In order to plan intelligently for the future, we need to clearly understand the Mall’s long-term problems and needs. The National Mall Coalition, after 15 years of participating in the public consultation process for new museums and other development, has identified and researched in greater depth some important matters, including longstanding, unresolved flooding problems; confusion and disagreement over how we define the Mall physical boundaries and civic purpose; the unfinished Washington Monument Grounds. We have shared our research with project sponsors and government planners and review agencies to raise awareness so we can all collaborate on finding solutions.
Flooding That Threatens Our Nation’s Public Buildings and Cultural Resources
The 2006 flood that devastated the Federal Triangle and Mall areas was the latest in a long history of dramatic District flood events documented since the 1800s. In fact, the Mall faces two different flooding threats — river flooding and stormwater (interior) flooding — due to significant changes to Tiber Creek and the Potomac and Anacostia rivers shorelines since 1793.
Our research into the history of Mall flooding, the ongoing flood threat, and post-Hurricane-Katrina FEMA maps illustrating Washington’s flood situation is illustrated in the brief PDF “Devastating Floods” presentation above right.
To see additional recent data on Washington’s flood threat, visit the National Mall Underground website.
Confusion and Disagreement Over Defining Mall Boundaries
One of the most serious threats to the integrity of the National Mall is, astonishingly enough, the lack of any agreed-upon definition. What public buildings, monuments, museums, open spaces are part of the Mall? Government agencies don’t agree. In fact, government definitions currently in use do not even agree with the 1791 L’Enfant Plan and the 1902 McMillan Plan, even though those visionary plans are the historic blueprints for the Mall Americans know and cherish today. We have researched and documented the Mall definition problem. Click here or on the photo at left to review a 44-slide-illustrated presentation of the problem and proposed solutions.
As our presentation illustrates, the National Register of Historic Places — the official register of historic properties in the United States administered by the National Park Service — provides multiple and conflicting definitions. Recognizing the inadequacy of the National Register documentation in 2012, the Park Service agreed to revise those reports. But four years later, these records — which are crucial to historic preservation review of Mall development — have not been released to the public. How can we plan for this nationally significant symbolic landscape and public open space when we cannot even agree on what and where it is?
The Unfinished Washington Monument Grounds: History, Problems, Opportunities
The 65 acres surrounding the Washington Monument were never improved as intended by the McMillan Commission due to accidents of history, concerns about the stability of the Washington Monument foundation, and, in recent years, inadequate planning. Instead of a welcoming oasis and “gem of the Mall system,” the vast, empty expanse is a desert in summer and tundra in winter. To educate participants in our 2010-2012 National Ideas Competition for the Washington Monument Grounds about this history, we created a Resource section in Competition website with a host of historical documents including plans, maps, historical photographs, geotechnical studies, and a video and PowerPoint presentation of the entire history of the National Mall and the Monument grounds. These documents and studies are relevant to any future planning for the Mall.