The Mall is Finally the Cause, Not Just the Stage

Well over a year ago, a five-foot chunk of stone fell from the ceiling of the Jefferson Memorial. Luckily, the ceiling collapsed in the early morning hours before thousands of tourists descended on the National Mall. The National Park Service immediately taped off the area, but to this day, the structural damage remains because the park lacks the budget to repair this crumbling temple to democracy.

The falling stone didn't create a lot of headlines. Perhaps we're just getting used to living in an age where government funding doesn't keep pace with the growing needs of our important public spaces.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress and National Park Service

After all, the National Mall faces a backlog of more than $400 million in deferred maintenance and $350 million in needed upgrades and amenities to keep pace with the growth in visitors. Cherished but aging monuments were built on what was largely swampland, without today's knowledge of sustainable design. And the park doesn't have the welcoming amenities -- let alone enough restrooms -- to accommodate the 29 million visits it hosts each year.

I founded the Trust for the National Mall as the park's nonprofit partner to help the National Park Service tackle these pressing needs. Part of our job is to signal the call for help to the American people. While the National Mall is a park of the people and for the people, few of its people know about the state of disrepair in their park, or that there's a way they can help.

That's why the Trust just launched a major effort to engage and educate more Americans in appreciating, preserving, and improving their National Mall. The campaign kicked off last weekend with the Landmark Music Festival just off the mall in West Potomac Park. The festival celebrated the history and significance of the National Mall while raising awareness for the effort to restore our vital common ground. Artists including Drake and The Strokes joined more than 50,000 festival-goers in lending their voices to the cause.

In the last week, there's been a lot of debate about having a ticketed fundraising concert in the shadows of America's most iconic monuments. This debate is a worthy one, yet it has gotten much more attention than our award-winning designs to turn the dilapidated stage near the Washington Monument into a stunning amphitheater and public entertainment space. It's gotten more press than our ambitious yet sensitive plans to restore the Constitution Gardens area west of the monument, which received final approval Thursday from the National Capital Planning Commission.

The Trust for the National Mall welcomes the attention this festival has garnered because it has given us a prominent stage to talk about the failing state of our most beloved national stage.

Like it or not, a giant stone falling from the Jefferson Memorial doesn't make a sound that reverberates across the country, but at least a multi-day concert for the National Mall is finally making a little much-needed noise.