Transit Tuesdays: Resurrecting the National Mall as a great public space

The National Mall is a public space in the midst of a renaissance, an historic bit of land that provokes more than a few opinions and attracts about 25 million tourists annually. It is absolutely iconic, but the Atlantic Cities condemned the long stretch of land as a "failed" public space this week. Here's Mark Byrnes' words on our Mall:

Although few will doubt its significance as well as its efficient layout, the Mall is in need of significant upgrades. More paved surfaces, bathroom facilities, and trash receptacles would help. A master plan for it has been approved and a design competition for sections of it has been announced.

Byrnes' criticism echoes that of others before him. The Project for Public Spaces features the Mall in its Hall of Shame, saying:

By virtue of its proximity to the nation's most prestigious cultural institutions, including the Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, and National Gallery of Art, the Mall is a part of most people's visits to the capitol. But each of these institutions is self-contained with very little presence on the Mall. And the Mall itself is sorely lacking in basic amenities, such as benches or other places to sit, that would encourage tourists, government workers, and residents to spend time in a place that ought to be enjoyed as a national treasure.

But as Byrnes points out, failure of the National Mall is hardly forever. It's especially fitting that, on the week the Atlantic Cities site dubs the Mall a failed space, news arrives that the Tourmobile is finally, as long predicted, going to die. Long live the 42-year-old Tourmobile. It's about time. I'll offer no eulogy for its many faults and welcome the changes that its demise heralds on the National Mall.


President Truman's Inauguration, 1949. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The National Mall has many plans for its improvement, and these fit into a broader tapestry of plans that the District has engaged in throughout recent years and across multiple agencies. WMATA is pouring billions into a multi-year effort to fix the Metro commuting system. The District Department of Transportation is in the process of repairing and rehabilitating many of the bridges that Transportation points to as "structurally deficient." On the horizon are streetcars, more bikeshare stations, and streetscaping. The National Park Service held its first town hall and has begun to concede ground to the more transit-oriented hopes for the city's public spaces. National treasures, from the Washington Monument to any of the Smithsonian museums to the buildings of government, fill the space. What's lacking is hardly the substance of the space; the devil is, for now, in the details of how we occupy the Mall.

Yes, it could use more bathrooms and should revise its transportation rules. But it's hardly a vast wasteland. Countless District residents venture to the Mall for its events and vibrant civic engagement. I recall Jazz in the Garden, watching Cool Hand Luke at Screen on the Green, and wandering the National Book Festival.

Is the Mall really a failure so much as a work in progress? NPS superintendent Bob Vogel acknowledged that both pedicabs and Capital Bikeshare will have a role in this new vision for what the National Mall will be. The space is evolving into the 21st-century and I'd hardly dismiss it, even its present state, quite so casually.

Elsewhere in the realms of transportation, urbanism, and real estate...

Walmart's ground is not so hallowed: The Historic Preservation Review Board ruled that the site of our city's first Walmart will not, in fact, be an historic one.

D.C. Council scandals don't bother foreign investors: "Foreign investors who visit real estate adviser Joel Coren uniformly savor the District’s growing population, increasing affluence and relatively stable jobs picture," the Post observes. "Scandal and dysfunction in the D.C. government never even come up."

Why the economies of the District and Detroit defy the odds: The housing markets have improved in both cities. Why? In both cases, the government's played a role, according to The Atlantic. "Both of these cities have single industries that account for a large portion their respective economies."

As if you weren't convinced D.C. is in the green...: 16 D.C.-area companies landed on Newsweek's list of 500 greenest companies in America.

What the District's prosperity looks like in Taiwanese animation: Thanks, Aaron Morrissey.

The ghost hotel of ol' Washington: NBC Washington reports on flickering lights and visions of ghosts in Woodley Park. Yes, it's Halloween week all right.

D.C. walks hard: Mapquest released a new tool in October that ranked the walkability of different cities' neighborhoods. I took a glance at the most and least pedestrian-friendly blocks in the District.

No one will pay $3.9 million for a Dupont Circle mansion: But will they pay $3.75 million as it's now listed? Time will tell. Take a look at the photos and consider what you think it's worth in our recession. Let's file this one under "hashtag 1% problems."

Repairs on the Chain Bridge are "substantially complete": And here you thought our bridges were in trouble. DDOT says it does not anticipate any more full closures.

Half smokes on H Street? The owners of Ben's Chili Bowl paid $900,000 for a property on H Street, according to Lydia DePillis.

Updates on the O and P Streets Rehabilitation Project: All is "on time and on budget" so far, reports Patch. If only the parking and construction were less stressful.

What's the deal with MetroAccess? A lot of riders and a lot of drivers aren't happy with the system, underscored by last week's town hall meetings.

"Get your cracker-ass off the road": Read the Prince of Petworth post on biking, driving, and the way racial tension rose to the surface in an instance of sharing the road here. It's up to nearly 300 comments. As if sharing the road wasn't already difficult enough without introducing racial slurs...

What unpaid parking tickets do to your credit score: It's not pretty, according to the Post.

Au revoir to an Anacostia resource: I'm sad to note that ANC commissioner David Garber is ceasing updates at his blog "And Now, Anacostia," which has provided a valuable resource on the transit and real estate of the blocks across the river for the past three years. "This isn't my goodbye to Anacostia," Garber writes in his final post.  "It's my recognition that at this stage, in order to be an effective advocate for anywhere, I can't be the voice for everywhere."

Read more daily transportation news at TBD On Foot.


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