Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DC's Newest Monument: Fair Housing?

Ahh, those unforgettable vistas that make Washington DC, Washington DC: the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument...and the Fair Housing Monument? Yes, if Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton realizes her entreaty to Congress to build a monument to the Fair Housing Act - "the last of the great civil rights acts." "Fair Housing and the movement to bring equal opportunity to the real estate market is intertwined with our nation's history. The federal government has been a part of the problem and an integral part of the solution" said Norton in a press release.

Sure, any DC visitor can tell you there are tributes to wars, presidents, generals and battles, but this appears to be the first memorial by the federal government to, well, itself. If Norton finds support, the battle will still be a long one, with Congress having anticipated frivolous monument building by instituting a bureaucracy as a shield, a stop-us-before-we-commemorate-again approach. The National Capitol Planning Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission are the three federal agencies responsible for the location and design of any new "commemorative works" on federal land.

Dues for the National Association of Realtors are funding the effort, 100% of which will be paid by the NAR and its dues paying members. H.R. 3425, sponsored by Norton, authorizes the Fair Housing Commemorative Foundation to raise funds for construction and design. If the thought of another memorial in place of a ballfield dismays you, there is no cause for immediate alarm. While staff at Norton's office says the bill will be pushed vigorously in September, and may be ready for mark up by then, it still has to make it through Congress, then through a 24 step process controlled by the various commissions. Of course, the Lobsterman Memorial and Titanic Memorial, both in Southwest, show that there are holes in that safety net.

According to Lisa McSpadden, Director of the Office of Public Affairs of NCPC, the average time for a memorial to go from bill to built is 10 years, mostly due to funding, a large majority of which must be in place before construction can proceed. McSpadden says that the applicant for the memorial typically selects a site and presents the request to the commissions, which then 'guide' the process of design and siting, at which point the memorial becomes inevitable, barring a lack of funding.

At least there may be one new make out spot, unless that's just too creepy.


David Alpert on Aug 25, 2009, 3:42:00 PM said...

There are a lot of memorials not on the Mall. In fact, Congress's policy is not to locate new memorials on the Mall, though they periodically violate that.

This would presumably be nothing like the Lincoln and Jefferson. Most likely this memorial would be at some other plaza in the city, not replacing a ballfield.

Good memorials don't have to take away. The Navy Memorial, for example, is also a great public plaza. It enhances the ability of people to interact with the city there, rather than detracting from it.

If DC gets this memorial, hopefully it would similarly enhance the city (in the spirit of the FHA, as well).

Ken on Aug 25, 2009, 4:11:00 PM said...


Thanks for the comment. No, as the article noted, it doesn't have to be on the Mall, it could be on other federal land, and Congress is not necessarily going to be in charge of its location, as the 3 commissions get involved and help determine many aspects of the memorial.

Anonymous said...

Oh for cryin' out loud. It was bad enough when I lost my baseball field to the mega-Roosevelt memorial, but this is just plain stupid. Does a memorial really make people feel better about things - I mean, even a good memorial? Pretty soon we will need a memorial for the city and what it used to look like.

Anonymous said...

A memorial is a nice place to go, just like a ballfield.

If more people go there to enjoy it, it's probably better then a ballfield.

Anonymous said...

We can't even maintain the public space we have now. I'm also sure most NAR members would rather see their dues work for them in other ways. Agents have just gone through several really tough years, but their costs have remained the same or escalated. This seems ridiculous given the economy. Bad timing.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree! This is a waste of time and money. Since when do we go around making memorials to specific laws??? Maybe we should have a memorial to the "Miranda rights", or better yet...let's build a memorial to the 21st Amendment (repeal of Prohibition) WooHoo!!! Yeah BOOZE! Lets' all gather round the memorial every December 5 and have cocktails; praising the Almighty that we can still have a good time at Happy Hour!

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