The Washington Post has been running a series of interesting articles about the deterioration of "America's front yard," Washington D.C.'s National Mall. The grounds surrounding the monuments and tidal basin are National Park Service property, and the service says they're owed more than $350 million in maintenance fees. Which means that if you wander the Mall you'll find rusty toilet fixtures, cracked pavement, dusty lawns, algae-filled reflecting pools, and a host of other signs of wear and tear. (I know, I've seen most of these things myself.) More than 25 million visitors come to the Mall each year–that's more than the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite parks combined–but there are only 100 toilets, 54 rangers, and three places to buy water. Though the monuments still inspire, their surrounding environs are less than impressive.
A few groups have sprung up to help address these concerns. The Trust for the National Mall is working to raise funds and refurbish the space, using a model similar to that of the Central Park Conservancy, which revitalized New York City's grand backyard after years of disuse. They launched last month and are working to raise over $500 million in donations (right now there's a volunteer section on the Trust's website, but no information on how to donate your time quite yet). And the Mall Conservancy is seeking to expand the boundaries of the Mall for future exhibitions and museums, and help in the long-term planning efforts to revitalize the space. A bunch of task forces have been formed to create a National Mall Day, improve the quality of visitor and welcome centers, and promote performance and art activities. Their site has a great section about the Mall's history, and a variety of proposals for taking Pierre L'Enfant's plan into it's third century.
All I can say is: Amen. I got to enjoy the efforts of the Central Park Conservancy during my time in New York, but it will be a long time before I pack a blanket and head down to the Mall. Besides being overrun with people, there are too few amenities to make it an enjoyable excursion. You go there with a mission in mind: See the cherry blossoms, visit the Smithsonian, or if you're one of the many D.C. leagues, to play in a softball game. But hopefully with these efforts, I can start feeling like it's my own little front yard.
What are your impressions of the National Mall? What do you think can be done to make it better?
Photo: courtesy of the National Coalition to Save our Mall