Sidewalks, Streets, Schools, Parks and Politics: Top Town Topics of 2021
By January 11, 2022 0 164•
Georgetown in 2021 was abuzz with news and events even though so many of the normal activities of business, shopping, dining out, schools, the university, night life, non-profit and town events were almost completely shut-down due to changing reactions to the pandemic. Three major topic areas absorbed much of the news focus: sidewalks and streets underlaid by the perennial issue of parking; the re-energizing of our parks for vital social, shopping and sports activities; and changes in education delivery from pre-k through college. Here’s the run-down.
Sidewalks and Streateries
Georgetown’s growing attraction the past two years to a rapidly growing population of empty-nest seniors (who sold-the-big-suburban-house and moved-to-Georgetown) and young professional couples with young children (who didn’t want long commutes to the suburbs), often was attributed in pre-pandemic times to our town’s walkability. As Covid restrictions imposed on indoor gatherings continued into 2021, walking, dining, shopping, socializing and even conducting outdoor classes in everything from yoga to reading turned the public’s attention to innovations and improvements to our sidewalks and streets.
The Georgetowner covered many stories about our sidewalks: from protests against paving-over historic brick sidewalks to finishing at last a top-grade bike and strolling path in Rose Park from Pennsylvania Avenue to P Street.
But the most visible yearlong issue — the culmination of decades of town hall discussions — was the expansion of commercial sidewalks along most of Georgetown’s M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, from the waterfront to S Street. Pandemic regulations and a flush of funds lent an urgency to the idea of not only giving pedestrians more space to socially distance as they shopped and walked, but to expanding the dining spaces of many Georgetown eateries. The Georgetown BID managed the project, designing curbside extension platforms that could be models for much of the country.
The downside for the BID’s “sidewalk widening” project, however, was the loss of more than 100 parking spaces that were also vital to Georgetown’s businesses. By December, a review found that while most Georgetowners liked and wanted the dining streateries and revitalized night life of Georgetown, most also demanded that dozens of parking places be put back in place.
The year 2021 also saw Georgetown’s main parks — Volta, Montrose, Rose and Georgetown Waterfront — became vital centers for social interactions, exercise and recreation and even shopping for Georgetowners of every age and stage, as well as their many pet dogs. Each park’s “Friends” organized markets in their parks, sports, games and even reading for children. Rose Park managed to get numerous city agencies and a private electrical company to supply outlets for lights and other needs. Montrose finally saw the reconstruction of their historic tennis courts and gazebo. Popular paddleball courts were added.
The year ended with stunning finalizations to years of planning for renovations to two significant neighborhood recreation centers: Jelleff and Ellington Fields. In the final year budget process for the D.C. Council, giant increases in these two projects’ budgets were announced: $30 million for Jelleff and $3.5 million for Ellington. The Jelleff project will now probably include a substantial addition to the recreation center for senior and other community groups and the repositions and renovation of the public swimming pool. Ellington will include renovated field houses for community meetings and club team use, as well as a refurbished stadium and perhaps a dog park. Numerous town meetings involving hundreds of residents were conducted virtually over the year to move toward these agreements. Volta Park will receive $700,000 to renovate its baseball field and for park drainage.
Many stories in 2021 were also devoted to the at times agonizing uncertainties involving attendance at Georgetown’s many private and public schools due to changing restrictions and precautions imposed by the city and the teachers’ unions because of the vagaries of coronavirus infection spread. Caution and fears kept all children and college students masked not only inside the classrooms when they were able to attend school, but also outside on the playground. By the end of 2021, not one child under age 19 had died with or of Covid-19 in the District.
The universities in and around Georgetown opened many of their classes to cautious in-person learning as well as some activities in the fall only to close and fall back to remote classes and exams in November and December due to the Omicron variant. New D.C. educational leaders were elected (Ward 2 State Board of Education Representative), hired (new Superintendent of Education) and chosen (Washington Teachers’ Union).
Demographics and Politics
The new year may be even more tumultuous as the 2022 elections not only involve Congress but include a mayoral election in the District. The new decennial census count prompted a slight increase of the area of Ward 2, as the boundaries of advisory neighborhood commission district may also be altered in 2022.