The Sunday Column

There are unexamined pieties to Washington urban design thinking that continue to hold the city back. Last Sunday, I used my Washington Post column to examine one of the most sacred of these: The fetish for the 1901 McMillan plan, which assumes the National Mall is sacred space and must remain inviolate for ever and ever. Today, I take on the arguments of some historic preservationists who want to hold the District to the letter of an 1889 law that forbids overhead streetcar wires. What’s so ugly about streetcar wires? Done right, they can become an important advertisement for the city’s progressive move toward better and more environmentally friendly mass transit. And by the way: If you believe Washington is a city filled with spectacular vistas down wide open streets, try standing in the middle of East Capitol Street and look to the Capitol. What do you see? Trees. Beautiful trees. That’s what we need to focus on preserving.

About these ads

3 Comments

Filed under Culture, Preservation, urban design

3 responses to “The Sunday Column

  1. ROBERT BREITMAN

    Mr. Kennicott –

    My name is 1LT Robert Breitman, and I am an Infantry Officer with the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) in the United States Army currently stationed in Iraq on what is now my 3rd combat tour. I have lived within Northwest Washington, DC for 11 years of my adult life as both a civilian and military service member and have come to recognize the city not only as an desirable, aesthetically pleasing, and interesting metropolitan area, but also as a significant cultural landmark of the United States. As such, I have taken the opportunity to explore all of the more popular tourist sites, monuments, and memorials, as well as some its more elusive, esoteric, and captivating locations. I consider Washington, DC to be my home, and I believe myself to be more familiar with the city than most, especially when considering the general transient nature of the majority of the population. To date, I have never responded to an article, post, or blog; however, after reading your recent editorial in the Stars And Stripes entitled “Retire war memorials to enhance the Mall,” I feel nothing less than an obligatory and overwhelming motivation to respond.

    In your article, you introduce the idea of “unbuilding” the National Mall, and more specifically, “removing existing monuments and memorials as they reach the end of their useful lifespan.” As a citizen of the United States and a Soldier of our Armed Forces, I recognize the important sacrifice, commitment, and dedication to our Country which our forefathers have made and those which our young Soldiers of today continue to make in order to support and defend our Constitution and all of the values and virtues contained therein. Idealistically, the wars we as a Nation have entered were to maintain freedom, to uphold our own democracy, and to provide a better quality of life for generations to come. Many fine men and women made the ultimate sacrifice, and we as a country have changed the history of our Earth and mankind forever through these conflicts. You indicated, “the meaning of memorials has changed, from honoring heroic figures to creating spaces for healing…healing is a process, and it should be a finite one.” I will not deny that a great deal of healing is done at these memorials, nor will I ever forget the day I walked side-by-side with my Father to the Vietnam War Memorial and the moment he found the name of his fallen comrade amongst the tens of thousand of names. This was only time in my Father’s life I saw him cry. Yes, these are places of healing. However, wars, battles, conflicts, and most importantly, memories do not carry an expiration date. The 2010 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary defines a memorial as “something that keeps remembrance alive.” The meaning and definition of a memorial has NOT changed. These memorials and monuments are an inspiring dedication to remember history; a commemorative to pass on to our younger generation; to demonstrate to our children’s children that once upon a time, great men did great things; and that they in-turn could and should strive to continue such a legacy. Let us not forget our history, let us not forget our devotion, and let us not forget who we are as a people by “unbuilding” the history of the United States.

    (I would greatly appreciate it if you could post my response on your Washington Post website as the comments section of your article is already closed. Thank you.)

  2. ROB BREITMAN

    Mr. Kennicott –

    My name is 1LT Robert Breitman, and I am an Infantry Officer with the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) in the United States Army currently stationed in Iraq on what is now my 3rd combat tour. I have lived within Northwest Washington, DC for 11 years of my adult life as both a civilian and military service member and have come to recognize the city not only as a desirable, aesthetically pleasing, and interesting metropolitan area, but also as a significant cultural landmark of the United States. As such, I have taken the opportunity to explore all of the more popular tourist sites, monuments, and memorials, as well as some of its more elusive, esoteric, and captivating locations. I consider Washington, DC to be my home, and I believe myself to be more familiar with the city than most, especially when considering the general transient nature of the majority of the population. To date, I have never responded to an article, post, or blog; however, after reading your recent editorial in the Stars And Stripes entitled “Retire war memorials to enhance the Mall,” I feel nothing less than an obligatory and overwhelming motivation to respond.

    In your article, you introduce the idea of “unbuilding” the National Mall, and more specifically, “removing existing monuments and memorials as they reach the end of their useful lifespan.” As a citizen of the United States and a Soldier of our Armed Forces, I recognize the important sacrifice, commitment, and dedication to our Country which our forefathers have made and those which our young Soldiers of today continue to make in order to support and defend our Constitution and all of the values and virtues contained therein. Idealistically, the wars we as a Nation have entered were to maintain freedom, to uphold our own democracy, and to provide a better quality of life for generations to come. Many fine men and women made the ultimate sacrifice, and we as a country have changed the history of our Earth and mankind forever through these conflicts. You indicated, “the meaning of memorials has changed, from honoring heroic figures to creating spaces for healing…healing is a process, and it should be a finite one.” I will not deny that a great deal of healing is done at these memorials, nor will I ever forget the day I walked side-by-side with my Father to the Vietnam War Memorial and the moment he found the name of his fallen comrade amongst the tens of thousand of names. This was only time in my Father’s life I saw him cry. Yes, these are places of healing. However, wars, battles, conflicts, and most importantly, memories do not carry an expiration date. The 2010 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary defines a memorial as “something that keeps remembrance alive.” The meaning and definition of a memorial has NOT changed. These memorials and monuments are an inspiring dedication to remember history; a commemorative to pass on to our younger generation; to demonstrate to our children’s children that once upon a time, great men did great things; and that they in-turn could and should strive to continue such a legacy. Let us not forget our history, let us not forget our devotion, and let us not forget who we are as a people by “unbuilding” the history of the United States.

  3. Margaret Parsons

    With respect to overhead wires for streetcars and the hypothetical disruption of urban vistas, how about the European examples — Does Budapest, for instance, have beautiful and historic urban vistas as well as streetcar wires? You bet! How about Rotterdam and Amsterdam–lovely and exciting cities, wires and all. Let’s get reasonable, I couldn’t agree more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s