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A Dream for Pennsylvania Avenue

The famous statement by Thomas Jefferson, explaining why Pennsylvania Avenue should go in front of the White House — "Kings live in enclaves, but presidents live on streets" — has unfortunately been shelved.

  • The Secret Service has achieved its long-desired program to produce a kinglike realm from H Street on the North, all the way to Constitution Avenue on the South, a distance of almost 4,000 feet, equalling a precinct of about 132 acres in the heart of the city. When the Service tried to persuade President Reagan to close the avenue, he thought it was crazy.

  • It was closed, not in response to 9/11, but by President Clinton after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City with a large truck laden with fertilizer, which, through any of several technological devices, down to the use of one's nose, could be prevented from getting anywhere near the White House.

  • We will never know which scientific innovations the Service has considered to protect the president from the range of threats from the air or the ever-present unhinged people who would do him harm. But we do know that defenses have evolved over time for 41 previous presidents without cutting the city in two.

  • The avenue is now used for that ever-precious DC commodity – parking for security vehicles, except for the center section directly facing the White House, where people noisily play hockey on roller skates.

  • What is imagined here is that a future president has returned to Jefferson's democratic principles and reopened Pennsylvania Avenue, so all of us can drive by the White House and express our approval or disapproval, salute or shake a fist, in a kind of continuous tracking poll. Until then, the disorienting vacant look of the avenue will remain a symbol of the Architecture of Paranoia in our society.
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