Column: Consider alternative use for old hospital space

The first time I visited GW, I was, as I suspect many people are, struck by how the campus challenged my mind’s conception of a university’s grounds. I’d associated university life with rolling hills and green open spaces. While I’ve come to discover and appreciate that GW’s urban setting produces a distinctive and valuable character, I still conceptualize universities as a natural oasis. Mount Vernon may only be a shuttle away, but I’ve thought that the only piece missing from making GW an upper-tier, premier school is a large area of directly-accessible green space, perhaps a football field and track, for students to enjoy. GW, in its defense, has indeed lacked the space that would offer itself for renovation or conversion – until now. As The Hatchet reported, workers are set to raze the old hospital.

University Senior Counsel Charles Barber says “it’s a big parcel of land, and we want to take our time in coming to a decision” on its future, but I’d bet that there is only a few options the University is considering. And I’d double my bet that a green space is nowhere on the radar screen. Without prodding, I also doubt that the University will solicit much input from the students and community on the future of the space, apart from “would you rather a Wendy’s or a Burger King in the dining area?”

I propose the area the old hospital resides be turned into a space without many structures at all. I get excited by envisioning a football field, track, a place to play soccer (without worrying about flooding) or lounge to read and relax, all within the boundaries of the campus. Such a project, I imagine, would not happen without conflict. It will no doubt be argued that the value of the land and its potential for revenue preclude the area from being a green-space. However, I hope it is not too difficult to consider the broader value of such a space. Indeed, it would generate little or no money as a site in-of-itself, but the value to student and community life would be significant. Such a space could be the crown jewel of GW and enrich the school in a way no large profit-motivated buildings could.

The open space would not only richly add to student life, it could be a way to reach out to Foggy Bottom and all of D.C. Instead of yet another towering building, GW could invest in a different kind of scenic space in the city. And when it does not interfere, the space could be used for community events like local football games or fairs. While a possible argument against the project could be that the area would attract vagrants, I’d suggest that a carefully designed space could ensure that access is restricted and monitored. A football field or even just a large tract of groomed open-space, in this part of the city, would be a welcome relief from the concrete that surrounds us.

If you, like me, believe GW would benefit from turning the site of the old hospital to that of a place for outdoor activities, the University needs to know your view. Once money is committed to a future project for the site, it will be more difficult to convince the university to move in another direction. We have, or will have, enough places to eat, sleep, procure goods, and study. We need a place for outdoor play.

-The writer is a Ph.D. student in American Studies.

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