Reviving America’s Front Yard

In Perspective: The Highly-trod Ground of the
National Mall

The National Mall is perhaps the most significant and resonant landscape in the United States. "America's Front Yard" has served as a stage for history, a statement of accessibility to government, a verdant setting for many significant national treasures, and, not incidentally, a place for people from all over the world to meet, mingle, shout, rest, mourn, play, worship, celebrate, exercise… to express, in fact, the freedoms and principles at the core of this nation.

Serving such noble purposes comes at a cost. Think back to a cold January 20, 2009, with an estimated 1.5 million people packing the Mall to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Then remember what it looked like when they left.

Yes, it was a special day, but consider that more than 30 permitted events occur on the National Mall, helping generate four tons of trash, each and every day. Locally, between 25,000 and 30,000 sports enthusiasts use the 15 softball fields, eight volleyball courts, two rugby fields, two multi-purpose fields, and the Washington Monument grounds for a variety of different sport and recreation activities nearly year-round. All told, more than 25 million people visit the Mall each year - more than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon combined.

This puts considerable strain on the 300 acres of green space, 9,000 trees, as well as the 26 miles of pedestrian sidewalks and eight miles of bike trails that make up the Mall. Yet the National Mall has not seen serious renovation in more than 30 years.

Today, the Mall contains vast swaths of barren land framed by dying trees and cracked sidewalks. The Capitol reflecting pool is so dirty that the National Park Service may drain the water to protect the lives of water fowl. Even more pressing: Parts of Jefferson Memorial are sinking into the Potomac.

These and many other serious issues require immediate attention. The National Park Service has just released its latest 50-year plan envisioning the future of this National treasure. ASLA has been part of
the conversation since the effort began in 2006, and we will continue to do so. But the work needs to
begin now.

Green Since 1899

©2009 American Society of Landscape Architects