Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rethinking the Mall

The National Park Service is undertaking a major planning process to improve the National Mall. The goal is to create a new plan for the Mall on the scale of the century-old McMillan Plan. It will guide future building projects for museums and monuments, addition of amenities for tourists, and general improvement of the grounds. The Park Service is seeking comments from individuals around the country - both experts and visitors - to inform the process.

In addition to attracting millions of tourists and demonstrators, the Mall is also the preferred address for dozens of monuments, memorials and museums. Federal officials have tried to encourage pocket parks and intersections throughout the city as future sites for dozens of projects waiting in the wings, but the quandary is that everyone wants to be on the Mall.

Architects, planners, historians and tourists will be among those asked to suggest a future look and feel for the Mall: Should it be about formal gardens and fountains, or baseball games, gift shops and hot dog stands?

The Mall serves many purposes: It is the equivalent of Paris's fabled gardens of the Tuileries, the political gathering space of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the open space of London's Hyde Park, the sports haven of New York's Central Park and the museum row of any international city.

Trying to meet all these demands in one space can create a park that is frayed, unable to handle the crowds and not true to its iconic nature.

Some movement has already been made in this direction. Parts of the Mall are fenced during the winter to allow grass to recover. Congress has passed a Reserve Act to prevent further building in certain sections of the Mall to prevent them from being overcrowded. (Of course, it has not stopped several building projects since the law was passed.) The image below, from the Post article, shows the reserve area in yellow.

To comment on the Mall's future, you can visit the NPS website devoted to the project. Not all pages on that site are ready yet, so be patient with it.