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Washington DC (First of a series)


By Noralyn Dudt

THE MALL in Washington DC is not a shopping place. It's America's public square. It's a place where massive demonstrations occur and requires an extraordinary amount of planning and preparation that involves the Park Police, Capitol Police, Secret Service, the VDOT and the MDOT ( Virginia and Maryland Department of Transportation), the Red Cross, the RFK Stadium for parking, and the METRO subway system for convenient transportation.

Preparation includes making sure that routes to hospitals are not blocked in case the demonstrators get injured.  And the "porta-potty" stalls  are ordered to make sure demonstrators will be able to relieve themselves. The idea of multiple departments moving together in a bureaucratic ballet illustrates one of America's endearing quirks: FEDERAL Employees will work their fingers to the bone ensuring that you have the right to tell them how disappointed you are in the system that employs them.

Founded on July 16, 1790, Washington DC was to be a unique and historical place among American cities. It was planned to be the nation's capital and America's first President George Washington chose the exact site along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.  Both Maryland and Virginia ceded land to this new "district" which was designed to be distinct and distinguished from the rest of the states. To achieve this,  George Washington commissioned the  French army engineer who fought in the American Revolution,  Pierre Charles L'Enfant  to design the city. Two factors strongly influenced L'Enfant's imagination as he planned the capital city: his understanding of 18th-century Baroque landscape architecture and his familiarity with the city of Paris and the grounds of the Versailles. L'Enfant adapted the city's formal plan to the area's natural topography,  carefully selecting important sites for principal buildings on the basis of the order of their importance. He placed Congress on a high ridge with a commanding view of the Potomac, instead of reserving this grandest spot for the leader's palace as was customary in Europe. He deemed the U.S. Capitol where representatives of the people convene to legislate laws more important than the house where the president would reside.  He then symbolically linked Congress, by way of Pennsylvania Avenue,  to the presidential mansion ( the White House) on a slightly lower ridge. Washington's streets are organized in a scheme of broad diagonal avenues  named after the states such as Pennsylvania Ave., Connecticut Ave., Georgia Ave., laid on a grid of wide north-south- and east-west trending streets. Thus, an orderly web of wide tree-lined avenues creates great vistas and leads both to powerful focal points and open public spaces. The intersection of two or three diagonal avenues is punctuated with landscaped circles and squares, while their intersections with grid streets create triangular and trapezoidal lots and parks,  resulting in interesting streetscapes.

Streets running north-south are numbered as in 7th St., 10th St.,  and so on. The  streets running east-west are lettered such as M St., P St.,  and so on.

When Pierre L'Enfant was commissioned to survey this rolling landscape at the confluence of two great rivers, he came up with a vision that bordered on the grand. He essentially had a clean slate on which to design the city. It was an ambitious plan that  went beyond a simple survey,  envisioning a city where important buildings would occupy strategic places based on changes in elevation and contours of waterways. For many,  the thought of a metropolis rising out of a rural area of forests, marshes and plantations seemed impractical for a fledgling nation but George Washington apparently shared that  vision.

It was a design based on European models and translated to American ideals. Mr. Berg who was L'Enfant biographer stated in his book, "the entire city was built around the idea that every citizen was equally important."  The Mall that became America's public square is open to all "comers" which would have been unheard of in France at the time, a very sort of egalitarian idea.

One wonders whether L'Enfant had an inkling that this fledgling nation would one day become  the international city that it is today. Did the first president George Washington could ever imagine then, that  the city he envisioned would be the home of International Monetary Fund and the World Bank ?


Noralyn Onto Dudt whose roots are in the City of Batac/ Ilocos Norte has been a long-time resident ( 51 years) of North Bethesda, Maryland which is a part of the Washington DC area.


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