National Mall and West Potomac Park, from 3rd to 23rd Streets, NW
Dear Mr. Acosta:
In its public meeting of 17 February conducted by videoconference, the Commission of Fine Arts was pleased to hear an information presentation by the National Capital Planning Commission staff on the comprehensive update of the Streetscape Manual for the National Mall and its proposed streetscape design guidelines for vertical and surface elements. The Commission expressed appreciation for the effort to coordinate projects within the Mall and its vicinity, providing the following comments for the development of this and forthcoming planning documents.
Acknowledging the importance of setting consistent standards for the design of this highly symbolic public space, the Commission members advised that at the broadest level, the guidelines should be informed by a forward-thinking and socially oriented approach, moving beyond simply an image of design to include planning for the public’s real-world experience of this heavily used civic landscape. They suggested that guidelines should be proactive rather than reactive, commenting that current practices may be insufficient for the long-term protection of the public realm.
The Commission members suggested devising methods for managing public space in anticipation of contemporary and emerging infrastructure typologies that will affect physical design. Examples include planning for resilience and disaster response in an era of climate change and extreme weather, as well as for new communication systems that require placing equipment near areas of high pedestrian activity. While accepting that perimeter security is more extensively addressed in other documents, they emphasized that the guidelines should articulate highest-level urban design priorities for perimeter security, commenting that an uncoordinated, case-by-case approach may compromise this initiative’s broader vision for the public realm.
Understanding the differences between day-to-day management concerns and physical maintenance projects, the Commission members advised that the guidelines address accessibility, visitor comfort, vending, and the control of vehicles in this public landscape. They recognized the impacts of event programming and vehicular parking on the streets and sidewalks that border and cross the Mall, particularly during peak tourism seasons; they noted that a high priority should be placed on preserving the central open vista between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. They also observed that congregating street vendors are an inevitable presence in this area, and this temporary use should be considered when developing planning guidance. Finally, they recommended specifying vase-shaped trees to line streets, rather than trees with round canopies, whose shapes are eventually altered by heavy pruning to accommodate the passage of trucks and buses.
In conclusion, the Commission members expressed support for the new agreement with the District of Columbia Government to study the precincts adjacent to the Monumental Core, which would help to connect the planning area within the larger urban context. The Commission looks forward to continued review of revisions to the Streetscape Manual and related documents as products of the planning effort for the stewardship of this nationally significant urban landscape. For the development of the next submission, please consult with the Commission staff which, as always, is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, FAIA
Marcel Acosta, Executive Director
National Capital Planning Commission
401 9th Street, NW, Suite 500-N
Washington, DC 20004
cc: Laurin Lineman, Federal Highway Administration
Everett Lott, D.C. Department of Transportation
Peter May, National Park Service