EMeRG at GWU), which serve the neighborhoods surrounding campus as well. In addition, while non-profits don't pay property taxes, they do pay payroll taxes and their employees pay DC income tax (assuming they live in DC, obviously), so all those services are being paid for through that. Universities also often pay for road upkeep in and around their campuses and some transportation as well. Anyone can take the GUTS buses to and from Georgetown's campus, for instance.
The Universities should do some of their expansion to sites East of the River especially since the Metro goes there. The Universities should provide mores services to the city by having their schools of psychiatry operate some of the needed residential facilities under contract. The city should curb the power of these neighbors to interfere in the operation of the Universities. These suburban enclaves within the city are just another example of the disparity of wealth an influence as the expense of the rest of the taxpayers.
I lived in this city as a student. I live in this city as a home owner. What I have been fortunate to have been a kind student and a kind home owner. If the students are like animal house contact the owner.There has to be a solution to this problem. Most students are decent people a party during home coming might be a problem but most like my self were busy working and studying. There has to be a middle ground. Many are in community service projects that make them a part of the community in a productive way. I like the idea of more activites east of the river.The young are a good source of volunteering fpr America Corp and other service organization. We were young once and we should remember people guided and nutured us and even loved us when we were butt heads.
Some very civil discussion and good ideas on this thorny problem. I see first hand the mess that unheeding students create (twelve cartons of eggs strewn across the exorcist steps, bushes uprooted, screeching and bellowing at 2 AM, urinating on basement steps) but I also sense that the escalating disrespect on both sides can be bridged: shared volunteering like the annual clean-up/picnic event, and just simply talking to each other instead of to the police or rant-blogs.
"One's ultimate purpose is to generate profit for its owners/shareholders, while the other's ultimate purpose is to generate benefits to society. "

When it comes to hospitals at least, the non-profit distinction is window-dressing. It's not as if for-profit hospitals turn away the sick at their ERs, and the worst practices in the health care industry are just as prevalent among non-profit hospitals (which make up about 80% of all hospitals in the country): discriminatory pricing against the uninsured, siccing collections agencies on debtor patients, consolidating into multi-hospital systems and shutting down money-losing hospitals in poor neighborhoods, etc. Only effective difference is because a non-profit was once founded by a religious order a hundred years ago, they don't pay taxes.
White people ruin everything; you think people who live in other parts of DC would describe this as being “victimized”? Georgetown residents are THE WORST always calling it their “sleepy little town”.

Take your millions and move your ass to Leesburg and get a pony already.
Everyone who thinks this problem can be solved by students being nicer to neighbors is living in a fantasy world. Students at Georgetown already do shovel snow for neighbors and do other activities on their behalf. Their reward? A continued, delusional campaign against them. Again, the neighbors need to be run out of Burleith, and the area actually established as a Georgetown dorm.

Re: students doing charity work, Ms. Hilton neglected to mention that among the letters opposing Georgetown campus plan were many letters from non-profit groups and schools in support of the plan because of the work Georgetown students do in their communities.
Typical DC wimps! These aren't conflicts, this is a Town vs. Gown conflict .....
Unless you or your direct ancestors moved in to your Georgetown home prior to 1789, then I have little sympathy for your complaints when you discover that moving next door to a large academic institution with 15,000+ students results in some of the students appearing in the neighborhood. I have even less sympathy when you expect special treatment contrary to Washington DC law (e.g. it is legal for everyone to park except students). There are many nice neighborhoods in DC that do not share space with a famous university - go live in one of those.

If you choose to remain in Georgetown, remember that you bought/rent your home - not the entire neighborhood, and that the needs of everyone who live there matter, not just your particular wants.
I have no sympathy for these people! I have adults who live in my neighborhood who park on their lawn, rowdy after 12am, people coming and going (looking crazy!) at all times of the night! This is not something that only comes with baggage from students. Typically self entitled NIMBY's
@ Dizzy -- I've been around hospitals as a caregiver, adminstrator/manager, and of course patient for 30 years. I cannot discern any difference between a nonprofit and for profit coporate structure. They are all corporate, all oriented to the bottomline, all must serve emergency and uncompensated care patients, all pay excessive amounts to the CEO (and the top business generating doctors). Of course, the for profit and nonprofit hospitals get the same services from DC (and any other host community). Only one -- the for profit -- pays property taxes to support essential services. The other -- nonprofit -- receives those services without contributing and in fact withdrawing valuable parcels and buildings from the base. There is no doubt that local taxpayers subsidize nonprofits -- hospitals or others. Other communities either require or have negotiated payments from nonprofits. Why doesn't DC? I'd venture two reasons. First, our self-government is limited by congressional masters/overseers. The nonprofits pay handsome amounts for lobbyists to ensure their bread stays buttered -- never mind us plebian taxpayers. Second, the DC council members often work for and/or are otherwise beholden to large nonprofit interests. Jim, Mary, Vincent, Vincent, Marion, David, Tommy, and probably Jack too. The deck is tres stacked.
@ Minna Since the native americans were robbed both of their cultural heritage and lands in part through the aid of the Jesuit order, and by your reasoning,the people here first should have their rights protected above all others. Are the Jesuits and GU willing to compensate native americans for the injustices done to them? Inquiring minds wish to know.
<i>You can find almost as much hyperbole in the arguments over the Tenleytown Safeway, or the West End Library, or any other place where denser visions of city life bump into residents’ leafy ambitions</i>

This is a really preposterous statement. Who lives in the West End and expects suburbia? It's completely nonsensical and missing the point. They may be concerned with quality of life issues (reasonable or not) like noise, traffic, parking, but that doesn't suggest any desire for a more idyllic suburban model within the city.

Ultimately the universities and their students are invested in their schools above the neighborhood. Property owners are inherently invested in the neighborhood. Their interests are often not aligned, but I wouldn't underestimate how much the universities depend on certain neighborhoods to attract prospective students -- namely safe surrounding communities in a city perceived by many parents unfamiliar with DC as unsafe.
@Tom M

You think the DC City Council is beholden to "large nonprofit interests" ?! That's certainly a new one. Certainly in the case of universities - and Georgetown, GWU, and Howard represent some of the largest hospitals in the city, although Sibley is now owned by Johns Hopkins (I think) as well - the amount of money they spend on lobbying is minuscule compared to various corporate and commercial entities. The "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" schemes involving universities you're talking about only exist in a few places and almost entirely in instances where the non-profit is either extremely wealthy (Harvard) or paying a relatively small amount (Tufts pays the City of Somerville $125,000 per year).

If non-profits really had that much power, we wouldn't be seeing universities get clubbed over the head as they are with the campus plan process as they are.

With respect to the larger issues of how hospitals operate, which you and Mike raised, I have no interest in defending the business practices of any or all hospitals. The existing system is clearly broken in a number of ways. Suffice it to say that the rising costs of healthcase are a national problem that makes budget-balancing difficult for all entities, non-profit and for-profit alike. A real solution can only come on the federal level. I don't think that adding another major expense to hospitals' operating costs is going to do anything to help control health care costs, though.

Also, Tom M - in the case of Georgetown and this area specifically, the role of the long-oppressed English Jesuits and Catholics in committing offenses against Native Americans was quite small, especially when compared to the Puritans and Anglicans. Indeed, when the first two Jesuits arrived along with Catholic settlers on the Ark and the Dove, the land they settled on was purchased from the native Yaocomico tribe, rather than taken by force. There's no need to conflate the atrocities committed by the Spanish with what took place in this area. If we're to engage in the process of distributing historical blame - which is really beside the point - it would be the WASP forefathers of the bulk of current Georgetown neighborhood residents on whom the lion's share would fall.

Extra historical tidbit - the Jesuit order did not officially exist at the time of Georgetown's founding, having been suppressed by Pope Clement XIV in 1773.
Many who moved to the Georgetown area from elsewhere were not aware many students no longer live on campus - nor of the resultant problems - and that the university actually encourages that, spending gazillions to squeeze in various new buildings on campus, but not dorms. The university created this town/gown conflict not only by pushing for growth at the expense of the neighborhood, but by generally casting a blind eye to students living off campus, often against various zoning and other related regulations. The entitled attitudes of many of the students encountered are disturbing at best and repugnant at worst. When they - not their enabling parents - have earned the right to live in such a neighborhood, fine. Until then those who have already done so have a right to be upset by constant parking issues, noise, trash, vermin and rude behaviour, to say nothing of reduced property values due to group houses in the vicinity. (Trashing a house substantially lowers its resale value which in turn affects the valuation of all neighbouring homes.)
The university's unspoken but obvious stance that it should be allowed to take over and share the quiet residential areas surrounding its campus is nothing short of confiscatory. Everyone respects the advantages of a nearby fine university and no one expects or wants the students to disappear, but hardworking, tax paying homeowners and renters have a legal right to "quiet enjoyment" of their homes without the detrimental presence of spoiled partying young people who should be housed on campus and utilizing mass transit.
Moving away from the problem is not necessarily an automatic option for those homeowners unpleasantly surprised and adversely affected.
@ Dizzy. You are quite confused about history at a miniumum and the record of Payments in Lieu of Taxes as well. First, the Yaocomico tribe did not have a history or culture norm of "owning" the land they lived with and on. The idea that it was "sold" is simply a justification for imposing the desires of Georgetown on the first peoples. Second, the "Spanish" atrocities you mention were done in the name, with the blessing, to the aims of, and under the supervision of the catholic church. Since GU considers itself (when convenient) as a catholic institution (actually its formal legal structure is NOT governed by the catholic church either here or in Rome), doesn't GU feel responsibility for its actions to the determinent of the first peoples? Finally, yes the hospital system should be addressed by federal/national solutions. In the meantime, why is taxpayer money subsidizing nonprofit hospitals for the services that other hospitals must pay for? You evade the question with a red herring.



@Tom M

I'm afraid it is you who is confused by history. The Yaocomico may not have had the concept of individual ownership of property that we do, but the notion of tribal lands and territory was well-developed. At the time of contact, their lands were being encroached upon by members of the Iroquois Confederacy from the North. The exchange of land for European goods was made in part to create a buffer between them and the Susquehannock and Seneca to the north. Relations between the Yaocomino and the Maryland settlers were quite good, to the point that the English included provisions in treaties with other tribes that stipulated protections for them. What they could not stipulate was protections from the diseases they brought, which pretty much destroyed the entirety of the tribe by the turn of the 18th century. "Georgetown," est. 1789, did not impose anything on the first peoples.

I cannot speak for GU or the Catholic church, but anyone living in the U.S. today should certainly bear in mind the history of the native peoples of these continents, including what was done to them by our ancestors and institutions that still exist today (I'm a first-generation immigrant to the U.S., but I don't feel this is any less my responsibility than anyone else's. The perpetrators are all dead; it's up to us to learn from history and improve the present).

Anyway, to your ultimate question: "why is taxpayer money subsidizing nonprofit hospitals for the services that other hospitals must pay for?" I noted above the rationale for treating non-profit and for-profit entities differently. Whether this differentiated treatment is justified is a question on which evidence can be brought to bear. If you have any empirical evidence that there is no substantive difference between the two types of institutions, you're welcome to present it. Merely asserting over and over again that there's no difference is not sufficient. As the party challenging the status quo, the burden of evidence falls on you.
I'd love to know what lucrative "services" these universities and hospitals allegedly receive from the District.
@ aaron. Services received - and supported by all other non-non-profit institutions include - roads/highways/sidewalks that provide access to their properties and the region as a whole; mass transit bus and metro train service; drinking water supply; waste water treatment; police and fire protection and response; are you getting the idea? These are all locally provided and locally funded (for the most part) services. DC taxpayers subsidize the wealthy nonprofits because these nonprofits do not pay and happily receive services.
@ Dizzy - How can a group "sell" something when their is no "ownership" to surrender in exchange for filthy lucre? I see that you make a distinction between "Georgetown University" and the "Catholic Church" when it suits you and then conflate them again when it does not. Pick one position whydontcha?
Sorry, but you can't say "you moved here knowing there was a school so like it or lump it". My family moved into our Burleith hoouse in the 50's. I went to Georgetown. I never saw or knew anyone who trashed people's property and were as inconsiderate as the last generation of college kids who feel entitled. The administration would never have allowed that to happen.
The lack of awareness abnd respect is exemplified by the idiot who writes in Caps above.
Burleith, my dear young man, is the name of the area above Georgetown University. It's been called that probably twice as long as you've been alive. AS far as I know, it was never part of Georgetown.
In addition, we paid less for the house than one year of tuition at GU.(and may you only be so lucky)
not exactly a "POSER", BAMMA", or "SUCKER"


@Tom M

You're the one who brought up the Catholic Church (to which I have zero allegiance) in the first place, asking "as a catholic institution (actually its formal legal structure is NOT governed by the catholic church either here or in Rome), doesn't GU feel responsibility for its actions to the determinent of the first peoples" and conflating the two. I was just responding to your formulation. As for how a group can sell when it does not have property ownership, like I said, there was an understanding of collective possession/right to tribal lands. After all, Native American tribes went to war with each other over land all the time. You could ask "how could they go to war over land if they did not believe in owning land?" and the answer would be the same.
I'm an AU student who lives off campus, in a housing complex that I feel doesn't welcome students at all. We have never had the police come to our house, or thrown crazy parties, however we get many nasty stares or cold shoulders from our neighbors for no reason other than that we are students. I know that our community is against the dorms being built in the Nebraska parking lot, even though there is no possible way that the dorms would be visible in this area. What I have the most problem with is the fact that our neighbors are against the dorms but also don't want us to live here. All of my fellow house mates have no chance of moving back to campus and when we did live on campus, most of us lived in a forced triple situation. Where are we supposed to go?
Anonymous, I aparecipte your comment. It's along the same vein as to why I'm nervous about high-speed rail's viability in other auto-dependent parts of the country: once you get off the train, how do you get around?
So weird. We just had this civenrsatoon with my Dad this weekend (he used to do disaster planning as part of his job) which prompted us to do some planning with our nearest neighbours on Sunday.
Thanks for figlagng this Eric! We did receive your app. One thing I noticed is that if a user misses a required field in the embedded app, the page does not scroll back up to the top automatically, so you don't automatically see that a field is highlighted for response. Right now I am getting confirmation page on Firefox after completing app. If anyone else is having issues, please let me know! Thanks, Jon
Hi Brad,As you pneotid out, Inigral is hoping to work on the forefront of figuring out how check-in and location-based social software can lead to student success outcomes. Thoughtful post. Keep up the good work!Michael
The second eidoitn picks up the changes that have occurred in the service over the past three years. I do not believe that these changes have altered the fundamental attractions of the career the chance for service, deep engagement with foreign societies, intellectual challenge, adventure, and financial security. Nor have they altered the drawbacks frequent moves, periods of hardship and separation from family, and the inevitable frustrations that come with working in a bureaucracy. Readers of the second eidoitn will be better informed about the service, because their information will be more current, but I doubt the new material will change many minds from go to no-go, or vice versa.
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