At first blush, a proposed policy change calling for new memorials and national museums to be located outside the traditional Monumental Core is an attempt to preserve the integrity of the L'Enfant plan.
But the draft policy statement on the subject is also part of a significant economic-development initiative.
The draft statement, which was released yesterday by a joint task force on memorials, is intended to place strict limits on development on the Mall and in adjacent areas. The statement calls for new monuments, memorials and museums to be built in strategic locations in other areas of the city, primarily in the North Capitol, South Capitol and East Capitol street corridors, including the Anacostia River waterfront.
The proposal will no doubt spark considerable debate during the public comment period, which ends two months from now. But the concept in general is an idea that's long overdue in coming to fruition. There could be more memorials than trees on and adjacent to the Mall if every group that wants to memorialize an individual or event had its way.
But with the last memorial site on the Mall having been determined, locations for 12 new museums and as many as 60 new memorials and monuments must be found elsewhere in the District, the National Capital Planning Commission noted in a report three years ago.
Thus the NCPC, the National Capital Memorial Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts are proposing the new policy governing the locations of cultural and commemorative structures.
If approved, the policy statement will form the basis for a master plan to be developed by the NCPC in cooperation with the other two commissions.
But would building memorials and museums outside the Monumental Core encourage economic development, as the joint task force suggests?
Certainly the potential is there for that to occur. This proposal could in fact be one of the more significant initiatives in economic development and community revitalization in the District.
"Distributing civic and cultural attractions throughout Washington within a planned framework will benefit our neighborhoods and provide substantial local economic opportunities, while protecting the city's historic open space and sweeping vistas," Margaret Vanderhye, a member of the NCPC and chairman of the joint task force, said in a prepared statement.
Vanderhye nonetheless cautioned against the presumption that a change in policies on memorial locations will automatically trigger economic development in a community. The public will have an opportunity during the 60-day comment period to say whether the concept will benefit communities, she noted. But the policy change "could serve as a catalyst" for community development and give visitors a "sense of destination" beyond the Monumental Core, Vanderhye said during an interview.
Whether the public agrees or not, the concept is far-reaching in its implications. It embodies the kind of long-range planning that could help expand the District's economy. Besides, the proposed policy on memorial locations would complement if not strengthen current efforts by city officials and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce to encourage tourists to visit cultural and historic attractions beyond the Monumental Core and the downtown area.
The idea of placing memorials in strategic locations is actually part of the central theme in "Extending the Legacy: Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century," an ambitious but compelling report that the NCPC unveiled three years ago.
Described as a framework for guiding future planning, "Extending the Legacy" suggests that new memorials, museums and other public buildings be part of a plan to stimulate economic development in the nation's capital.
What began as a federal facilities study eventually produced a vision for an expanded Monumental Core, based on a collaborative effort involving government agencies, community groups and a team of prominent architects, urban designers and transportation planners.
And unlike earlier plans, the NCPC explained, " 'Extending the Legacy' goes beyond the Mall and the ceremonial enclaves and expands the definition of 'federal interest' to include adjacent neighborhoods, waterfronts, parks and gateways."
"Extending the Legacy's" collaborators recommended, for example, that the federal government, in concert with the D.C. government and the private sector, create a development corporation to fund and coordinate planning and development projects for specific areas of the city.
Creators of the "Legacy" vision further proposed that federal buildings include shops, restaurants and other public activities that stimulate street life and that memorial sponsors consider sites throughout the District, including Poplar Point on the east bank of the Anacostia River.
Ambitious though it may be, "Extending the Legacy" is not only a viable framework for planning new memorial and museum sites. It also offers a sound strategy for stimulating economic development in the nation's capital.
Like the draft statement on memorials, "Legacy" obviously needs some fine-tuning. But elected officials and civic and business leaders in the District would be remiss if they didn't at least support the thrust of each.