Forum: Foggy Bottom, DC benefits from GW’s evolution, expansion

GW today, transformed from a modest school to a world-class university, is visibly better than it was when it moved to Foggy Bottom 88 years ago. We have succeeded in creating a first-rank academic community in the D.C., with emphases on both the academic and the community. GW does not go about its business covertly. Our doors are open to the city, and our quadrangles – more numerous and lovely than ever – are for everyone’s use and pleasure. Our academic programs, concerts, sporting events and lectures are available to all and especially to our immediate neighbors who may take classes at the most modest prices. We are a private university in the District’s service.

But an academic community is not a steady state. Our campus plan reflects the dynamism that is imperative for our work to continue. Since its founding in 1821, GW has been a source of good for D.C. and Foggy Bottom. We make tremendous intellectual, cultural, economic and philanthropic contributions to our city, and, with close to half our graduates living within an hour or two of the city, our alumni further enrich the greater Washington region.

It is important to understand that we are in and of the District, located downtown for 179 years. We will continue to thrive and grow in D.C., but we do not intend our contributions to come at the expense of our neighbors. We do intend to be gentle and incremental, and the campus plan reveals our benign purposes plainly. We need to use not waste the space we have; so we build up and down rather than horizontally. However, we cannot go up very high due to local height restrictions. Our current construction boom is largely on land we have owned for some time and takes place within the constraints of our locale. Our new facilities, more handsome than the utilitarian structures once built, will house our improving academic programs and more of our students because GW wants as many of them as possible living in University residences.

But I emphasize that our students, like our academic and cultural programs, are also part of the city. I want our students to see more not less of their elders and to appreciate them. Likewise, I hope our neighbors will appreciate our students who are, after all, the future. The phrase town-gown relations should be an expression of constructive community. Students, when traversing the campus, also put more eyes on the street, adding to the neighborhood’s safety and liveliness.

Our growth as a university is not merely in people and in bricks and mortar, in academic enrichment and programmatic expansion, but as a determined moral and social force as well. That is part of the constant dynamism of maintaining GW as a vigorous academic community, a complement to all our other activities.

We cannot stand still. Yet the good our dynamism does for GW, for Foggy Bottom and for the District does not announce itself each morning. It appears and matures through gestation as our alumna’s letter demonstrates. Our growth as an academic community also works through collaboration and participation on campus and with our neighbors and the city. That is why we have prepared the campus plan and why we invite constructive ideas from those who have a concern for GW’s success as an academic community and good neighbor.
-The writer is president and professor of public administration.

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