Ideas for a "3rd Century" National Mall
The National Coalition to Save Our Mall has released their plan for the future of the National Mall.
McMillan Plan for the Mall.
They call this a "3rd Century Mall," building on the original L'Enfant Mall from the White House to the Washington Monument to the Capitol, and the 1901 McMillan Commission's expanded Mall and Federal Triangle. They point out that original plans envisioned the Mall as a "backdrop to the business of government," not the "civic stage" for large rallies and protests, or the tourist attraction that it has become.
As a result, the Mall always seems incomplete and haphazard. As the report points out, shady, tree-lined paths west of suddenly turn into a sun-baked expanse around the Washington Monument. Memorials large and small lack overall coherence. There are few food and restroom amenities for visitors, little to appeal to children, and poor transportation. And, they say, the National Park Service's Mall plan is more of a "grounds keeping and maintenance plan" and the patchwork of federal agencies' overlapping plans "embrace the status quo."
The plan suggests many potential improvements, such as:
- Manage the Mall for recreation. The report points out that the National Gallery programs the Sculpture Garden as a gathering place for people, but the Park Service prohibits gatherings on adjacent land to protect trees.
- Expand shade and fountains. Continue the tree-lined promenade by the Smithsonian museums across the Washington Monument grounds. Build fountains, as originally proposed by the McMillan Plan, for "beauty, refreshment, and fun."
- Provide public transportation within the Mall. The Park Service currently prohibits all buses except the Tourmobile on Mall roads. The $27 interpretive Tourmobile is great for some, but there also needs to be a low-cost Circulator for those who just want to get around without the multi-mile walks.
- Expand the Mall itself. Incorporate adjacent spaces, like the L'Enfant Promenade and Banneker Overlook south of the Smithsonian Castle, into the Mall to create more space for future museums, memorials and events.
- Add narratives to existing memorials.. Instead of creating completely standalone new memorials on whatever empty space is available, incorporate new statues and plaques at or near existing, related memorials. For example, they suggest adding a statue of James Madison to the George Mason memorial near the Jefferson Memorial, to link the authors of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.
Left: Concept for a new Banneker Overlook.
Right: A Madison statue at the George Mason memorial.
- Create a Presidents' Garden at the Ellipse. There is a trend toward more memorials for Presidents, such as FDR and the upcoming Eisenhower Memorial. Make the Ellipse, adjacent to the White House, a space for all of these and enable visitors to learn about many Presidents at once.
- Encourage temporary memorials. Designate certain spaces on the Mall where temporary installations can mark anniversaries of important events or other special occasions. After a time, remove those installations and make space for the next.
- Create a Mall visitors' center. There is no single place to understand the totality of the mall and get information on activities. Create a visitors' center at the currently unused Arts and Industries Building or around the Washington Monument.
- Develop educational "walks." Provide materials and signs to create self-guided tours around parts of the Mall and surrounding buildings
- Program outdoor space. Few museums engage visitors outside the walls of their buildings. Encourage museums to put exhibition items outside, like the dinosaur that used to stand outside the Museum of Natural History.
- Add more large events and activities for children. Other than the Folklife Festival, Cherry Blossom Festival, and book festival, there are few outdoor events on the Mall, and the carousel is the only attraction for children.
- Add support services for gatherings. Embrace rather than resist the Mall's evolving role for large rallies. Add video and sound systems to better facilitate these events.
Left: The Folklife Festival. Right: a Reflecting Pool upgraded for large events.
- Expand restroom facilities. The existing restrooms are inadequate to the crowds that visit the Mall.
- Engage visitors at agency buildings. Most buildings in the Federal Triangle and Southwest Federal Center close themselves off from the street and create a dead zone between the Mall and the city. Encourage agencies to open up parts of their buildings with programs like the new visitors' center in the U.S. Department of Agriculture building.
- Mix municipal and government uses. The report notes that the McMillan Commission planned for functions like a market, armory, and police and fire headquarters in the Federal Triangle. Except for the Wilson Building, all of the buildings are exclusively federal.
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