Sunday, April 26, 2009

"America's Front Yard" Gets Stimulated


While the Associated Press reports that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar directed $55.8 million in federal stimulus money to restoration of the National Mall this past Earth Day, plans for making over America's designated spot for both protest and play have been brewing for quite a some time. The National Parks Service (NPS) - the government agency tasked with overseeing all things Mall-related - recently released the details of their Preliminary Preferred Plan for the 309 acre site and it envisions a few nip-tucks that (gasp) may actually require some demolition.

On that note, NPS calling is calling for both the National Sylvan Theater and Capitol Reflecting Pool (not, as they are quick to point out, the iconic Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool) to be razed. While the latter would simply be replaced by another “water feature,” the Sylvan Theater – which hosts annual Military Band Summer Concert Series and the occasional fair-weather rally - would make way for a “multipurpose entertainment facility,” full details of which have yet to be disclosed. Union Square at the Mall's eastern end would also undergo a redesign, while the deteriorating District of Columbia War and Ulysses S. Grant Memorials would get the old toothbrush and brass polish treatment. Reps for the Department of the Interior also repeatedly emphasized the need to for restoration of the Jefferson Memorial’s sea wall, which spokesman Hugh Vickery described as “crumbling” against an ever encroaching Tidal Basin.

Not to be outdone by Salazar’s show of Earth Day bravado, the National Capital Planning Commission’s (NCPC) “Blue Ribbon Panel” of landscape architects has also released its critique of NPS’ plan for the Mall. While praising the restoration maneuvers as a “heroic effort,” they repeatedly refer to the site as both “America’s Front Yard” and an “international embarrassment.” Informed by the latter, they support “a standing ban on any new memorials or museums not already in planning stages (read: the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Eisenhower Memorial) and call for the relocation of tourist services off-site – citing the long-vacant Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building as prime contender.

To carry out these long-term goals of both the federal government and the NCPC, NPS has enlisted the aid of architects Wallace Roberts & Todd LLC and landscape architects DHM Design Corporation to outline their proposed modifications. With each contributor bringing their own roll of red tape to the table, could this be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen? There’s no telling at this point, but the renovation procedures could begin as early as this coming August.

Correction: The "Blue Ribbon Panel" mentioned above as extension of NCPC is, in fact, an "independent initiative" of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Says Stephen Staudigl, NCPC Public Affairs Specialist:

ASLA took the lead to establish the Blue Ribbon Panel that included members from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Institute of Architects and the American Planning Association...NCPC supports some of the ASLA panel’s key findings, such as the National Park Service’s “heroic” effort to improve the National Mall based on the public’s call for improved conditions and better services.

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