America's Front Yard

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Most Americans recognize the National Mall, the treasured swath of open space that houses many of the country’s most beloved memorials and museums. But the Mall has changed over time, emerging in its present state as a consequence of nearly 150 years of public and political debate. L’Enfant originally conceptualized the space as a ceremonial promenade, a vision rejected throughout the 1800s in
favor of a Romantic landscape park. When the McMillan Commission (1901-1902) rehabilitated L’Enfant’s vision of a formal, open green space, the Mall began to take on the defining characteristics that it possesses today.

Today, the Mall is threatened by its own popularity. Public desire for commemorative works threatens to overcrowd the Mall. Heavy use of the space is taxing the resources of the National Park Service, which issues more than two thousand permits each year for public events. In determining the future of the National Mall, planners in the federal agencies that are responsible for America’s front yard must balance the goal of preserving its grandeur with the public’s needs for recreation and democratic expression.