A Small Start on Sprucing Up the Mall
Sunday, May 3, 2009
The Interior Department's plan to set aside $76.8 million in stimulus funds to repair and restore the Mall is good news, for the Mall desperately needs help.
Unfortunately, $76.8 million is not enough.
Much of this money will go to the stagnating Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, the sinking sidewalks near the Jefferson Memorial in which ducks and fish can swim at high tide, and the rotting District of Columbia War Memorial, where I once saw a tree growing out of the memorial's domed roof. These repairs are all vital, but really, the whole Mall needs a makeover. Even the casual visitor can see what is wrong.
Among other things, just a stone's throw from Congress itself, the sidewalks around the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial pool are crumbling. It makes quite a spectacle for the tourist, the Capitol looming up in the distance, and broken stone at one's feet.
The pool at Constitution Gardens needs just as much help as its neighbor, the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool. In the summer, both pools turn a poisonous-looking green, like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft horror story. The immense blooms of algae and assorted filth create islands of multicolored floating gunk. The odor is indescribable, or at least this writer hopes it is. During one recent summer, the Constitution Gardens pool was half covered over with gunk.
Perhaps most disturbing, and in spite of its 1998-2000 restoration, the Washington Monument is getting that crumbly, dirty look again. Many of the repair patches have fallen out. Water still seeps in during rainstorms, a problem throughout most of its history.
From the top of the monument, visitors can see the worn-away grass and the mud flats on the Mall near the museums. The brown spots pepper the once-green pasture, in some places covering larger areas than the surviving grass. Nearby, across from the Agriculture Department buildings, much of the gravel covering of the sidewalks has worn or blown away, showing the original concrete sidewalks underneath.
Can't the government afford to do more?
The Mall is often called "the nation's front yard." If it really is, the federal government ought to take a bit more pride in maintaining it.
The writer works for the National Park Service.