Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Staff Editorial: Foggy Bottom’s future is in GW’s hands

It’s worth creating a Foggy Bottom that works for everyone who lives, learns and works here.

From our shared namesake to our hyphenated Metro stop, it’s hard to separate the University from the city and neighborhood that surrounds it. Attending GW comes with the promise of making D.C. your own, like scoring hillternships or finding a favorite spot. But peel back the slogans and slick marketing, and GW’s “city school” status gets complicated, quickly — it’s both a benefit to and a burden on the area.

Foggy Bottom didn’t become GW’s home overnight. Over the course of a century, GW — previously known as Columbian College — consolidated academic buildings from around D.C. and integrated itself into Foggy Bottom. The University’s expansion accelerated an ongoing shift in the area away from being both a manufacturing hub and a predominantly Black neighborhood due to a changing economy and government intervention.

This process of development, displacement and gentrification created the Foggy Bottom Campus we know today, which has come a long way from the smoke and soot that helped give it its name. Students live in midcentury apartment buildings turned residence halls flanked by the State Department and International Monetary Fund, not the towering gasworks and other industries that once defined the neighborhood.

Building by building, past and present University officials have created an educational behemoth that houses thousands of students in just a few city blocks. And GW is one of the largest, if not the largest, players in Foggy Bottom — it contributed $1.6 billion to D.C.’s economy in fiscal year 2020.

Yet for all the employment and education opportunities the University’s influence over Foggy Bottom makes possible, it has its downsides. Living here can feel like being in a company town, not a college town. In other words, the neighborhood can too often feel like it’s under GW’s direct control rather than centered around its presence.

The fact is that the University holds the cards, not to mention the land, that have steered and will continue to steer the development of the neighborhood — there’s a reason behind those rumors about GW being the largest real estate owner in D.C. And what officials do or don’t decide to build has a direct impact on the neighborhood and the people, including students, who live here.

Chain restaurants and high-powered law firms can only add so much to the neighborhood compared to the mom-and-pop shops and small businesses they displace. But the construction of corporate offices, retail spaces and private apartments on University land — not to mention a yet-to-be-completed GW Campus Store — might benefit GW’s bottom line and hold down the cost of tuition to the tune of millions of dollars.

In a changed and changing Foggy Bottom, there’s a “town and gown” divide between the University and its neighbors over issues ranging from helipads to historic preservation to housing. The question is: Who gets to determine Foggy Bottom’s future? After a warm welcome from a local governing body, it remains to be seen just what officials, especially newly inaugurated University President Ellen Granberg, have in mind.

Granberg could draw on potential concepts for renovating older facilities and creating new buildings on the Foggy Bottom Campus that officials presented in October 2021. But these ideas seem to have been lost in the shuffle from then-University President Thomas LeBlanc to his temporary successor, interim President Mark Wrighton, and now to Granberg. It’s also unclear if officials even approved the concepts by a 2022 deadline.

What is clear, though, is the need to accommodate what’s best for the University — more development — with the amenities that residents want, like affordable housing, grocery stores and child care. If or when officials go back to the drawing board, it’d be worth sketching out a vision of a Foggy Bottom that works for everyone who lives, learns and works here. The University’s mission may be global, but it’s inseparable from the neighborhood it calls home.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn based on discussions with Contributing Culture Editor Jenna Baer, Editorials Assistant Paige Baratta, Contributing Social Media Director Anaya Bhatt, Contributing Opinions Editor Riley Goodfellow and Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

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