A few weeks ago my roommate and I decided to take a walk toward the U.S. Capitol Building. Armed with smoothies to combat the heat, we ended up sitting on the edge of the reflecting pool, soaking up the sun. Glancing around, I noticed that we were practically the only ones taking part in such an activity.
Instead, much of the activity on either side of us included runners, bikers, and pedestrians/tourists either heading up the hill or toward the Mall. No one was stopping, no one was admiring the ducks that live around the pool. A few people stopped to take pictures, but I imagine it was fewer than would occur if the sculptures on the far side were not covered in scaffolding for renovation. This large area was merely a thruway to either reach the museums after a day on the Hill or vice versa.
I questioned why a space such as this had ever been constructed if no one truly used it, and my roommate responded by saying that perhaps it was another means of protection for the Capitol — a buffer that is merely meant to look like an ideal setting for pictures. After a minimal amount of research on the Architect of the Capitol website, I learned that the reflecting pool had been included in master plans of the 1960s and 70s to reduce automobile traffic and increase the use of the area for recreation and by pedestrians. It has definitely accomplished the goals that were set for it; the amount of cars in the area is minimal aside from those looking for a parking spot or dropping off sightseers.
Now, I cannot discount this public space because it does serve a purpose — that of a pedestrian thruway between major landmarks — but I have to wonder how safe or pretty the reflecting pool would be if it was not a part of the Capitol grounds. In a space with zero trash cans (I checked), there is no noticeable trash strewn about. There are no groups on skateboards going up and down the concrete steps that line the pool like at other wide expanses of stone and concrete in the city. Even with the multitude of people who pass through, there is very little indication that the pristine space has been disturbed.
And there can be little doubt, this is exactly what the reflecting pool is meant to be. I imagine planners looking at a map and thinking there is a lot of green space between the Capitol and the Washington Memorial, wouldn’t it be nice for the purpose of symmetry to have a reflecting pool at the base of the hill leading up to the Capitol. Very few can deny that it is a pretty spot with perfect viewpoints of the mall and of the Capitol. Perhaps more people as they pass through will pause, sit for a while, and admire the area around them…and the ducks.