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We Don't Have to Live in a Fortress of Fear

Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page B08

The most noticeable security response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been the appearance of Jersey barriers, large planters and drainage structures in front of important buildings in towns and cities across the nation. These measures, intended to stop vehicle attacks, were temporary, we were told, until more permanent and attractive barriers could be designed.

But as we approach the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, renewed threats have sent federal officials scrambling to close more roads and sidewalks with even more makeshift barriers. We've seen checkpoints and rooftop snipers -- all in the name of public safety. Many of us feel as though our civic values are being trampled. In the words of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, we feel we are living in "fortresses of fear."

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Law enforcement and first responders shouldn't be going it alone on security issues. They should be joining with public officials, developers and business owners to implement permanent, effective and visually appealing security solutions. If the preventive measures are not coordinated among all affected parties, problems with the response are likely if an incident does occur.

Security plans can be compatible with functionality and can respect the beauty and accessibility of the public realm. They also can address the safety of the community at large, not just in those areas that are the focus of intelligence reports. Security plans can be flexible enough to respond to varying levels of threat, providing more protection in times of heightened danger and being scaled back as warranted.

The temporary measures we are employing come with high costs attached. The physical barriers are expensive to install and remove repeatedly. The additional personnel to control these restricted access points often require overtime and deployment away from normal areas of patrol, too. We need to stop wasting money on stopgaps and make the long-term investment in good, permanent security design.

Retrofitting facilities and sites to improve security will continue to be a high priority, and security will be a critical component of large new public and private projects. But security design and good design are not mutually exclusive. The simplest solutions are often hiding in plain sight.

For example, the most likely terrorist plan would involve a truck bomb, but the best defense against such an attack is not the all-too-familiar bollard. Other, more integrated deterrents include:

• Trees surrounded by tree guards.

• "Hardened" or reinforced street furniture, such as benches, lighting, kiosks, bus shelters and signs.

• Raised planters and landscaped planting walls at heights that allow people to sit on them.

• Wider sidewalks.

All of these familiar amenities can be blended into an aesthetically pleasing streetscape that improves security without making the site a forbidding fortress.

Two projects under construction in Washington provide ideas for communities across the country that want to improve security without sacrificing ambiance.

Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to traffic in the mid-1990s through the use of precast barriers, planters and bollards. Now, it is being transformed into a grand civic space by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The temporary barriers are being replaced with tree plantings, hardened site furnishings and retractable, removable and fixed bollards. The design preserves the roadbed should the decision to close the street ever be reversed. Officials expect construction to be complete for the 2005 inaugural parade.

At the Washington Monument, an innovative design by Olin Partnership will prevent the approach of unauthorized vehicles by incorporating retaining walls into new pathways. The British have used this method effectively for centuries to contain livestock and refer to the sunken fences as ha-has.

The design for the Washington Monument also incorporates granite benches, about 800 shade and flowering trees, and a new lighting system.

The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said the design of federal buildings "must provide visual testimony to the dignity, enterprise, vigor and stability of the American government." He was right. We can secure our cities without turning them into armed camps. By working together, we can build a legacy that faithfully represents the values of our democratic society and protects our individual freedom.

-- Leonard J. Hopper

is a past president

of the American Society

of Landscape Architects.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company