Of all the bad things to come out of last winter’s snowstorms, the founding of student group Georgetown Good Samaritans might end up being the most damaging for the University. Losing President’s Day and nearly all city services was bad, but only Georgetown Good Samaritans perpetuated a damaging lie: That the neighbors would accept living next to students, if only we were nicer to them.
The Good Samaritans’ idea—that by doing nice things for neighbors like shoveling their sidewalks, they could reduce the number of 61-D citations and generally ease relations—is both noble and naïve. Putting aside the fact that anyone who can afford a house in Georgetown can also afford a snow shoveler, the neighbors have shown that their goal is to keep Georgetown’s students behind the front gates, emerging only to fly home and clean up neighborhood parks. No number of clean sidewalks is going to change that.
Just look at the ongoing argument over how students and employees will get between Georgetown and the rest of the city. In 2008, Georgetown changed the route GUTS buses take to Dupont Circle because neighbors complained that the buses were causing historic houses to vibrate when they drove past. The new route added significant time to trips between Georgetown and Dupont, especially during times of heavy traffic.
When asked whether the vibrations meant that neighbors would advocate against Metro buses that use the same street, Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Ron Lewis replied that they wouldn’t, since those buses serve residents. If these houses are so fragile, how can Metro buses be allowed to vibrate them?
This attitude—that anything that benefits students is detrimental to the neighborhood—persists today, with neighbors criticizing even the smallest proposal in Georgetown’s 2010 Campus Plan and ignoring the significant concessions the University gives them. GUTS buses will probably be rerouted again, to a stunningly inefficient route that uses Canal Road. Even this doesn’t satisfy the neighbors, who don’t want Georgetown to build new parking spaces on campus, either. By making bus routes unreliable and time-consuming, and the only other transportation option unrealistic by limiting parking spots, the neighbors show themselves to be unconcerned with Georgetown’s future.
At best, the University will attempt to make five steps forward with the Campus Plan, and, because of crippling compromises made with neighbors, take four steps back at the same time. Yet students, including leaders of the Georgetown University Student Association and campus newspapers, continue to believe that if we’d only be nicer to them, the neighbors would love us. Newspaper editorials advise getting to know your neighbors, and being quieter when you’re drunk. That last one is ridiculous, of course—unless you really need to get a new hobby, when you’re drinking, the 2010 Campus Plan is far from your mind.
While getting to know certain neighbors may help you avoid a 61-D citation, it will ultimately not help Georgetown’s 2010 Campus Plan, or even get students reasonable GUTS bus routes. As long as they continue to elect hardliners like the Citizen Association of Georgetown’s Gianluco Pivato—who told an alum to “fuck off” in an e-mail about the plan—neighbors as a whole will oppose the University and the students who attend it.
The sad part is that students can’t fight them. Who cares enough about Georgetown to start an organization to fight whether or not the University enrolls more graduate students (currently one of the most contentious issues) ten years after you graduate? We couldn’t even organize against the new bus routes, an issue that had immediate negative consequences. This apathy is caused by a simple fact of University life: The neighbors will be here for decades, but most students are just here for four years. The best we can do is hope they don’t hurt the University too much—let them shovel their own sidewalks.