Cultural Anthropologist Tom King Meets with National Mall Coalition

Free-lance writer, cultural anthropologist, and historic preservation consultant Tom King stopped by the National Mall Coalition’s board meeting this week and offered insight into his experiences with the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act, and in particular the public consultation component (“Section 106”) that has been a sore point for us when it comes to National Mall projects and plans.

For those unaware, Dr. King, a prolific author, has been actively involved since the 1960s in the fields of research and management tied to heritage, cultural resource management, and historic preservation. He has worked at the National Park Service and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. And he has consulted with native American tribes and other communities around the country who seek to protect cherished landscapes from threats such as roads, pipelines, and so on. Tom has seen it all.

We sought him out after reading his book “Our Unprotected Heritage” (Left Coast Press), which demonstrates how preservation laws and policies fail to protect cultural places or provide the public any meaningful say in decision-making.

At the meeting, Dr. King was interested to hear how much our experiences of the public consultation process for Mall projects mirror his own. He learned how difficult it is for us to protect the historic legacy of the 1791 L’Enfant Plan and 1902 McMillan Plan for the Mall when the official National Park Service National Register of Historic Places documentation ignores crucial aspects of those plans – in particular the Mall’s purpose and function as our nation’s public square, a public space open to all.

We really appreciate Dr. King taking time to share his expertise.

And we thank him for his latest blog post describing his take away from our meeting. The Mall, he realizes, is a Traditional Cultural Place (a special category in the National Register) that, different from traditional localized community landscapes, actually speaks to all citizens of the United States.

He writes “And as usual with TCPs – and historic places generally – management of the National Mall seems to have little patience for real consultation with those who ascribe cultural value to it. Meetings, yes, letters full of nice words, sure, but actually sit down and hammer out compromises between, say, active public use and keeping the grass green? No.”

Well put, Mr. King!