Park Service Seeks Ideas for a Mall Makeover

The Park Service wants to put a welcoming face on the Mall, home to the Lincoln Memorial, visited by Kayleah Corral, 4, and her brother, Devin, 3.
The Park Service wants to put a welcoming face on the Mall, home to the Lincoln Memorial, visited by Kayleah Corral, 4, and her brother, Devin, 3. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Mall needs a facelift, and the National Park Service wants Americans to recommend a new look for the historic space, worn and tattered by 25 million visitors every year.

A nationwide effort, officially launched today, will begin with a symposium this month and an interactive Web site that will ask people across the country who have opinions on the Mall's 600 acres to register them online. The suggestions will be culled into a report and action plan next year.

The initiative is the first time in 100 years that the planning and future of the national space will be revisited.

Officials acknowledge that the nation's front yard does not present a welcoming face.

Tourists often complain about the lack of restrooms, restaurants, visitor information and parking, as well as bald spots on the lawn, rusty benches and cracked pavement.

"We'll be the first to admit, the appearance does not match its significance," said Vikki Keys, superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks for the National Park Service.

In addition to attracting millions of tourists and demonstrators, the Mall is also the preferred address for dozens of monuments, memorials and museums. Federal officials have tried to encourage pocket parks and intersections throughout the city as future sites for dozens of projects waiting in the wings, but the quandary is that everyone wants to be on the Mall.

Architects, planners, historians and tourists will be among those asked to suggest a future look and feel for the Mall: Should it be about formal gardens and fountains, or baseball games, gift shops and hot dog stands?

The Mall serves many purposes: It is the equivalent of Paris's fabled gardens of the Tuileries, the political gathering space of Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the open space of London's Hyde Park, the sports haven of New York's Central Park and the museum row of any international city.

Trying to meet all these demands in one space can create a park that is frayed, unable to handle the crowds and not true to its iconic nature.

The Park Service hopes to learn from the public and from the way other cities handle the challenges. At least one city limits public demonstrations to areas with a hard surface, to avoid the stampede that kills the Mall's green space, said Susan Spain, a planner hired by the Park Service to shepherd the Mall planning effort.

The last time the nation formally rethought the concept was in 1901, when the Mall was a stretch of land between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.

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