The Washington Post

Why Pennsylvania Avenue is not an 'at-risk' landscape


The Cultural Landscape Foundation has named Pennsylvania Avenue to its “annual thematic compendium of threatened and at-risk landscapes.” Without specifying which portion of the seven miles of avenue within the city is thus threatened, it’s safe to assume The group means the iconic stretch between the White House and the Capitol — and that’s a stretch.

The foundation cites the dilapidated streetscape and relatively fallow condition of adjacent public spaces. No quarrel there, particularly not with Pershing Park. It’s wholly correct to nudge the National Park Service to improve its less-than-zealous upkeep of that iconic corridor. But there are less iconic but more functional public spaces the Park Service neglects to greater effect on a daily and ongoing basis — places like Franklin Square or any number of tiny pocket parks throughout the city that more people might use and enjoy were the feds to give a fig. In comparison, Pennsylvania Avenue has been a veritable hotbed of innovation, thanks to dedicated bike lanes and Penn Quarter development and no thanks to the works of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., of whose work the CLF is oddly reverent. The threats to the corridor these days aren’t ugly planters or broken benches, but black holes of street life like the J. Edgar Hoover Building and the Old Post Office Pavilion.

But of course lists like this are sometimes not about identifying actually endangered things, they’re about bringing attention to issues and the groups devoted to promoting those issues.

That said, some of those ugly planters really should go.

UPDATE, 10/10: I mistakenly wrote that the foundation did not specify which portion of Pennsylvania Avenue is so threatened. In fact, the group’s Web site refers to the “the 1.2-mile long stretch that runs diagonally between Capitol Hill and the White House.” Mea culpa maxima.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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