A New Mall Commission and Visionary Plan

The Need for a 3rd Century Mall Commission and Plan

Copyright Carol HighsmithA crucial step in improving the future of the Mall is creating a new, comprehensive long-term plan for the Mall in its 3rd Century — the 3rd Century Mall — with thoughtful principles to guide future development, growth, and public vitality. Such a plan should advance the visionary tradition of the 1791 L’Enfant Plan (1st Century Mall) and the 1901-1902 McMillan Commission Plan (2nd Century Mall) in ways that ensure the Mall can continue to meet the needs of our ever-evolving democracy for the next 100 years. Read our concept for America’s 3rd Century Mall here.

Who can create the 3rd Century Mall plan? A century ago, Congress commissioned the McMillan Commission to create the 1901-2 Plan and President Taft created the Commission of Fine Arts in 1910 to guide thoughtful implementation of that plan. Now the President and Congress can create a new McMillan-type 3rd Century Mall Commission of visionary architects, engineers, environmental scientists, and historians to bring a wide breadth of skill and ideas to this endeavor.

Such a unified planning effort is long overdue. Current agency-by-agency planning by  Smithsonian, National Park Service, National Gallery of Art for only their own facilities, but not for the Mall as a whole, results in fragmentation and piecemeal development that threatens to slowly chip away at the Mall’s integrity as a unified design.

What will the 3rd Century Mall Commission do?

  • Federal and DC agencies have at least 5 different Mall definitions
    Where exactly is the Mall? No one agrees. The National Register of Historic Places and the National Park Service define the Mall in various, often contradictory ways (green, blue, pink). Congress defines the Mall as the “great cross-axis” (orange), which recognizes the authority of the historic 1791 L’Enfant Plan (white) and 1902 McMillan Plan (yellow). Fragmented, piecemeal planning is the result, threatening the integrity of this nationally significant symbolic landscape and public open space. CLICK to enlarge.

    Establish a statutory definition of the Mall that recognizes the historic planning legacy of L’Enfant and McMillan. Shockingly, no one agrees on a basic definition of the Mall: What are its physical boundaries? What public open spaces and public buildings are on the Mall. What is the Mall’s purpose? Certainly, the National Park Service cannot define the Mall as encompassing only its jurisdiction as is currently the case, as diagrammed at right. For an in-depth explanation of the definition problem, visit our Research page.

  • Expand the boundaries of the Mall to create new, welcoming locations for museums and public events that are sure to come as future generations seek their place on the Mall. The Mall cannot be “complete” any more than American history is finished; already Congress has made exceptions for new museums and visitor centers that cover over more of the dwindling open space. View one proposal for expansion here.
  • Create comprehensive planning principles for future development of the whole Mall that respect the L’Enfant and McMillan legacy while also confronting unique modern problems and needs such as resilience, flooding and drought, intensive public use, visitor amenities. The historic plans did not anticipate modern needs.

    The National Park Service's Mall Plan treats each Memorial as a separate landscape; the Smithsonian and Kennedy Center have major plans to transform lands under their jurisdiction
    Current plans by the Smithsonian, National Park Service, and others are changing the Mall piecemeal, eroding the design and symbolic unity. CLICK to enlarge.
  • Bring to the table the eight Mall managing entities, as well as the myriad additional planning and plan review agencies, to work together on confirming common goals and principles for Mall planning and management. The American public can be given a meaningful role in these deliberations.
  • Make recommendations to Congress for unified governance for the Mall based on successful public-private models around the country and perhaps including a Joint Committee on the National Mall in Congress to bring together the 14 committees with Mall oversight.