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The Future of the National Mall

The National Mall in Washington, DC has 20 million visitors each year. It is the site of kickball, Frisbee, picnics, festivals, protests, and even historic speeches like the one given by Martin Luther King, Jr.

When Pierre L’Enfant designed the layout of Washington, DC in 1791, he envisioned the National Mall as a large, open space extending to the Capitol. During the 19th century, the Mall was covered with vegetation and grazing sheep. Then in the 20th century, the McMillan Plan decided to make the Mall a more ordered landscape to “celebrate the fact that this was the capital of this young nation and that it was grand in scale and orderly,” according to Roger Lewis, an architect who writes for The Washington Post and is professor emeritus at the University of Maryland.

The National Mall has been the site of major events like the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Solar Decathlon, and National Book Festival. But the crowds for these types of events make it difficult for the National Park Service to upgrade and maintain the existing landscape. So these large festivals may no longer be allowed in the green space. There have been suggestions to move these events to hardened areas under trees or expand the Mall to places like East Potomac Park.

Judy Scott Feldman, founder and chair of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, believes that we can combine the desires of various groups for the Mall into a single solution. DC and the federal government would like to get tour busses off the streets to reduce traffic, pollution, and visual obstructions. Local area visitors, who do not live near the Metro, would like to be able to easily find parking when they drive to the city. Government agencies also want irrigation cisterns and flood control.  The three desires (bus parking, car parking, and irrigation) can be merged into a single solution -- an underground Mall parking garage with a visitor center and toilets.

Feldman says, “Like so many cities throughout the world, we would be inviting and welcoming our visitors to the National Mall, to the museums, to our sacred spaces there, but at the same time, hiding the buses, the pollution and so on underground.” She believes that the project can be accomplished through a public-private partnership.

We’ll have to wait and see if this underground project comes to fruition and changes the landscape of the National Mall once again.

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