Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Awakening being dug up by "visionary developer" for sake of "controversy"

If you haven't heard it already this morning from DCist, the Express, or pissed-off coworkers at the coffeemaker, Milt Peterson has announced his plans to dig up The Awakening from Hains Point and take it to his new fancy-schmancy Disney-esque National Harbor in PG County just below the Wilson Bridge on the Potomac.

Read the Post story here.

I was in CVS in Chinatown grabbing a pack of gum this afternoon while on my way into church when I saw this story on the frontpage of the Post. I picked it up while standing in the forever-long line after the picture on front caught my eye.

It's not enough that he's going to dig the thing up from the District, where it's in the public realm (though techincally privately-owned) on National parkland, at the majestic tip of Hains Point. But he has to go and show his mug for the cameras down there in front of the sculpture while all the kids are playing on it. For the record, when I told the Bride about this, she nearly started crying. Way to go, Milt. Thanks for that one.

Everytime we go to Hains Point, usually on bike, we remark how it's one of the best-kept secrets in the District. Most of the tourists walking around downtown and the Mall can't get all the way down there, many of the ones driving don't know how much there is to East Potomac Park and don't venture down there, and even people who live here don't know where it is or how to get there (though they certainly should!)

I think this is a terrible idea, even keeping the discussion separate from whether or not National Harbor is going to turn out to be a worthwhile place to visit for those people in pursuit of authentic experience that places like National Harbor and chain-store malls typically DON'T offer. I don't have the greatest amount of faith in the place-making abilities of a man who has spent his life plopping down suburban strip malls and office parks wherever he can in Northern Virginia for the last 30 years.

I don't like The Awakening being removed for several reason: a) I think it should stay in the District. I have no great rationale for this other than the fact that I'm biased, I love the District, and I think it's a great asset and a good fit for Hains Point. That should be enough.

But my greater concern is how it's going to be used on the waterfront at National Harbor. Supposedly, it's going to be the centerpiece of a grand avenue that is the "main street" of the development, with stairs going down to the sandy beach where The Awakening will rise up out of the ground. (I won't discuss right now how the avenue is going to be lined with "stonehenge" replicas, which really only makes me think of Spinal Tap and little leprechauns)

What I have yet to have explained to me is how the relationship between public and private space will unfold at National Harbor. Are all the streets and sidewalks public space? Or is National Harbor going to be a glorified shopping mall or "lifestyle center", which is fancy-real-estate speak for "mall with lid off that is a poor imitation of a real main street."

I'll reserve my final judgement about just how awful I think this plan is until I can clarify this one issue. I think the Awakening should be in a place that is publicly accessible, so that everyone can enjoy it without having to go to a mall (or Maryland for that matter) to see it.

If access to the waterfront and the streets in National Harbor are going to be private and restricted by the owners/management, I'll just go ahead and say that this dude just robbed the District and snatched one of our best pieces of public art in the District and put it in an awful place.

"It's going to be POW! It's going to be explosive! We're going to change Washington."

Someone needs to tell the guy that National Harbor isn't IN Washington. And people don't arrive by boat up the Potomac. Yes, a lot of people cross the Wilson Bridge, but the idea that Washington, the land of beautiful monuments and an inspired street plan to draw attention to meaningful civic buildings, needs a glorified mall to "change" it is ludicrous.

But this quote says it all, to me:

Moving the sculpture away from the District could create a stir, Peterson realizes. That's exactly what he's looking for. You want it to be controversial, he says. Provocative. The worst thing would be no reaction at all.

Awesome. You took The Awakening away from the District to put it in your mall to be controversial. That's fantastic.


Read some of Richard's thoughts on National Harbor from a while back, and a column in the Post by Michele Dyson