V is for Vision

June 2nd, 2007

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Many of America’s early planners were people of vision whose creative imaginations continue to make our cities livable and memorable. In 1791, Pierre Charles L’Enfant envisioned an immense, world-class national capital on the Potomac. L’Enfant’s plan included broad diagonal avenues cutting through a grid of streets. Key intersections of avenues and streets provided settings for monuments and fountains.

In 1901, a team of planners led by Daniel Hudson Burnham undertook a vast extension of the original plan, continuing L’Enfant’s central axis to the west, and reorienting it to pass through the Washington Monument. This created sites for the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials at the end of grand axes.

Without vision in carrying the L’Enfant Plan forward, the Washington Mall would have continued to be cluttered with private interest activities, and the Washington Monument would be overlooking a vast Potomac River mud flat (referred to by turn-of-the-century politicians as “that Godforsaken swamp!”). Instead, the Mall today provides a wonderful heart to our capital city, while the mud flat is parkland providing the sites for the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pools, and more recently, the Vietnam and Korean Veterans Memorials. Planners of vision see potential; those without vision see only the swamp.

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