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Initially, it was just the mayor directing that the three blocks of 16th Street north of the White House have the words “Black Lives Matter” painted in giant letters. The affected streets were already partially closed off as part of the planned response to the riots after George Floyd died. The closures were even more pronounced and reinforced in January 2021 when heavily armed hordes in MAGA hats were expected to invade as part of the insurrection for which everyone but the Capitol P0lice was grossly over-prepared. So it was easy to envision the area as a permanent vehicle-free plaza.
The big yellow letters were removed over the summer, then repainted, then dug up again. PEPCO had to dig to run new power lines for the rows of standing lights. A new surface of stonework with concrete borders replaced the asphalt.
The number of trucks, workers, and volumes of materials deployed was in large part the result of shifting plans leading up to an overblown final design. Those lucky businesses and commercial property owners that line the plaza have lobbied hard (but quietly for obvious reasons) to restore vehicle traffic so that these places can again be accessible for deliveries, cabs, and private vehicles. So, the outer two lanes will again be open to vehicles for limited use.
You can see the underlying new surface in the Oct 3 pic above. Each of those posts is an electric light. Vehicles will operate in the outer lane, pedestrians safely between the light-posts with a small ambiguous risk zone in between.
The big yellow letters each span the entire width of the street and that pavestone-concrete background would provide unacceptably poor contrast, so a dark blue layer needs to be applied first to get the full effect as seen in the pics below.
The local chapter of BLM actually opposed the whole idea of the plaza on the grounds that it was a silly gesture rather than a substantive action to promote social justice. How bad is it when you need your local BLM chapter to provide a balanced, proportionate policy perspective?
Over the same period of time, the BLM Plaza project has plugged along, much else in DC has gotten worse. In particular, the number of homeless occupying public spaces has expanded. One block east of the BLM is McPherson Square which is now entirely occupied by very sad broken-looking people. One day of plaza construction costs could probably buy a lot of services and meds for these people.
It will be interesting to see if the mayor tolerates the homeless camping out in her plaza when it is finally finished. I suspect that such an influx will be actively discouraged which will be the crowning irony about what really matters in DC.Published in