Whenever I get a chance for some free time on trips to Washington, DC, I walk or run along the National Mall. Our nation’s capitol is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, especially in and around the monuments and memorials.
But then I walk a block off the Mall and see all those ugly, boxy buildings, and I wonder:
“What if we demanded as citizens that these monstrosities get torn down?”
In my mind, they represent everything that makes government less efficient and effective:
1. They create physical silos that reinforce the lack of inter-agency coordination. There’s a separate building for every agency. And that physical separation leads to divisions among agencies that inhibit communication and coordination. I don’t have any real numbers (if you got ’em, share ’em!), but my hunch is that most facilities aren’t filled to capacity any more…and over the next ten years, as Boomers retire or work part-time, they’ll start to feel like ghost towns. They’re already echo chambers. Wait until no one’s there to absorb the sound. Demolish a dozen of these mini-dominions of power and co-locate similar functions in inter-agency teams (that is, once or twice a week when they meet face-to-face. Otherwise, enable them to work from anywhere, connected by web-based networks).
2. People are forced to travel into these places every day. If you’ve ever traveled in or out of Washington, DC between 7:30a – 9:30a and 3:30 – 6:30p on any given weekday, you feel my pain. DC’s roads are among the most congested in the nation, and it’s due in large part to the reality that require people to drive to these workplaces, wasting time, adding stress and damaging the environment through all that exhaust. If we tear down the buildings and ask people to work from home or telework centers, we could cut the cars in half! And we’d eliminate the need to make a sophisticated argument for telework. Mandate the removal of buildings and we’ll force agencies to think more creatively about where people get work done.
3. They suck energy and replace green space. How much energy does it take to run just one of these buildings? In a 2007 address to the Senate, GSA Commissioner Dave Winstead said:
“We recognize that buildings in this country consume about 40 percent of the total energy used in the United States and as much as 70 percent of the electricity. GSA has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to lead by example and to demonstrate how we can reduce energy consumption by intelligently integrating energy and efficiency in building design and still create places where people can work effectively.”
Forget “design.” Think “destroy.” In addition to energy efficiency and the resultant cost savings, imagine even more green expanses on the National Mall. Don’t build new museums…give us gardens and great places to sit outside while we work or more places to play softball and soccer and fetch with our dogs. Make the Mall a National Playground where we reinforce the First Lady’s “Let’s Move initiative to get Americans to exercise.
What do you think? What are other potential benefits of tearing down government buildings, not only in Washington, DC, but across the country?