The National Mall, which is the most visited national park in the United States, is by any measure one of the country’s great public spaces. A rectangular field that is several miles long, running from the iconic monuments at one end to the Capitol building at the other, lined with benches and trees that grow Washington’s famous cherry blossoms, it is a vital part of Washington, D.C.‘s community and economy. A magnet for tourists and a meeting space for football games and informal musical performances, the Mall is the physical center stage of American democracy. From the March on Washington to Barack Obama’s inauguration, it is imbued with the history of the greatest advances in civil rights and exercises in peaceful political demonstration that the country, and perhaps even the entire world, have ever known.
So, you would think that with the Mall suffering from major renovation needs — the Jefferson Memorial is surrounded by water at high tide in the Tidal Basin due to a faulty sea wall, for example — and detritus still remaining from the millions of visitors who came to witness Obama’s inauguration, that Congress would appropriate some money, perhaps something on the order of 1/150th of the amount it will spend on roads in the stimulus bill, to repair it. You would be wrong.
While roads will receive $30 billion — because what will beautify and uplift America more than some eight-lane highways? — the $200 million Obama requested for the Mall was stripped of the final version of the House stimulus bill. House Republicans had bashed the expenditure as wasteful and argued that spending should instead go to “small businesses.” How about the next time their party wins the presidency, they can hold the inauguration in the sort of mall they would prefer: a gigantic indoor shopping mall? I hear Minneapolis is beautiful this time of year.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.