National Mall Symposium - 2006
On Wednesday November 15, 2006 the NPS held a symposium on the future of the
National Mall, attended by an estimated 150 people.
The event opened with greetings by officials from the U.S. Navy Memorial Naval Heritage Center followed by welcoming remarks from Park Superintendent Vikki Keys and Caroline Cunningham representing the National Park Service authorized fund raising partner, the Trust for the National Mall. John Reynolds, Executive Vice President for Centennial Planning of the National Park Foundation declared the National Park Foundation support for planning for this sacred American space, the crown jewel of civic spaces in our nation. The National Park Foundation, with Mrs. Laura Bush as honorary chair and Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne as the Chairman of the Board of Directors is dedicated to preserving America’s treasures, such as the National Mall. The Foundation encouraged the National Park Service and the Trust for the National Mall with the important task at hand.
The opening session
- Tom Lindsey, director of the "We The People" special initiative at the National Endowment of the Humanities, inspired the audience as he emphasized the invaluable nature of the National Mall as the living exemplification of national ideals and pilgrimage spot for our citizens.
- Dr. Kay Fanning, landscape historian, presented the evolution of the National Mall within the historic L’Enfant and McMillan Plans. The symbolic nature of the landscape and its planned views were discussed. Dr. Fanning emphasized that today’s character was established by great designers during the McMillan Plan – architects Daniel Burnham and Charles McKim, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr, and sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens.
- Lucy Barber, an archivist with the National Archives and author of "Marching on Washington - the forging of an American Political Tradition" informed and engaged the audience with a look at the history and importance of demonstrations as well as of their changing nature.
After a break, when attendees could examine background displays and information or used computers to access the project website, the session ended with three presentations.
- Park Superintendent Vikki Keys presented the increasing protections for the National Mall since 1910 that remain in place today. The National Park Service has been in charge of the National Mall and many other park areas in the District of Columbia since 1933. From 1910 to the 1990s many protections were put in place, including the Memorials and Museums Master Plan (2001) to identify locations for future projects. The Superintendent pointed out that three already authorized projects were accommodated when the Reserve was established in 2003: the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Reserve completed the National Mall and set the stage for planning.
- Susan Spain, the NPS Project Executive for the National Mall Plan, provided planning background information, illustrated challenges and described the planning process. Major issues at stake include:
- Accommodating many uses while addressing wear and tear of use
- What and how many facilities are needed and appropriate for more than 25 million visitors
- Continuing degradation of the landscape - which needs to be reversed so that the National Mall can set the standard for a welcoming, beautiful and living commemorative civic space.
- Aging facilities in need of replacement with many not designed for current types and levels of use
- Establishing a level of quality that measures up to the importance of the National Mall to our nation - quality affects behavior, visitor experiences, our economy and tourism.
- Finally Michael Heaney, Executive Director of the Center for Park Management of the National Parks Conservation Association, presented findings from a study about lessons that can be learned from other cities (London, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Ottawa and Canberra) where public parks include civic or event functions and high levels of use and visitation. Many locations limit the number or duration of events, require landscape respites of specific length between events, utilize more paved areas for events, or are designed to facilitate events with less landscape damage.
Following a lunch break, Juan Williams, Senior Correspondent for NPR, moderated two panel discussions with outside experts. The first panel discussed use issues. Juan Williams asked questions of the panelists related to the importance of the First Amendment in this location, use and events and their impacts, and then took questions from the audience:
- Robert O’Neil, Former President of the University of Virginia and Founding Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression. He answered questions related to the unique nature of free and even hate speech in this nation; the democratic values that First Amendment rights embody; reasonable time, place and manner regulations for demonstrations; and the positives or negatives of providing paved areas to facilitate or attract public speech, gatherings or demonstrations.
- Phil Fowler, Chief of Ceremonial Activities, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, addressed questions about visitor expectations for patriotic ceremony and celebration; the kinds of programs the Military District provides; the essential importance of the First Amendment to our national values; and the important relationship between the young service men and women who protect the values of our nation and the National Mall.
- Sara Cedar Miller, Director of Park Information, Historian & Photographer, Central Park Conservancy, responded to questions about how Central Park has been able to address similar levels of use by limiting numbers and size of events; the importance of educating visitors to achieve positive behavior; and building one effective group from multiple advocacy groups.
- Diana Mayhew, Executive Director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival responded to questions about the goals of the Festival protecting and planning for the future with a tree replacement fund; the changing activities; and the most frequent complaints - restrooms and traffic.
- David Longwill, Senior Executive Producer, TBA Global Events spoke about the symbolic importance of this venue; the need to hold events and planners to the highest standards; establishing standards; and how landscapes can be designed or managed to facilitate events while reducing wear and tear.
Eight term D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton made remarks about the importance of the National Mall, and introduced outgoing District Mayor Anthony Williams, who also spoke about the value and symbolism of the National Mall and the necessity of quality for the federal city.
The final panel discussed aging facilities and park infrastructure. Juan Williams began by asking each panelist questions and then opened the discussion to the audience.
- Larry Parkinson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement & Security, U.S. Department of the Interior, answered questions about openness and the need to protect icons of our nation - the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial. He further responded to questions about the types of operational and emergency plans that are in place.
- Sara Cedar Miller, Director of Park Information, Historian & Photographer, Central Park Conservancy, spoke about the need to effectively communicate with the public the value of the resources at stake; the needed steps to get buy-in to make changes and the importance of education; the importance of listening to what people value when considering replacing facilities; and the importance of investing in the facilities.
- David Daileda, fellow of the American Institute of Architects and Director of Operations at DMJM Designs - spoke about the need to keep facilities and infrastructure up; especially when they are so important to our national identity and character.
- Harry Robinson, James E. Silcott Professor of Architecture and Dean Emeritus, advisor to the president, Howard University, spoke about the importance of defining the character of place, establishing quality and dignity and the need to approach the area with respect. Dean Robinson encouraged everyone to think deeply on the importance of the National Mall to our nation.
- Kym Murphy, Senior Vice President (RET) of Corporate Environmental Policy at The Walt Disney Company, spoke about the Disney approach to providing visitor services - grouping visitor facilities (such as food, restrooms, retail and information); meeting expectations (keeping it clean and using quality material) and the resulting positive behavior of visitors; and the importance of all levels of staff, including executives, modeling desired behavior by picking up trash.
Juan concluded with the panel by asking each participant to identify the most critical needs. Sara Cedar Miller felt the elm panels on the Mall which are in grave danger and should be fenced to protect this rare American resource that takes generations to achieve. David Daileda felt that the Tidal Basin structural restoration is critical. Larry Parkinson emphasized meeting runner needs to help improve appearance and reduce damage to the grass. Harry Robinson assumed that if paving and structural problems were resolved the most important things would to reinforce the sense of place with flowers and fountains. Kym Murphy agreed and also advocated for providing grouped visitor facilities and improved way finding signs.
Moderator Juan Williams, the park Superintendent Vikki Keys and Regional Director Joe Lawler thanked the audience for coming and encouraged them to stay involved in planning for the crown jewel of American civic space – the National Mall Plan.