Fred Hiatt's Nov. 1 op-ed, "Capital Eyesore," about the visual blight that has overtaken Washington's monumental core in the name of security, mentioned the National Building Museum exhibition "Washington: Symbol and City." The exhibition brochure says that the capital's great buildings, memorials and parks continue to "evoke the ideals of democracy in the 21st century." Mr. Hiatt called this a "lie," citing the Jersey barriers, fences and other anti-terrorist detritus that litter the city's dignified landscape. He argued that by inhibiting reasonable public access to major national landmarks, such disruptive tokens of homeland security are inimical to our nation's democratic principles.

I share his view of the disturbing and ultimately unnecessary disfigurement of the cityscape. In the context of our exhibition, however, the brochure's statement holds true. As its title indicates, "Washington: Symbol and City" is about the junctures -- and conflicts -- that result from the city's dual status as an icon of democratic government and a working metropolis. The exhibition examines points throughout the city's history in which the struggle between ideals and reality has come to a head. It is because our major public structures and places so profoundly evoke the ideals of democracy that their enchainment seems so tragic.

I hope that long before this exhibition closes or its companion brochure is reprinted, the streets, parks and monuments of Washington again will be open and accessible to the millions of citizens who come every year to experience their capital.


Executive Director

National Building Museum


In June 2000 Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called attention to the growing aesthetic damage to the grounds of the Capitol. His focus was the growth in above-ground parking. On the Senate floor, he reminded his colleagues of the history of the McMillan Commission and the need to restore a parklike setting to the Capitol grounds, championing the vision of Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and, before them, Pierre L'Enfant. "Washington and Jefferson might be disappointed at the affliction now imposed on much of the Capitol Grounds by the automobile," he said.

Mr. Moynihan's Arc of Park legislation sought to remove the parking and return to the original landscape design. Today, though, the grounds of the Capitol are a haphazard frenzy of guard booths, concrete planters, Jersey barriers and bollards.

On Nov. 27, 2001, at the National Building Museum symposium "Freedom Without Fortresses: Shaping the New Secure Environment," Mr. Moynihan noted that "architecture is inescapably a political art and it reports faithfully for ages to come what the political values of a particular age were. . . . Surely ours must be openness and fearlessness in the face of those who hide in the darkness. A precaution, yes, sequester, no."

Yet we are allowing Washington's federal buildings -- the symbols of our democracy -- to be transformed into walled encampments.

To their credit, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton have resisted the excessive security measures imposed by the Secret Service and the Capitol Police. They know that visitors to the nation's capital do not want to see barricades and paramilitary forces.

If Mr. Moynihan were in the Senate today, he would not permit this desecration to continue. But where are the Pat Moynihans in today's Congress? Washington and Jefferson would surely be disappointed to see what we have done to the Capitol. Mr. Moynihan would be appalled.



The writer was chief of staff to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan from 1996 to 2000 and was communications director for Mayor Anthony A. Williams from July 2001 to August 2004.