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How to Fix the National Mall? The NPS has a Plan and Welcomes Your Comments

National Mall view.

The lawn—such as it is—on part of the National Mall. Photo by thisisbossi via Creative Commons and flickr.

The National Mall is often described as the nation's front yard. If you accept that label, than you can understand the maintenance needs: the lawn has bare spots, the walks are cracking, the porch is sagging. Yes, it's time for a serious face lift, the National Park Service is working on a plan to restore the Mall, and your comments are welcome.

More than one tourist has arrived at the National Mall looking for Macy's and the Food Court, and at least one questions-and-answers website sports the query, "Is the National Mall really a mall?"

As most of us are aware, it's much more. Here's an official description from the National Park Service:

"The National Mall in Washington, D.C., stretches west from the U.S. Capitol to the Potomac River, and north from the Jefferson Memorial to Constitution Avenue. It's home to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and numerous other landmarks that commemorate great Americans and significant events in our nation’s history."

Flanking or near the Mall are national museums and galleries that form the country’s cultural center. In 2003 Congress stated that the National Mall is a “substantially completed work of civic art and that no new or unapproved memorials or visitor centers would be added."

At that same time, Congress also directed the National Park Service, as the responsible federal agency, to begin planning for the future of the National Mall to protect its character. So, what's the status of that project?

Given the definite challenges involved, the process is moving right along. This is a place that gets a lot of use, and that translates into some serious wear and tear on the landscape. Although the site only covers about 684 acres, it received an estimated 22 million visits in 2008—more than twice the annual visits for large parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon combined.

The area also fills a lot of roles in the life of our nation, and while they're important, they don't make it easy to maintain the lawn, trees and other facilities. "The National Mall must function efficiently and flexibly at many levels — as the highly symbolic visual setting for our government; as part of the city’s circulation and transportation network; as the location of the nation’s primary memorials and museums; and as the stage for First Amendment demonstrations, national celebrations, and regional and local special events," notes the Park Service.

The Mall hosts about 3,000 events each year, and some of those include huge crowds that "affects the landscape and visitor experiences. Facilities can be overwhelmed with use. Vegetation cannot easily recover, and lawns may be worn to the ground and soils heavily compacted, which in turn adversely affects the vigor of trees and other vegetation."

"Many walks are not wide enough for current levels of use, and adjacent areas may be damaged when use spills off walks or when people choose a more direct route," continues the Park Service. "The combined effects generate heartfelt complaints by visitors about the deteriorated appearance of the National Mall."

According to NPS planners, "That deteriorated appearance has led to the realization that the National Mall must be refurbished so that (1) its treasured memorials and historic landscapes can be preserved, (2) very high levels of use can be sustained, and (3) the needs of visitors can be met."

A special hurdle for any attempt to plan for this site involves the unusually large number of groups that have or want a piece of the action.

"While the National Mall is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, multiple governmental agencies and organizations have jurisdiction over lands and roads within and adjacent to the National Mall, including the Architect of the Capitol, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Department of Agriculture, the General Services Administration, the District of Columbia, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority," points out the Park Service.

Wait, there's more.

"In addition, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, and the D.C. Historic Preservation Office have consultation, planning, review, and in some cases approval authority for issues related to planning, historic preservation, commemorative works, and design," it adds.

Those are a lot of interests to satisfy, but perseverance has resulted in the publication of a Draft Management Plan / Environmental Impact Statement which presents five alternatives for the management of the National Mall.

The no-action alternative would continue current conditions. Alternatives A, B, and C each focus on one primary aspect of the park’s purpose and significance: Alternative A would focus on the historic landscape with its memorials and planned vistas; Alternative B on creating a welcoming national civic space for public gatherings, events, and high-use levels; and Alternative C on urban recreation and use plus a sustainable urban ecology.

The preferred alternative combines ideas from all of the other alternatives considered.

You'll find an abundance of information about the draft plan, and a complete copy of the document on the NPS website. The Plan Summary and Fact Sheets will provide a good overview of the proposal and the planning process.

For a very quick overview of recommended actions under the preferred alternative, see pages viii through xi of the Plan Summary.

Once you're ready to submit your comments, you can do so at this site. The comment period is open until March 18, 2010.

The NPS reports that "Thus far during the planning process, nearly 30,000 Americans have shared their visions for the National Mall." It's your "front yard," too, just in case you have an opinion.


Goverment at it's best as they say too many chiefs not enough Indians. Too many organizations are involved in the same task. Cut the bureaucracy and established an organization that sole purpose is to take care of the Washington, DC area. One unit, one entity, they will have full power over all agency for the full purpose of taking care of the area, no political inteference in the decision making or budget. Their main purpose is to substain the beauty and historical beauty of our Nations Capital, repair or replace all infractures and maintain all aspects of property, buildings, roads and landscaping that is required to keep our heritage the way it was originally intended. This is a good place to put some of the stimulas ($$) dollars to good work. Create jobs to bring it back to life and substain those jobs with perpetual care and maintenance.
In 2003 Congress stated that the National Mall is a “substantially completed work of civic art and that no new or unapproved memorials or visitor centers would be added." This is a example of politics, like one of our Presidents who wanted to dissolved the Patent Department because they couldn't be anything else to create for we have all we need. This was early 1900's.
This can be utilize across our Nation. It started out okay but then goverment got too big with too many seperate organizations involved. Streamline our system. EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, OSHA, Bureau of Land Reclamation etc. as examples, all want a piece of the action and be the main focal point. They are working against each other instead of working TOGETHER.

I agree with Michael-"Too many cooks spoil the soup." The same goes for Ground Zero in New York.

Should only be one overall in-charge agency. Other affected or neighboring agencies should be able to submit their requirements, and some indisposable ones (like those that relate to public safety, environmental health, historical artifact preservation and the Secret Service) should have veto powers, but only one design team should make the proposal and only the head of that agency (or maybe Congress if they give a crap) should give the YAY or NAY vote.

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