A Dec. 10 editorial incorrectly said that John V. Cogbill III, chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, was attending a meeting at the Corcoran Gallery of Art when he said, "We consider the Mall a finished work of civic art." Mr. Cogbill did not attend that meeting; the comment was made at a meeting of the National Capital Planning Commission and did not reflect his view of plans to expand the Mall's boundaries. (Published 12/19/2005)
AMEETING THIS week at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, hosted by the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, elicited ideas for redesigning and expanding the Mall that stretch the imagination. That was the purpose of the gathering: to begin thinking seriously about future demands and limitations on the Mall and the possibility of expanding this premium national treasure through the acquisition of more space. One seemingly discordant note in an otherwise upbeat session was sounded by John V. Cogbill III, chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission, who said on behalf of his organization: "We consider the Mall a finished work of civic art." We hope that does not signal a closed mind. The Mall, part of the Washington landscape since the 19th century, has not been static but rather an evolving and dynamic public promenade for the nation.
The National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts are rightly concerned with the requirement to find space for congressionally approved memorials and museums. But Pierre L'Enfant's plan for Washington never envisioned the Mall as real estate to house only icons. A formal park with fountains was more what he had in mind. But conditions and opportunities changed, as did the role of the Mall in national life. There was no thought of a Lincoln Memorial or a western axis of the Mall when the Washington Monument was erected. Neither were there plans to honor the sacrifice of this country's war veterans. They represented bold changes from the original plan of Washington. Could the Mall be on the verge of another rethinking and, if so, in which direction?
That, in our view, is the benefit of the forum that took place this week. The ideas put forward -- soaring waterfront museums; marinas; water taxis; inland canals; conversion of East Potomac Park with recreation, plazas and beaches -- certainly would put a new face on the seat of national government and the District of Columbia. Would they also add to the beautification and renewal of the nation's capital and complement the architecture and landscape already there? These are not questions to shy away from. They should be embraced and explored.