Testimony: National Capital Planning Commission regarding the National Park Service National Mall Plan

I am Judy Scott Feldman, founder and chair of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall. We are marking our 10th anniversary this year as an independent citizens organization dedicated to educating the public about the national significance of the Mall, and to advocating for comprehensive, long-range planning to ensure that the Mall fulfills its role and its promise as one of our country’s iconic landscapes, the gathering place for citizens petitioning their government, the stage for American democracy in our 3rd century.

Our Coalition welcomes the completion of the National Park Service’s National Mall Plan. Every one of us who has spent time on the Mall knows it sorely needs the kind of attention and improvements outlined in this plan — refurbished landscaping, restoration of Constitution Gardens, improved visitor amenities.

We also welcome the role of the Trust for the National Mall, which has established itself as a crucial partner with the Park Service in implementing the plan. The demands are great and I personally have contributed to the Trust to help advance its mission.

As grateful as we are for what the Park Service has done, though, we should be clear that this plan falls short of what we need if the Mall is in fact to fulfill its role and its promise in American life today. As the NCPC Staff report states, this “National Mall Plan” focuses solely on management of lands within the Park Service’s domain.

Let me state what our Coalition believes a true plan for the Mall would address:

What are the Mall’s boundaries? Most assuredly they are broader than National Park Service lands. What of the National Gallery? The Smithsonian museums? The Capitol grounds? The Congressional Research Service concluded in 2003 that the Mall has never been defined. But that same year Congress amended the Commemorative Works Act and defined the Mall the way most Americans see it, as the great cross-axis from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and White House to Jefferson Memorial. Clearly, any “National Mall Plan” worthy of that name must include the entire Mall and all constituencies.

The Plan asserts that the Mall is a completed work of civic art. But is it? Congress imposed a moratorium but meantime has approved the African American Museum, while the Park Service, despite the moratorium, proposes two major new visitors centers.

To say the Mall is complete strikes us as essentially saying American history has come to a screeching halt, and none of us believes that. We have a rich history, we will continue to have a rich history as long as America is the land of promise and accomplishment. More of our story could and should be told. How can we foster telling more of the American experience short of paving over the Mall? I’m encouraged to see NCPC sponsoring a forum “Beyond Granite” on December 8th that explores this very question.

Our Coalition has proposed before, and we do so again, that in defining the Mall Congress has the opportunity to expand the boundaries to embrace new monuments, new museums, and new or relocated activities such as the Folklife Festival to a more accommodating venue. There are ample attractive possibilities, some shown in NCPC’s new Framework Plan, such as down L’Enfant Promenade to Banneker Overlook and across a foot bridge to East Potomac Park.

The Mall is an economic engine for the region, drawing an estimated 25 million visitors a year who stay throughout the metropolitan area and avail themselves of local services. How can the Mall be more fully integrated into the fabric of the District and the region?

Tourmobile offers interpretive services at a cost, but as a mode of transportation it simply is not sufficient. The Circulator is a step in the right direction but it is limited seasonally and does not extend to the Lincoln Memorial. Isn’t it long past due to have a truly viable, functioning, affordable means of getting around this 2-mile expanse? Surely we can envision something as basic as basic transportation.

Perhaps most challenging is the question of how the various agencies and entities on the Mall can work together to ensure consistent and compatible planning and development. Surely it’s not asking too much to want some form of unified Mall governing body and a comprehensive vision for the entire Mall.

In conclusion, our Coalition felt a sense a optimism in 2005 during the Senate hearing that launched this Mall planning process — both because the Coalition was invited to testify and because of what was said. Chairman Craig Thomas (Senate Energy Subcommittee on National Parks) spoke of the need for a “3rd Century Mall” plan, and stated his intention to create a commission like the McMillan Commission of a century ago. Senator Daniel Akaka said it was important to get beyond piecemeal planning to address “the complete vision of what the Mall could be, and what it should be.” He spoke enthusiastically about the possibilities of Mall expansion, maybe down South Capitol Street. Senator (and now Secretary of Interior) Ken Salazar spoke of the problem of fragmented management and the need for some kind of Mall entity to coordinate Mall planning and management. Asked to respond, John Parsons of the National Park Service, David Childs, then chair of the Commission of Fine Arts, and John Cogbill, then chair of the NCPC spoke of how they would work together and involve the most talented, visionary designers to create the new McMillan Plan for the 21st century. Well, that didn’t happen. Already in 2006, the Park Service narrowed the plan’s scope and the federal and District review agencies went along.

Our Coalition has long advocated the need for a comprehensive, forward-looking plan to speak to these very basic questions I’ve outlined in my testimony today, and in so doing to provide the vision that in our nation’s earlier history was derived from L’Enfant’s plan and later from the McMillan Plan. We will now redouble our efforts to create that visionary plan, for this needs to be done if we are to realize the Mall’s promise in American life in our 3rd century.

Thank you.


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