Today is not-a-column day, and I took up an issue I’ve been pondering for a while: How and why the District’s political infrastructure weighs heavily in favor of parochial neighborhood interests at the expense of citywide interests.
Nowhere is this more nakedly on display than in the campus planning process. The District is alone among major American cities in requiring a decennial planning applications from its universities, a process that is driven largely by neighbors concerned about how campus growth will impact them — whether from trash, noise or traffic. It’s left to the universities themselves to tout the benefits of growth: more jobs, more economic stimulus for the city, more tax money.
On Monday, the Post editorial board spoke up in favor of those citywide interests, highlighting the current fight between Georgetown University and its neighbors. In the letters section today, many of those neighbors strike back, saying the editorial fails to recognize just how much of a nuisance noisy, messy students are.
Disclosure: I’m a Georgetown alumnus, and as a former resident of a Burleith group home, they have a point. I don’t mean to suggest that campus neighbors don’t deserve a chance to speak out about reasonable concerns. But the process is essentially devoid of any counterweight. Currently, as I point out, there’s no incentive for any elected official to balance the voting neighbors’ concerns with the concerns of largely nonvoting students and staff. Witness the Georgetown battle, where elected official after elected official have come out against a campus plan of modest ambitions.
I’m interested to see if D.C. Students Speak, a new citywide organizing group mentioned in the piece, is able to provide some balance. They have much work to do.