Urban Fold

A Mall Any City Could Love

The long-term planning principles that have made the National Mall a successful and adaptable public space were in the spotlight during the Inauguration. Cities should take a lesson, argues Christopher Hawthorne.

"The public heart of the nation's capital absorbed a mass of humanity bigger than it had ever been asked to absorb, a throng that stretched from the base of the Capitol to the Washington Monument and then well past it. And its frozen turf stood patiently ready for more: At the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, as Robin Abcarian reports, there was plenty of elbow room if absolutely no hope of glimpsing the new president with the naked eye."

"The ability of the Mall to take on essentially whatever kind of crowds we throw at it year after year is foremost a tribute, of course, to its planners: First to Pierre L'Enfant, the tempestuous Frenchman personally hired by George Washington in 1791 to sketch the initial plan for the new capital city, and in equal measure to the four men -– architects Daniel Burnham and Charles McKim, landscape architect Frederick Olmsted Jr. and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens –- who in 1902 advised Sen. James McMillan in updating the original scheme."

"The Mall's eternal adaptability is also, it seems to me, a tribute to long-term, and even super-long-term, urban planning as an ideal. We'd be wise to consider that lesson far more often in Los Angeles, where so much plannning has been done in a rushed, ad hoc or baldly expedient form."

Full Story: Scenes from the Mall, Part 3: Jay-Z, Pierre L'Enfant and the value of long-term (urban) planning

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