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Securing D.C.

For the time being, the Park Service continues screening visitors at a temporary facility just east of the structure and the monument remains surrounded by makeshift plywood walls, while the Park Service begins construction of new pathways and a series of low stone walls, designed by Laurie Olin. Her scheme is meant to prevent vehicles laden with explosives from getting within 400 feet of the monument, which is currently guarded by a ring of concrete Jersey barriers; critics object that the low-slung walls will make the soaring obelisk look as if it were sitting atop a giant cupcake.

Security considerations are also behind a secretive construction project at the official residence of Vice President Richard Cheney on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in northwest Washington. In recent months, loud blasts—often in the middle of the night—have made the entire neighborhood quake. Residents say they assume a bunker is being built, but the government has kept a tight lid on the project so far. According to a letter from the observatory's superintendent printed in the Washington Post, the construction is related to "national security and homeland defense."

A nonprofit preservationist group, the National Coalition to Save Our Mall, warns that all the barriers "reflect fear, not the optimism inherent in a democracy." The coalition's president, art historian Judy Scott Feldman, sees a kind of hysteria at work. Her group argues that more should be done to integrate security needs into existing designs and to allow the public access. "The Secret Service and the Park Service think in terms of the worst-case scenario," Feldman says. "Our capital was designed as a symbol of democratic government and the openness of our society. The security measures have a symbolism that becomes oppressive."

The late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued a similar warning as long ago as 1999. "The task is to keep our nerve in the face of obvious but scarcely overwhelming threat," he said in an interview about heightened security at federal structures. "We begin to look as if we are afraid, and we ought not."

MICHAEL Z. WISE is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure.


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