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My Senator, Chuck Schumer, waves as evidence of bipartisan stimulus-making the fact that Democrats dropped their plan to spend $200 million fixing up the Mall. This already seemed unusually stupid to me at the time — public works maintenance spending is exactly the kind of quick job-creating stimulus that seems appropriate right now — but one idea did occur to me that might buy Republican support for more spending on the Mall. It is this: privatize services on the Mall. I’m not talking about selling the land, obviously; that would be stupid. But the fact is that the Mall in DC is a much less interesting, less citizen-friendly, and less pleasurable space than, say, the Champs-Elysee, which it’s supposed to emulate; and the reason for that is largely the lack of enjoyable “horeca” (hotel-restaurant-cafe). The Mall is a huge expanse of grass and monuments, with far too little cafe space, far too little seating, and far too few food options. I think it’s improved since I was growing up in DC, when options were pretty much limited to outrageously expensive microwaved hot dogs, Cokes, and bad coffee. But the place would still be vastly improved by opening up more private franchise licenses. It might be a challenge to coordinate esthetic issues like signage, but New York City’s Bryant Park has handled that issue with ease and aplomb. The selection of outlets would need to be appropriate, and there may be some hangups over the problem of promoting fast food vs. healthy food, but probably a balance could be struck between McD’s, Whole Foods, and Starbucks. And there should probably be an effort to find a flagship non-franchise restaurant to anchor the Mall brand with sophistication and style, the way Tavern on the Green does for Central Park.
How many GOP votes would such a private-sector-friendly proposal buy? Oh, I forgot — zero, regardless of content, since the goal is to see the President fail. Oh well.
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