Testimony: Coalition Chair Feldman Addresses Public Use and Recreational Sports on the National Mall

Coalition Chair and founder Judy Scott Feldman, Ph.D. was asked to participate in the June 18 town meeting called by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to address recent changes by the National Park Service on public use and recreational sports on the National Mall. Below is her statement from the meeting.

UPDATE: The Washington Post Editorial Board: Don’t let the Mall become an untouchable relic


I am Judy Scott Feldman, founder and Chair of the National Mall Coalition, and a native Washingtonian. The Coalition, an all-volunteer, DC-based organization, advocates comprehensive, visionary planning so that the Mall continues to thrive and grow in the 21st century as the stage for our democracy and lively urban park in the heart of the capital.

I want to thank Congresswoman Norton for this opportunity to raise awareness of the problem of restrictions on public use of the Mall that has been simmering for some time, and the need for open dialogue so we find an equitable solution.

  1. First, the fundamental problem, in Coalition eyes, is that restrictions on public use are eroding the Mall’s intended purpose and meaning as a Stage For American Democracy. The Mall as envisioned originally in the 1791 L’Enfant Plan and reimagined in 1902 McMillan Plan was intended to be the people’s place, not simply a beautiful green lawn. And in the 20th century the public gave the Mall new meaning – as a civic stage for protest, celebration, and recreation. But restrictions are chipping away at that modern purpose. Ice-skating on the Lincoln Reflecting Pool was banned in the 1980s. The popular Solar Decathlon was turned away, amidst controversy, in 2011.  The Library of Congress, sponsor of the National Book Festival, tried but failed to meet NPS restrictions so moved to another venue. And the Smithsonian year after year battles NPS to keep its place on the Mall for the Folklife Festival. Now it’s recreational sports – and health and recreation benefits for DC residents. This is the latest threat, but it is part of the larger threat to public use.
  2. My second point:  In its 2010 National Mall Plan, the National Park Service correctly recognized the crucial function of the Mall as a civic stage and for recreation – and spoke of the need for management policies for the “high-use areas.” But the public has been shut out of any policy-making process. It’s been left to the grass experts. Not surprisingly, current NPS policy put Grass before People, as I wrote in my op-ed in the Washington Post in 2014. We have written to National Capital Regional Director Bob Vogel three times in the past 6 months asking for an open and collaborative public consultation process. But we’ve received no reply.
  3. Third, a solution is to convene all stakeholders for a thoughtful exchange of ideas, to develop policies that recognize the Mall’s preeminent purpose as the nation’s symbolic public open space, while also ensuring sustainability of the landscape. Participants should include DC residents, Congressional and other sports leagues, Smithsonian, Library of Congress, and others.  The NPS Mall Plan’s “Preferred Alternative” goals can be seen as a starting point. These include achieving “a balance that will permit high standards of living and wide sharing of life’s amenities  – improving turf recovery times/methods, and so on.” These goals also call for “additional recreational opportunities” and “equitable use among events, restoration, open recreational use.” These are laudable goals. Now we need thoughtful public use policies that achieve those goals.

After the Mall Plan was completed in 2010, the first NPS action was to implement the turf grass restoration – resulting in the beauty and hardy grass we now all enjoy. It was paid for with public “stimulus” funds provided by Congress. Now that we have achieved the first goal – making the Mall sustainable using latest modern methods, it’s time for us, working in collaboration for the benefit of DC residents and all Americans, to develop the policies that protect that investment but, above all, put public use of the Mall as the first priority.

UPDATE: The Washington Post Editorial Board: Don’t let the Mall become an untouchable relic

Opening remarks by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton


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