Yes, I love the Mall too.

All over the mall
Less than two weeks after we launched We Love DC, I got an email message from a friend. Here is is in its entirety: – is it the dead ducks in the reflecting pool that makes you love DC so much? :)

I ground my teeth and opened the link, knowing pretty well what was going to be there – more kicking the Mall around and use of over-blown words like “disgrace.” I was not – well, yes, I was disapointed, but I wasn’t all surprised by what I found inside, though my friend got her geography a little wrong – the ducks in question were in what is a reflecting pool in front of Congress, but not what most of us would think of as the reflecting pool between Lincoln and the Washington Monument.

Be that as it may, I took it as a challenge and took an extended stroll around the Mall two weeks ago. It was sweaty work, but well worth it. Newsweek, WaPo, everyone else: you are correct, the Mall has problems and needs attention and it a bit threadbare in places. But you’re completely wrong.

First and foremost, let’s address this dead bird concern they lead with: in the time since the Time article, the Washington Post has reported that the actual culprit was that dastardly assassin, the sun. The birds succumbed to avian botulism, a naturally occurring disease -harmless to humans – that strikes birds when the water reaches a temperature hospitable to the growth of the organism. The Capitol reflecting pool is no more of a killer than that koi pond in your back yard.

More on point, the reason this is a concern at all is that the water features along the Mall are hospitable to wildlife, whose appearance there is one of the joys of the warmer months. Certainly the park service could load the pools up with chemicals and anti-bird measures, but we’d be the poorer for it.

“The area is being loved to death,” said National Park Service spokesman Bill Line, who says more than 3,000 permits for demonstrations and special events are granted each year. “This is one of the most intensely used public spaces not only in this country but in the world. If 25 million people walked through your front yard, it might not look so nice either. So we are asking the American public what they want this space to become.”

That’s from the Time article as well, and just like the use of the word disgrace I see where they start from… and think their conclusions are nuts. Yes, sections of the expanse of grass are worn through where many feet have walked. But where you see a broken exhibition piece, I see a well-loved and threadbare at the corners teddy bear. I see no disgrace in a gathering place for all our visitors collecting some footprints.

When I went on my wander I did much of my walking such that I could stay under the trees and out of the sun. Doing so required me to weave quite a bit to go around the people sitting there enjoying the day. Some locals, some obviously in from out of town. In a few places there were items still being staged to be removed after the Folklife festival, not yet all gone. When you view such a thing you can pick your prespective. Are they leftover bits of tent not yet cleaned up, or are they reminders of the vibrant activity and variety that had taken over so much of that area so recently?

There are certainly things the Mall needs and the Trust for the National Mall is aiming at several excellent improvements in the near term: informational signs to better direct all the tourists unsure where they’re headed, walkway improvements, pedestrian areas. All valid goals. But their website is filled with slideshow pictures of a bit of threadbare lawn, or the crowd barriers still remaining from an event the prior day. This is like dwelling on how unattractive the abandoned coccoon is once the butterfly has fled: those marks and remainders are secondary to the enjoyment huge crowds of folk had on the Mall just before.

Folklife Festival

These marks are the result of people having the chance to see displays like this one. Setups like this or all the Folklife food tents take their toll on the grounds and I say to you it’s worth every blade of grass. What they call a pimple on Prom Night I say is a hickey on the morning after.

There are things I’d like to see improved on the Mall. Certainly the lack of bathrooms is a drag, though I would argue it’s hardly any worse than the often inadequate facilities you’ll find on any other national park grounds, or what’s available to tourists on a typical city street. We need better signs and more pedestrian-friendly intersections, though that would certainly be a departure from the rest of D.C. We have things we can do to improve on “America’s front lawn,” but let’s not hate the well-used and fun-filled greenery we have now, even if it may show a brown patch here and there.

I love you as you are, Mall, even when the toys get a little strewn around and are overdue to be put away. I look at you and see a place where people have fun, and that beats a museum piece any day of the week.

photo courtesy of mingler-nipsey

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


2 thoughts on “Yes, I love the Mall too.

  1. My college was known for its strict policies about walking on the grass- walking on the grass of the main quad was forbidden (and they’d fine you for it), and walking on the other grass was strongly discouraged, to the point where they tried to get all the officers of all the campus organizations to sign an “I won’t walk on the grass” pledge. This inane policy existed exactly for this reason- they were trying to avoid the bare spots that the Mall has, because they wanted the quad to look nice. The quad was gorgeous, but no one ever got to USE it for anything, which was the real tragedy. Grass is meant to be walked on, but that means sometimes it gets trampled.

    I agree- it’s not a disgrace, it’s well-loved.

  2. Hopefully, the NPS and others will take seriously a commitment to make the National Mall a chemical-free green space. An experiment undertaken several months ago to garden two plots with two different organic techniques recently and suddenly failed under suspicious circumstances, but had been showing great success before and should be revived.