CQ Weekly: Managing the Mall for the Masses

Dear Coalition Friends:

This article appeared in yesterday’s CQ Weekly (Congressional Quarterly), the Vantage Point feature section.

Aug. 10, 2009 – Page 1891

Managing the Mall for the Masses

By Andrew Norman, CQ Staff

This week, James Dean will come back to angst-ridden life on a 20-by-40-foot screen, as about 15,000 film enthusiasts traipse down to the National Mall’s Screen on the Green program for an outdoor viewing of “Rebel Without a Cause.” And like that film’s teen protagonist, the crowd will do a fair amount of unwitting damage, bruising the mall’s grass with their blankets, lawn chairs, foot traffic and trash.

Screen on the Green is just one of about 3,800 events held annually on the Mall, bringing more than 25 million visitors to the urban national park. The steady crush of foot traffic and trash turns the Mall’s more than 300 acres of grass into bare dirt, sometimes as compact as concrete. It takes 10 tons of grass seed and almost 3,000 yards of sod to mitigate each year’s damage.

Add to that crumbling sidewalks, skunky reflecting pools and the Jefferson Memorial’s sinking sea walls and the cost of a total Mall rehab would run almost $400 million, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

At least 14 congressional committees direct money to a clutch of agencies that manage the Mall’s different parts, including the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art and the American Battle Monuments Commission. But multiple players can mean conflicting mandates. For instance, the Park Service is considering banning events under the elm trees along the Mall’s edges. But the trees also offer a shady respite for visitors to the Smithsonian’s annual folklife festival.

“The Smithsonian, National Gallery and the Park Service all use the money how they want,” says Judy Feldman, head of the National Coalition to Save the Mall. The Smithsonian’s policy is to draw people, she notes. “The Park Service’s policy is to protect the natural resources.”

The Park Service is expected to produce a long-term management plan next year. But Feldman says its scope ignores the White House and Capitol grounds, plus areas managed by the Smithsonian, National Gallery and several agencies. Her group wants an independent body to make a comprehensive plan and coordinate its implementation. The challenge, she says, is to “think about the future of the mall for future generations.”