Has the National Mall run out of space? 

By Gordon Binder 

November’s Washingtonian magazine includes Benjamin Freed’s Capital Comment, “Full Attic?” about one of the National Mall’s major challenges:  finding sites to accommodate the continuing flow of proposals for new buildings and other facilities.

Has the National Mall run out of space? 
Has the National Mall run out of space?

As welcome as the new National Museum of African American History and Culture is, Freed’s article rightly anticipates there will continue to be proposals for more museums and monuments.  Sponsors will be looking for a prestigious site on the Mall as that is considered a prerequisite to raising the large sums necessary to complete the project.

As Freed argues, though, geography works against more buildings.  The Mall is running out of spaces and sites even if funds were available.  And any new proposals will be competing with Congress’ additions. Notwithstanding its declaration in 2003 that the Mall is a substantially completed work of civic art, Congress has continued to approve new visitor and other facilities on the Mall.

The National Mall Coalition has long advocated for a new comprehensive plan for the entire Mall.  The last one, the McMillan plan, dates to 1902.  Of particular relevance here is that the McMillan Commission proposed expanding the Mall on which land the Lincoln Memorial is now sited.  In other words, there’s precedent for enlarging the Mall to accommodate the proposals we should expect.  After all, the American story is far from over.

To achieve these ends, the half dozen or more agencies and the slew of congressional committees and subcommittees that now have a say over parts of the Mall, frankly, need a means by which to consolidate and coordinate plans and activities. This iconic landscape, the stage for American democracy, and the 30 million visitors a year from around the country, from abroad, and from our own city deserve better than the fragmented approach we now have.

We need, and the nation deserves, another visionary plan for this third century that will allow the Mall to flourish and grow with the unfolding story of America.

• Gordon Binder is a Senior Fellow at World Wildlife Fund.

 

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