America’s 3rd Century Mall

Our Ever-Evolving American Story: The 3rd Century Mall

Congress in 2003 declared the National Mall a “substantially completed work of civic art,” but the Mall cannot be complete any more than American history is finished. Congress already has made exceptions to the moratorium on new memorials, and will continue to do so. Many important chapters are missing from the American story we tell on the Mall, and ongoing proposals for new museums and monuments “on the Mall” demonstrate that the need to rethink the future. Don’t future generations deserve their place on the Mall?

What is the 3rd Century Mall? The 1791 L’Enfant Plan and 1901-2 McMillan Plan – the visionary plans that are the blueprints for the Mall – gave us the first and second century Mall. An updated plan is long overdue. We need a plan for the Mall in its third century to let the Mall grow and evolve with our democracy.  Congress can create a new McMillan-type commission to examine modern needs, to explore opportunities that will ensure a future resilient Mall, and to create the new plan for the 3rd Century Mall.

One simple solution to consider is to expand the Mall boundaries to create new welcoming locations for public events as well as future memorials and museums on the 3rd Century Mall. The McMillan Plan set a precedent over a century ago when it extended the Mall one mile west to the Lincoln Memorial. Mall expansion is an idea that has been gaining momentum among members of Congress, government entities, and the public.

What can the public do to ensure that future generations can continue to tell our country’s ever-evolving story on the Mall?  We ask the American people and Congress to imagine the exciting and optimistic possibilities. This 15-slide presentation summarizes Mall history and the concept of America’s 3rd Century National Mall.


Public Forums to Encourage Citizen Action

Participants in the 2004 George Washington University public forums
Architects, historians, historic preservationists, students, and  local residents attended the 2004 public forums at George Washington University

The National Mall Coalition began our 3rd Century Mall Initiative in late 2003 out of concern for the future vitality of this nationally significant symbolic landscape in the heart of the nation’s capital. Continuing pressures for new construction –- memorials, museums, security barriers –- threatened to overwhelm the public open space. Congress declared the Mall a “substantially completed work of civic art” but already had made exceptions for new projects.

In 2004 we held four public forums at George Washington University in Washington, DC, to start a public dialogue.  In January, representatives of successful citizen-based groups — New York City’s Central Park Conservancy and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Recreational Parks — spoke to a crowd of students, local residents, and government agency planners about their experiences in creating citizen-based advocacy and support groups for their parks.

Our three workshops in May 2004 focused on major themes: The Mall and Design, the Mall and the City of Washington, and the Mall and the Visitor. In October we published The Future of the National Mall report that summarized the proceedings and proposed next steps.  Since then we have been discussing our ideas about the Mall’s history and future with Congressional members and staff, government agencies, and the public.

Promoting a New McMillan-type Commission and Public Involvement in Innovative Ideas

Title slide of Coalition Vision
In 2015 we reaffirmed our 3rd Century Mall efforts with a new tagline — Advancing the Legacy of the National Mall Through Public Policy and Innovative Ideas. CLICK to see the presentation.

One clear outcome of our years of public outreach and consultation with Mall managing entities since 2003 is that the historic L’Enfant and McMillan plans cannot solve modern problems or show the way to adapt the Mall to future needs. There is a need for an independent McMillan-type commission to create the new plan for the Mall in the 21st century. And there is need for unified management – a Mall conservancy or board of regents with strong public participation – to work with the eight or more managing agencies and the public to implement the new vision for the National Mall. Congress, the President, and the American people will have to work together to achieve this goal.

We’re not waiting. To engage the public in imagining the future Mall, we are taking small steps by holding public forums, creating public exhibitions, and creating two innovative projects — the National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds and the National Mall Underground.

Read our evolving thinking in Rethinking the National Mall (2008) and Renewing American Democracy on the 3rd Century Mall (2009) and download the brochures from our 2012 public exhibitions here.