Lafayette Square may be one of my favorite places in Washington, DC. There is something about walking to the square during lunch to eat or read a book or talk on the phone. I love that it is right in the heart of the city where you only have to walk a few yards to have a view of the White House. Due to this proximity to the famous landmark, the park is always busy, but rarely overwhelmingly so.
It’s central location means that there is a wide variety of people who use the space. There are groups that picnic on the ground or eat on the benches. There are tourists, office workers, people playing Pokemon Go, TV reporters, protesters; each group cohabiting in the same space. This is the key of a great public space. This also makes the park a perfect spot for people watching. When I go to relax and people watch, I typically try to find a nice bench that faces the White House. This allows me to peer at the wide variety of people who pass by and look at the tourists admiring the White House.
One of the best aspects of the park is the abundance of trees. I think the trees are critical for giving the park multiple viewpoints–and shade, which is a necessity if you venture out during the summer. Other aspects that help make it feel like an intricate space versus a flat square are the multitude of crisscrossing brick paths and the statues and fountains scattered around. There are five statues in the park and two fountains. The four statues that are situated at the corners of the square are in honor of foreigners who fought in the Revolutionary War: Lafayette, Rochambeau, Kościuszko, and von Steuben. The final statue in the center of the park is of Andrew Jackson and, in 1853, it was the first statue of a person on horseback ever cast in the United States.
While the park does not have a variety of scheduled events that occur in it, there is no need because people inevitably venture into the shade from the barren pedestrian section of Pennsylvania Avenue. However, in the past, this space has been used as a market, a race track, a zoo, and encampments before the current layout of the park was finalized in 1851. One might think that a park in the center of Washington, DC, right next to one of its biggest attractions, would be loud. I have not found this to be the case. I think the peacefulness is actually due to the White House being across the street. Lafayette Square is surrounded on three sides with blocked roads. The only street that cars are allowed to drive on is H Street NW at the north end of the park.
One word of caution, the park is often cleared out due to the arrival of motorcades. When this happens, police officers start putting up caution tape to the entrances of the area and request that people leave the area through the north side bordering H Street NW. This happens occasionally during lunch, but I am most often unable to use the pedestrian through way during the afternoon rush hour.