Preservation Magazine, Spring 2019

President's Note: Spring on the Tidal Basin

Paul Edmondson.

For as long as humans have walked the earth, we have rejoiced in the gift of spring. It is the season of revival and reinvention, new ideas and creative ferment. “Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky,” John Muir marveled in 1911, “spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance.”

Spring is celebrated in a host of different ways. In Washington, D.C., as more than 1.5 million visitors each year can attest, spring’s return is embodied by the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival: four weeks when the monuments and memorials that reflect America’s history are briefly, suddenly framed in riotous pink, thanks to the 3,000 cherry blossom trees—a gift from the mayor of Tokyo—that have lined the Tidal Basin of our National Mall since 1912.

Unfortunately, visitors to the 107-acre Tidal Basin often experience flooded sidewalks, outdated facilities, and crumbling infrastructure alongside the magnificent memorials to Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While the National Park Service has worked hard to maintain the Basin over the years, funding constraints and a changing landscape have worn down this critical section of “America’s front yard.” Simply put, it’s time for some spring cleaning.

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Rising sea levels and deferred maintenance threaten this landscape. Join our campaign.

That’s why, as one of our new National Treasure projects for 2019, we are proud to join the Park Service and the Trust for the National Mall in a multi-year campaign to explore and enact a long-term preservation solution for the Tidal Basin. As part of this communal endeavor, we plan to engage the public and practitioners in developing a bold, creative, and integrated vision for the Tidal Basin going forward, one that will incorporate hydrology, security, the cultural landscape, and the visitor experience.

As our national public park, where millions of visitors come together in appreciation of our shared history and democratic journey—not to mention the beautiful blossoms!—the Mall deserves an ambitious and innovative preservation plan to secure its future for the next century. And given the Park Service’s nearly $12 billion backlog in deferred maintenance, the Basin is only one of hundreds of national parks and historic sites across the country in need of attention and funding.

While this figure may seem rightfully daunting, the spirit and splendor of this season remind us that new opportunities for positive change are always ahead. With spring in our step, we’re getting to work.

Paul Edmondson was the president & CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from 2018-2023.

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