Why do we need to advance the legacy with a 3rd Century Mall?

Photo courtesy Carol Highsmith.
This majestic symbolic landscape and public open space connecting the symbols of American Democracy is the legacy of the L’Enfant and McMillan Plans. CLICK to enlarge

The National Mall in Washington, DC, is the legacy of two brilliant visionary plans that have stood the test of time: the 1791 L’Enfant Plan and the 1901-1902 McMillan Commission Plan. When we have diverted from L’Enfant’s principles in the past, invariably later generations have recognized the mistake and reinstated those original concepts. But today, once again, that legacy is in jeopardy. There is no updated visionary plan — no 3rd Century Mall Plan — to guide growth in the 21st century; instead, Congress in 2003 declared the Mall a “completed work of civic art.” It is the responsibility of our generation of American citizens not only to protect the brilliant L’Enfant vision but also to advance that legacy for future generations to enjoy.

Watch a PowerPoint presentation of our concept for America’s 3rd Century National Mall here.

The National Mall Coalition proposes that, following the example of the 1902 McMillan Plan that extended the original Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, a new 3rd Century Mall plan can expand the Mall’s physical boundaries once again to meet the growing need for new spaces for future museums, civic events, and recreation. A new visionary plan can upgrade the historical Mall as well as  future expansion areas to be a model of intelligent planning and resiliency for the capital and the nation.

What is needed now, more than 120 years after the McMillan Plan, is a new McMillan-type Commission to create the next updated comprehensive plan for the Mall in its third century. This plan will reaffirm the historic legacy while solving modern problems: improving resilience, protecting from floods, providing new space for future museums and memorials, restoring and upgrading the landscape, and creating welcoming venues for cultural events such as the Solar Decathlon and Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The threat is real. Current jurisdictional plans by the Smithsonian, National Park Service, and other Mall managing agencies look only at each entity’s short-term needs, not the larger interests of the American public for the entire Mall.  Lacking a truly comprehensive plan to guide coordinated, intelligent growth — and even lacking agreement on what and where the Mall is –, we are seeing the slow degradation of the Mall’s public open space and public purpose: new museums and memorials are shoehorned into the dwindling open space, security barriers restrict public access, public use is restricted and curtailed, e.g., the National Book Festival and Solar Decathlon, traditionally featured on the Mall, have been denied future use of the Mall.

Where will future museums and national cultural events find space?  What kind of policies are needed to support public use and to ensure the Mall’s resiliency for the next 100 years?  How can we imagine a new visionary plan that advances the historic legacy to support American democracy in the Mall’s 3rd century?

 What is the L’Enfant legacy?  Read more here.


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