Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mall Expansion?

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., has been running out of space for several years. With the recent additions of the monuments for Franklin Roosevelt, the Korean War, and World War II, and the future monument for Martin Luther King, most of the available monument space has been taken. Meanwhile, the National Museum of the American Indian has filled the last large tract for museum construction. So the National Capital Planning Commission has been trying to encourage groups pushing museums and memorials to place them elsewhere - either statues in neighborhood parks or museums along important corridors like South Capitol Street.

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall has a different idea. They want to expand the Mall into East Potomac Park, the narrow peninsula that stretches along the Potomac River up to the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia. This narrow strip currently holds a golf course, baseball fields, and a playground for kids. It also is a quiet haven for fishermen, a racing site for bicycle clubs, and a winter hot spot for birders. (Several D.C. rarities have been seen here, including glossy ibis in 2004.)

The ideas include the bizarre, like building a new Supreme Court in East Potomac Park. (No thanks, we already have one.) Some also involve wasteful expenditures, like breaking up the peninsula into a series of islands connected by bridges. Proposals to improve recreation facilities and to build some new monuments in East Potomac Park are more realistic and make better use of the space without seriously disrupting the park's current uses. Building museums there is not a good use, unless their curators do not care about having good attendance.

Any plans for the park need to keep in mind that the park is not easily accessible since it only connects to downtown at the north end. Building more connections is made difficult by the marinas along Washington Channel and the major highways (Route 1 and Interstate 395) that cross over the park.

But East Potomac Park should remain primarily a place for recreation. We have few large areas of open fields for general recreation in this city. There is the central area of the Mall, but that is frequently circumscribed by fences for grass recovery or large events whose stages and booths block large areas at a time. Anacostia Park also has the space but is hard to access. Rock Creek Park is mostly wooded, as is Roosevelt Island. East Potomac Park fills a need in this city, and any development there should serve to enhance its current uses and not make them more difficult.