The National Mall: From Crisis to Vision

ASLA’s Blue Ribbon Panel of design professionals released the results of its assessment of the National Park Service’s Plan for the National Mall. The panel said the current state of the National Mall is an “international embarrassment,” and calls for a more defined vision by the National Park Service.

The panel includes: Robin Abrams, ASLA, AIA, Professor, North Carolina State University; Joseph Brown, FASLA, Chief executive of AECOM’s Global Planning, Design and Development group and CEO of EDAW; Fernando Costa, FAICP, Assistant City Manager, City of Fort Worth; ASLA President, Angela Dye, FASLA; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, Principal of Reed Hilderbrand Associates Inc; Harry Hunderman, FAIA, Senior principal, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc.

Among the panel’s conclusions:

  • The National Park Service leads a heroic effort in stewarding the country’s most important landscape with very limited resources, and the panel supports most of the recommendations in its current plan.
  • The National Mall should stand solidly among the world’s foremost public spaces. Instead, it now faces a crisis of maintenance. The landscape falls horrifically short of its promise and importance, and critical needs must be addressed immediately.
  • The National Mall’s dire needs, along with arbitrarily defined areas of responsibility, have compromised the National Park Service’s broader vision that was among its initial goals.  

The panel calls for the National Park Service to compile a complete design plan that addresses this preeminent public space consistently and comprehensively to better weave it into the larger urban fabric. This plan will also serve to guide all future design and maintenance. Panel members applaud the close collaboration with the National Capital Planning Commission and urge that all planning efforts addressing the National Mall and its environs continue to be integrated into one defined, comprehensive vision. Among some specific recommendations:

  • The panel strongly supports the standing ban on any new memorials or museums not already in planning stages. This is critical to preserving the integrity of the Mall.
  • The panel endorses the Park Service’s call for a redesign of Union Square but feels such an initiative needs to reach beyond the NPS jurisdiction to Constitution and Independence Avenues and Capitol Hill to be truly successful. The panel proposes an international design competition or forum of the best and brightest international design professionals to help shape Union Square’s future.
  • The panel feels visitor services can be accommodated adjacent to the National Mall as well as within, again calling for a broader vision, and they endorse the Park Service’s proposed redevelopment of the Sylvan Theater for centralized visitor services. They also call for an end to additional centers of interpretation for monuments and memorials.
  • They propose centralizing these needs in a Mall orientation center. Renovation and remediation of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, now empty yet very near a key Metro stop, could serve this purpose.

The panel insists, in agreement with the NPS, that any future design and remediation integrate sustainable design practices to position the Mall as a model for urban ecology. To achieve this, the panel urges the Park Service to:

  • Base all future actions on sound scientific research and actively engage the science community to fill in gaps and ensure the best practices in stormwater management, soil restoration, and the planting and care of trees.
  • Integrate all water features and paving into the urban ecology.
  • Use Sustainable Sites Initiative and the U.S. Green Building Council criteria as guidelines.

Go to ASLA’s National Mall web site to read the full report and watch video interviews with panelists

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