On the heels of former GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s tumultuous relationship with the Foggy Bottom/West End community, University President Steven Knapp must work to rebuild elements of a strained connection.
Knapp should embrace the opportunity to revamp the relationship between GW and its neighbors for the sake of moving forward. A willingness to communicate and identify with involved locals can only add an element of strength in the beginning and hopefully the entirety of Knapp’s presidency.
Timing could aid Knapp’s efforts as the controversial 20-year Campus Plan and zoning issues for Square 54 were approved in the spring. Since much of the focus can now be placed on other aspects of University operations, this lull in development proposals can provide time and distance for relationships to be re-examined. Even just putting a new face to the powerful position of the GW presidency may be enough to steer the relationship in a positive and fruitful direction.
While it is too early to tell what type of rapport will develop between the community and new administration, things began on a positive note at Knapp’s first official meeting with the Foggy Bottom FRIENDS organization this week. Knapp explained his willingness to listen and his commitment to community relations, something active community members were very receptive of.
Yet both sides of the issue must build upon the foundations of a good relationship. Foggy Bottom/West End neighbors have been receptive, if not welcoming, thus far into Knapp’s term and hopefully will be able to let Knapp create his own legacy versus labeling him due to ghosts of the past.
As in the case of most neighborhood disputes, the sheer act of sincere listening can be enough to mollify a fragile situation. However, at the end of the day, Knapp must find a precise way to mbalance what’s best for the University in the face of neighborhood complaints.
Knapp’s resum? concerning community relations from his time in Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University is impressive, but the existing situation in Foggy Bottom/West End could provide a challenge – one he must be committed to.
During Trachtenberg’s 19-year tenure as president, the face of GW changed dramatically. If GW had ambitions of becoming a top-tier institution, buildings needed to constructed, dorms created and classrooms built – many times to the chagrin of Foggy Bottom/West End residents. Now that clear steps for the future are in place, it is time for any lingering animosity from either side to be put aside in favor of a fair start to a new era.
While various parties have many interests resting in this burgeoning relationship, Knapp is stepping into a host of unknowns. When Trachtenberg assumed the presidency, GW was essentially a commuter school. Almost two decades later, Knapp will fundamentally be only the second person placed in this delicate relationship with Foggy Bottom/West End. He should take this opportunity to begin a tradition of constant communication and openness for future leaders of GW.
In a few months, Knapp will be able to call himself a true Foggy Bottom resident when he moves into the Alumni House on F Street, providing a new area of rapport with neighbors. If nothing else, Knapp will likely soon come to love the Foggy Bottom area as much as both GW and other residents.
It’s a time of new beginnings at GW, hopefully one of which will be in the relationship between GW and its neighbors.