Housing Complex

Feds Finally Fixing President’s Park South

After September 11, lots of things changed in D.C.'s public space: Bollards went up, streets closed, and federal buildings in general became more difficult to get around. They often became downright ugly, too, with chain link fences and concrete hulks channeling people out of newly secure areas.

Such was the case with the area just south of the White House, including the Ellipse as well as E Street between 15th and 17th Streets, which has been "temporarily" closed to unauthorized vehicles for the last several years using jury-rigged security measures like jersey barriers and provisional guard booths. Now, the National Park Service and the Secret Service are kicking off a process to decide on landscaping and infrastructure changes that will keep the park accessible for visitors while adequately protecting one of the most highly guarded sites in the entire world.

"I believe there is consensus from all agencies that what is out there is not acceptable and needs to be improved," says Blll Dowd, the National Capital Planning Commission's director of physical planning. "If security is going to continue to be out there, it needs to be in a more comprehensively designed way, and more respectful of the public space."

Of course, the new process suggests that security will continue to be "out there," in a way that's much less easy to remove–Dowd suggested that the authorities will likely choose to formally close that section of E Street to traffic for good. Just one more indication that space-confining security measures are a one-way ratchet.

The good part? There's a design competition. As with the area on Pennsylvania Avenue just north of the White House–which was closed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings–NCPC will soon issue a request for qualifications, and then ask four respondents to submit proposals, on which the public will have an opportunity to comment. The designers will receive an honorarium for their submissions, but there's no grand prize, and they might not even be hired on as the project architect if their design wins out–though perhaps being able to say that you designed the President's backyard is reward enough in itself.

If you want to know more and ask questions, there's a public scoping session on March 31 at 6:30 p.m. at the White House Visitors Center, 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

What things look like at the moment.

  • Jay

    Permanent closing of E Street = downright selfish.

    If "proximity to the White House" is their concern, then why is H Street still open? Check out a map - the distance from the White House to E Street is almost exactly the same as its distance from H Street to the north.

    ... and yet, E Street is off limits while H Street remains wide open.

    All this does is exacerbate the horrific traffic downtown by forcing drivers to take Constitution (which isn't possible from E & 17th [no left turns]) or idle for 20 minutes to go around via H Street.

    Personally, I'm usually on my bicycle around these parts, and even then I'm still not permitted to use E Street. This is bull. E Street is a publicly funded roadway. Grant the public access to their street.

  • deeceefooodeee

    Jay - totally agree.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    totally, totally, totally agree with Jay.

    as tom sherwood would say, the securicrats have too much power. and the secret service is run by a bunch of meatheads who have a one-size-fits-all thought process when it comes to "security."

    it's a shame. in some far-off, enlightened future, i would hope that BS like this wouldn't happen any more. i won't hold my breath.