IF TOURISTS AND suburbanites attracted into Washington by the fireworks this Fourth of July could be enticed off the Mall to see how this city is enhanced by its lesser monuments, they could take home more than snapshots. They could take back the idea of using such monuments to help glue their own neighborhoods together making each one more than a bedroom community by giving each a central focus.
There are suburbs all over this country zhat could benefit by following in the urban design footsteps of Washington's Dupont or Logan Circles.
However, much more is involved here than just plugging statues into traffic islands beside the neighborhood McDonald's or Safeway. Gen. McClellan has been sitting on his bronze horse at Connecticut and Columbia Road for years without bringing any greater identity to his surroundings.
His problem is that of having a poor address: he was put between neighborhoods, rather than in the middle of one. Further, the street patterns there do not point as unerringly toward him as they do for his fellow soldier, Logan, whose bronze horse stands at the very center of the crossing of Rhode Island and Vermont Avenues and 13th and P.
Besides, poor McClellan was put in a triangle made bulbous by the Hilton Hotel's vast driveway, rather than in a simple circle or square such as public spaces require. That is one reason the scheme to erect a big arch honoring the Navy at Market Square was recently rejected. It was to take over Pennsylvania Avenue NW from 7th to 9th, transforming it from a square into an octagon so fiercely irregular as to look more like a back yard than a public space.
Sometimes it doesn't take a statue at all. Mt. Pleasant is a Washington neighborhood focused on a public space little more than a leftover at the confluence of Mt. Pleasant and 17th Streets near the east entrance to the National Zoo. But this "leftover" is a simple geometric form, and all the streets important to this neighborhood intersect here. Besides, there are bus routes that end here, causing buses to carry the neighborhood's name like a banner through other areas.
Georgetown, for that matter, has nothing more of a landmark than a bank's small gold dome at its major intersection, 34th and M. But the Potomac River, Rock Creek Park, and extraordinary property costs separte Georgetown so abruptly from the rest of the city that this neighborhood doesn't need a powerful rallying point at its center.
Most neighborhoods, especially suburban ones, are not as fortunate as Georgetown in terms of edge definition, and it's now too late to give our older neighborhoods such sharp edges. However, it is not too late to add monuments.
I had a chance to develop this premise through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to explore how Washington's grander assets might be copied to good effect in other residential area.
What works here, and so well as to be worthy of emulation even by our newer suburban neighborhoods, is the way Washington's smaller monuments and monumental spaces help buttress a neighborhood's sense of identity by giving it a greater visual and symbolic focus.
Washington has so many different monumental forms that there is at least one model for every neighborhood, whatever the layout.
Three local suburban neighborhoods have been picked to show this. Each was selected as now lacking a strong focus, and as having different needs for one. No attempt was made to name who or what should be honored by the demonstration's monuments. Instead, the emphasis was on picking the best location in each neighborhood for organizing a monumental form. The sketches, prepared with the help of my associate, Mark McInturff, show only one of many ways each adaptation can be made. Monument at a Crossroads
Silver Spring is a city with its center at a crossroads. This is where Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road bring piles of traffic together, and where buildings of every size, shape and color add to the general disarry. But this is also where Silver Spring is most lively -- where shops, apartments, offices and restaurants are all to be found.
The success of Dupont Circle in making a monument at the crossroads of Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and 19th, can be followed by giving Silver Spring a monumental circular space. It is too late to use buildings and roadways -- as was done at Dupont Circle -- to form a space so powerful as to dominate disarray.
But, a large circular monument could be inserted right at Colesville and Georgia, and the space it forms could be softened with trees as at Dupont Circle. This structure could help take the focus off raggedy traffic and raggedy skylines and, instead, put it on the center of this city and on the liveliness found there.
Some other Dupont Circle assets could also be adapted for Silver Spring, assets such as benches and a fountain. Careful siting of this monument and fountain could avoid having to push aside existing buildings, although some of the monument's legs might step on gas station pavings. Any new buildings that are put up in the future to replace gas stations could then reflect the monument's basic circle, as the sketch shows. Monument at a Main Street
College Park is another Maryland city, one picked as an example of a center strung along a single street. This is where a bunch of shops and the turnoff to City Hall can all be found, and this is where the University of Maryland has one of its principal entrances. Despite the importance of this stretch, the most gripping visual feature here is the paving. Lots of paving, halted only by a loose clutter of store fronts. The very heart of College Park looks like the back door of a shopping center.
This Main Street could benefit by taking some tipssfrom one of Washington's monumental streets, Connecticut Avenue just above Dupont Circle. There, trees run along both sides and down the center of the Avenue, breaking up the scale of the pavings.
The facades of the older buildings north of Dupont Circle are of a similar width, giving an orderly rhythm to the edges of the street space. Trees and rhythm both soften the impact of heavy traffic and help tie together all the signs and shop fronts that make this an active and lively commercial area.
One way to adapt this precedent for College Park is to remake it as a monumental trellis running on both sides of U.S. 1, crossing it to form ends for a three-block central area, a size similar to the Connecticut Avenue precedent.
The trellis can offer both foliage and rhythm, and its leafy frieze can hold signs while its high points hold street lights. The foliage is shown growing from brick planters designed as extensions of the university's nearby walls. And, as at Connecticut Avenue, the tangle of utility wires is put underground and out of sight. Monument at a Gridiron
Rosslyn looks like just another clumsy bunch of Virginia high-rises when seen from across the Potomac in Washington. These high-rises are arranged around neither street nor crossroads, but are instead more or less evenly strewn upon a gridiron of streets.
Rosslyn was picked as a demonstration because it could exploit, in a new way, the monumental nature of Washington's overlay of avenues on a gridiron of streets. At its best, this overlay sets up avenues to connect significant places the way Connecticut Avenue connects Dupont Circle and Farragut Square.
Rosslyn needs some such connective feature for all the people who live, work and shop here. Its gridiron of streets can move cars through town by the thousands, but it does nothing to help pedestrians get from place to place.
Rosslyn already has a piece of overlay on its gridiron, but it is only a primitive beginning. This overlay is now a couple of pedestrian overpasses that give occasional access to second-floor shops and vistas of the Potomac.
They also offer relief from dreary high-rise walls that turn the gridiron of streets into lifeless canyons. This overlay could be vastly enlarged to give far more access for those who walk in Rosslyn and to give far more visual relief.
A piece of the overlay could be made monumental. It could run from the top of the hill where houses and trees begin, down to the Potomac where freeways and chain-link fences now cut off a bridge to Roosevelt Island.
This overlay could, like Washington's monumental avenues, be planted with trees. It could have flowering vines, too, and even boulders, so as to be an overlay of nature on Rosslyn's arid gridiron, making the monument a passage for life, as well as for people.
Entrances could be put all along the special overlay, with a couple of entrances made major by having small aviaries or zoological exhibits. After all, the camels don't all have to be in the zoo.
It is important that none of these demonstrations be taken as the only way to buoy up these neighborhoods with monumental forms. Laying a monumental nature path across Rosslyn is but one way to add a lively focus to all those bright, barren facades.
It is also important to note that neither Washington nor the rest of the country has used up all the subjects fit for monumental honor. We still have people and events well worth such public commemmoration.
But, whether future monuments are large or small, realistic or abstract, we should endeavor to use more of them to help our neighborhoods gain strong reference points, rather than just to pack more and more monuments in and around Washington's Mall where they can centralize honor, but where they can be of no constructive use to our cities.