Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

News from local universities: GWU edition

One of the early first columns by Bob McCartney, the Metro columnist for the Washington Post, criticized the lack of news coverage on happenings at the region's universities.  He commented that there is more coverage of the school's athletic teams than there is of anything else happening at universities.

I countered that newspaper sport sections assign beat reporters to cover specifically college sport teams, while the newspaper generally doesn't assign people to cover higher education as a beat generally, or individual universities specifically.  So of course there is no coverage except when a university press release somehow makes it over the transom.

So I was at a conference yesterday at George Washington University, and as is my wont, I picked up copies of printed matter there, specifically the GW Hatchet student newspaper.  Because they just keep piling on new editions on top of old ones, I picked up the last five issues of the paper, which comes out a couple times per week during the school year.

Lots of interesting stuff not ever making it into the Metro section of the Washington Post:

1.  The University has introduced a new logo (right).  Some of the writing calls it a brand, but it isn't clear that it is.  GWU's brand promise has to do with being in DC as the national capital, proximity to power, the White House generally which is just a few blocks away and shares "Pennsylvania Avenue" with the University, the strength of government and political studies academic programs, being an urban university.

- "Lack of sophistication in the new logo"

Ilwaco, WashingtonFlickr photo of a Washington State Road sign by Jasperdo.  

Interesting, in Washington State, they use a drawing of George Washington in the logo for state roads, and King County, home of Seattle, changed their logo a few years ago to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

The hand wringing in the paper is interesting, although I agree that the logo isn't necessarily very good, and reflects the problems of branding in that logos/brands have to serve three different market segments: the input public--the group that provides you with resources; the throughput public--the people who do the work of the organization, although students are both a throughput public and an output public; and the output public--the group to which the organization's activities are directed.

Universities have so many audiences that it's tough to please them, but certainly by not defining the various publics, it becomes even harder, because once the concept is explained, people may find it easier to grasp the more subtle aspects.

I would agree though that the logo doesn't convey very much about university "brand" other than the "affiliation" with George Washington although I guess it meets the university's interest in having a graphic that renders better digitally.

2.  In the 1980s and 1990s, GWU, which is one of the city's largest landowners, was infamous for purchasing or acquiring long term master leases on apartment buildings in Foggy Bottom, buildings that had been rented to all comers, and converting them to student housing ("University Sprawl: Where will the tenants go?" Post, 1988; "Rulings Settle Disputes," Post, 1991).

So some of the buildings still have lingering non-student tenants.  The university is in the process of evicting one of these tenants, artist and former adjunct art professor Scip Barnhart.

- "Evicted: After three decades, GW sues 66-year old to leave"

(They did offer him alternative lodgings as they want to renovate the building, but the new quarters aren't equivalent and would significantly impinge upon his ability to do artistic production in his home studio.)

3.  Some students think by running strategically for different ANC seats--the university has only 2,400 undergraduate students and technically each "single member district" for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission has about 1,800 residents--that they can successfully win control of the local ANC as not many people vote in ANC elections and because the student dominated housing has been divvied up across SMDs.

- "Op-Ed: The importance of the ANC for students"
- "Justin Peligri: The dull reality of Foggy Bottom politics"
- "Alumni fail to make ballot for local governing body"

This is also interesting given past writings in GGW on the broad topic of representing student interests on ANCs, particularly vis-a-vis Georgetown University ("Georgetown ANC redistricting plan marginalizes students").

Whole Foods, Foggy Bottom
4.  The success of "The Avenue" -- the Square 54 development on the grounds of the former GWU Hospital, which includes a great deal of food-related retail including a Whole Foods Supermarket -- in terms of generating annual revenue for the school ($9.5 million per year from the mixed use development) is getting the university to think more about incorporating retail into other projects.

- "Avenue complex transforms area one year after opening"

From the article:

The Avenue serves as a model for future construction projects across campus, using retail space to drive revenue to the University. The complex is bound by the 23rd block of I Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. ...

The deserted pit that stood at Square 54 just four years ago has become a more than 500,000-square-foot commercial and residential powerhouse, bringing in millions of dollars in nonacademic revenue for the University and the city.

Now called The Avenue, the complex includes an office building at 2200 Pennsylvania Ave., six eateries, 333 apartments, Whole Foods Market, Citibank, NIH Federal Credit Union and a children’s day care. Four of the restaurants accept GWorld.

GW’s 60-year lease with the real estate firm Boston Properties is estimated to pump $9.1 million annually into the endowment for academics, financial aid and construction projects, like the adjacent Science and Engineering Hall. Washington Business Journal named the $220 million deal on The Avenue the “deal of the year” for 2011, calling it “one of the most successful mixed-use developments in recent history.”

The apartment building is nearly 100 percent occupied a year after opening, Peter Johnston, senior vice president and regional manager for Boston Properties, said. The Avenue’s 333 apartments go for $2,000 to more than $6,000 monthly, drawing in many young professionals, but he could not release more precise demographic information.

“I think, without exception, all of the retailers’ sales are exceeding their expectations, and I think anyone who’s gone to those establishments can attest to that,” Johnston said, adding that he could not estimate The Avenue’s revenue total since opening.

5.  Years ago, Mount Vernon College fell on hard times and closed.  GWU bought the campus and houses some students there which probably allowed them to increase their enrollment caps (a legal limit imposed on the university as part of the every 10 year updating of the Campus Plan and its subsequent approval by the DC Zoning Commission.  Some students feel the university could do more to integrate the campuses and the educational experiences offered.

- "Make the Vern student friendly"

6.  For one student whose parents became unemployed, the university decided not to increase her financial aid, so she fell behind in her payments to the university.  She transferred to Cleveland State University.

- "Turned down for aid, student forced to transfer"
- "A college should not feel like a business" (ironic given the university's reliance on leasing income from commercial property as a significant source of its revenue and endowment)

7.  Last but not least, the University is updating its strategic plan.

- "Officials soften strategic plan ideas"

From the article:

Administrators and faculty are finalizing the strategic plan and toning down more dramatic initiatives as the drafting stage enters its final month.  Two of the strategic plan’s most transformative proposals – creating a one-college model and creating a massive GW-run think tank – have been chiseled down after hundreds of campus stakeholders weighed in. 

Provost Steven Lerman will present a draft of the plan at October’s Faculty Assembly and finalize it by December.

The University will likely propose creating a few smaller think tanks geared toward the humanities and social sciences, instead of building up a larger think tank on par with ones at Stanford or Harvard universities.

“It’s taken a slightly different form, which is growing littler think tanks or bringing small outside units in to assemble a range of such things and not worry about building a Brookings-scale think tank,” Lerman said, referring to the D.C.-based Brookings Institution. “It’s a little more realistic.”

GW will also shy away from a one-college model that would have enrolled undergraduates in a new single school to promote cross-disciplinary studies. Lerman said that change may take a more conservative approach, with students applying to the University to take classes across schools instead of being tethered to one college. Students will still earn degrees from their respective colleges.



Post a Comment

<< Home