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Fred Hiatt

Let the Mall Grow

By Fred Hiatt
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page A19

The Mall is close to full. The next would-be stakeholder, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, should and probably will find a choice spot. But no one believes there won't be more museums and monuments clamoring for space. As history unspools, Americans will want to commemorate it, and the Mall will be their first choice.

This dilemma may seem to have only two outcomes, both undesirable. More and more structures could be crammed onto the Mall, to its detriment. Or worthy projects could be forced to accept what their proponents consider second-class addresses.


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There is another way, however: The Mall could grow. If this sounds outlandish, remember that it's happened before. The Mall used to end at the Washington Monument. In 1901-02, the McMillan Plan called for extending the Mall south and west by filling in part of the river. Doubters predicted that no one would venture into the new swampland. But over the century the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Constitution Gardens have proven the "new" Mall reasonably popular.

The National Mall Third Century Initiative, a program of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, a nonprofit advocacy group, says the Mall could grow again for the 21st century -- this time by reengineering not the riverbank but our concept of the Mall. Let it swing around through East Potomac Park, across a new bridge or two over the Washington Channel and east to South Capitol Street, taking advantage of redevelopment planned for that gateway avenue and around the new baseball stadium.

People will come up with reasons why it can't work, and many would resist being the first to settle on the newest "new" Mall. But the possibilities are exciting: fabulous new sites for dramatic architecture, incentives for circular sightseeing routes, new potential for the riverfront. "It's not a design, not a plan, but an idea," says Judy Scott Feldman, president of the coalition. Let a thousand concepts bloom.

fredhiatt@washpost.com


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