Georgetown on “Georgetown”

Neighborhood ponders its identity

Georgetown is having an identity crisis.

Washington City Paper’s Lydia DePillis reports that the Georgetown Business Improvement District recently commissioned a study on the posh neighborhood’s brand. The group wanted to find out what people think "Georgetown" means, and how the area can be pitched to businesses and consumers.

About 50 folks from Georgetown were interviewed by the Arlington-based Roan Group -- and a few of them left confused. Citizens’ Association of Georgetown President Jennifer Altemus told City Paper, “I’m not sure why they’re doing it.” Another resident who was interviewed said of the experience, “It was like playing word games.”

But doesn’t everyone already know what Georgetown is? It’s the place where Jack and Jackie Kennedy went to party, and where today’s insiders break bread with Ben and Sally. It’s the place where senators have big houses, and where cupcakes get their own television series. It’s the place where Metro trains don’t go.

But James Bracco of the Georgetown Business Improvement District says things are changing in Georgetown, and some long-timers aren’t quite sure where things stand. He told City Paper, “If you talk with folks who’ve been here 25, 30 years, they can tell you quite a bit about how the neighborhood has evolved, about the way it used to be. The way it used to be was great. I think in their minds, maybe that’s how they’d like it to be.”

One thing that’s changing is the neighborhood’s business community. Though M Street is still awash with fancy retailers, Bracco’s group says about 35 stores left or shut down in 2009. However, one broker points out that many of those retail spots have already been leased. Is trading a Pottery Barn for a Brooks Brothers really a sign of a neighborhood in crisis?

One thing that will never change in Georgetown is the perpetual dance of town-gown relations. The neighborhood, of course, is home to a 15,000-student, 100-acre university, and what happens there impacts the townies.

The Washington Examiner reports that the Citizens Association of Georgetown is pushing back against the school’s 10-year campus plan, which would add more than 3,000 graduate students. The leader of the fight is Jennifer Altemus -- a Georgetown graduate.

She moved to Georgetown 25 years ago to attend the school, and lived off-campus in what she said was a pleasant area. But now, she says, houses that used to be occupied by families have been converted to student rentals.

“We have a huge increase in trash and rat issues,” she told the Examiner. “Quality of life is affected by that and by student noise.”

She doesn’t fault the students. Rather, Altemus says the university has been rapidly expanding without creating more on-campus housing options, which means neighborhood residents are subjected to college parties and the sleepless nights that go with them.

The Roan Group’s branding interviews asked residents what sort of animal Georgetown would be, but “rat” probably wasn’t the answer they were hoping for.

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