THE TALL SHIPS, Arthur Fiedler, fireworks on the Mall, the spectacular Metro mixup that made hikers out of so many of us in the nation's capital -- the personal memories of that extra-glorious Bicentennial four years ago are back in mind as America chalks up Birthday No. 204. Remember all the ambitious plans, designs and programs for civic betterment that were to spring from state and local initiatives? The days leading up to mid-1976 were heady ones -- times of redoubled exploration and national rediscovery. But when the day and the year had passed, many of these ventures would end up undone or not nearly so dramatic as originally envisioned -- usually in direct relationship to their price tags.

In this city, coping with the limits of abundance has now meant killing what many Washingtonians had hoped would be one of the best local Bicentennial projects -- something of lasting value that would have had a positive and enduring impact on all sections of the city. So quietly did it fade away that the official decision to abandon the project wound up as a brief news item under the heading "In Short" on Page 4 of The Post's District Weekly section: "District officials, after spending more than $4 million on preliminary work, have abandoned plans to turn Kingman Island into a children's park."

And what a park that "National Children's Island" was to have been -- a recreational heaven in a part of town that is woefully deficient in things for young people to do. The 46-acre island area in the Anacostia River was to have contained a theater, playgrounds, nature areas and other amusements; and it was to have served as a model for other modern parks. Today there are two bridges linking the two small islands with the river bank, 100 cherry trees donated by the Japanese Embassy and an administration building and a playhouse that have been deteriorating for two years and that will be demolished.

No, this will not be a Fourth-of-July call to keep faith and revitalize the project. The times that have been a-changing certainly knock this venture well off the screen, what with the District's financial problems, the state of the national economy and various urgent local concerns, including the state of public education in this city. Children's Island will remain just a dream.

But the city can pause to appreciate some lesser Bicentennial projects that did make life a little better here. There was "Citizens United to Remove Blight," an outgrowth of Lady Bird Johnson's earlier beautification efforts, in which neighbors teamed up to clean vacant lots, streets and alleys and to plant flowers, shrubs and vegetables. Not only did this program produce many bright spots around town, but the spirit is still catchy. Also, neighborhood markets opened or reopened, and they are still doing brisk business; landmarking and street graphics have improved, neighborhood oral history projects were completed -- and there are some visible signs that after 12 years, the three corridors that were wrecked by rioting -- 7th and 14th Streets NW, and H Street NE -- may live again someday.

The celebration of Independence Day also is a fitting occasion to remind people all around the country of some unfinished business that should be taken care of if America is serious about no taxation without representation: the D.C. amendment -- which has come upon hard times in many states where the status of the District isn't fully understood -- deserves ratification. Whatever else America decides to put off, its taxpaying citizens who live in the District of Columbia should not have to go another year without voting representation in the House and Senate.