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Posted at 7:32 PM ET, 01/20/2009

After the Inauguration: Will We Get Our City Back?

By Colbert I. King

Even an august celebration like today's inauguration of our nation's 44th president has to have a skunk at the party. And here I am.

Can't help it. I gotta ask, I just have to know: How much of our city will we get back?

Don't get me wrong. I like big events, parades, drums and bugles, marching bands, limousines, motorcycles, lots of cops, screaming crowds. All good stuff. And good for the city, too.

The only problem is that when the big to-do involves the president of the United States, it brings along the Secret Service and other protectors of the homeland. Yup, they all come with the territory. And, unfortunately for city dwellers, the feds eat up real estate as they go along.

And we never get it back.

Even before Sept. 11, the Secret Service was in an acquisitive mode, disgesting the District of Columbia blocks at a time.

A plane makes it to the White House lawn, a crazy scales the fence, an Embassy loses a front door overseas, and we in our nation's capital lose entire city streets, never to control them again.

First Pennsylvania Avenue was appropriated in the name of presidential security. Then the streets behind the White House were taken away. Now, the Secret Service's reach extends to Independence Avenue to the south, and, effectively, H Street on the North.

Not to be outdone, the Capitol Police have been scarfing down city blocks in Southeast and Southwest D.C. with an appetite that would put King Kong to shame.

The problem is that when the event or emergency passes, federal authorities never get around to returning the space they took.

Hence, today's fear. Never have so many District of Columbia streets been closed and controlled by the feds in one fell swoop as in the case of this presidential inauguration. It's scary because the feds seem to like it the way it is -- a lot -- and that bodes ill for us. When the president and first lady turn in tonight at the White House, and the Bidens go to their new home at the Naval Observatory, how much of our city will we get back, and when?

It was nice seeing the Obamas stroll down the avenue today. But suppose they warm up to the idea, and decide to use that grand thoroughfare for a regular after-dinner stroll? Will the Secret Service make them share it with us?

Think about it.

That's why this skunk is smelling up the joint tonight.

By Colbert I. King  | January 20, 2009; 7:32 PM ET
Categories:  Inauguration  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: What Inaugural Moments Will You Remember?
Next: How Did D.C. Fare as Inauguration Host?


I think I missed something. It's the "District of Columbia" - right? When you say, "How much of our city will we get back?" who is "our?"

Posted by: howard11 | January 21, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

Ah, the overblown bloviations of the motoring crowd bleating again. If they had their way, they'd be driving through your front yard, back yard, and even your living room. Why not, they regularly run over grandma and junior only to shrug and say "it was an accident."

It's remarkable that almost all of the space that Mr. King laments the "closing" of is in fact perfectly accessible to all of us. All you have to do is get your rear out of that SUV, Prius, or whatever and go on foot, by bike or skates, or even by Segway.

Will any of the Post's editorialists and columnists notice how beautiful, peaceful, and full of human interaction and spirit D.C.'s car-free streets were yesterday? The stink of exhaust, the discord of horns and motors, the menace of steel hulks threatening to crush you at any moment -- it was all lifted for a day. The result? Not only people building community, but the justification for running buses and subways on a frequency that actually made them useful.

Will we hear the slightest bit of this from the Post? No, just more "get out of my way so I can be free of interaction and humanity in my big steel box."

Posted by: 9thando | January 21, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

I agree whole-heartedly with this critical assessment. Private property is impaired when they "seize" public thoroughfares. Jack-boot security details oppress, confine and containerize the citizenry with increasing pressure and an unfettered mandate, thanks to terrorists and whack-jobs. The irony of it is that our freedom is being eroded right in our nation's capitol, right before our eyes, one sidewalk at a time.

D.C. is becoming more and more like cold-war East Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and all.

I'm waiting for our Government to turn the entire capitol core into Disney--gate the whole thing off and charge exorbitant admission to taxpayers coming to visit or conduct business (or just to hold our public servants accountable).

Posted by: HeldNJ | January 21, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I'm with Colby and HeidNJ who said "D.C. is becoming more and more like cold-war East Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and all." I'd like to smoke whatever 9thhando has stashed - who claims "The stink of exhaust, the discord of horns and motors, the menace of steel hulks threatening to crush you at any moment -- it was all lifted for a day."
I live a block from Dupont Circle and my beautiful residential street was turned into an angry, honking nightmarish hell of backed up traffic because the cops had closed down EVERY major artery --- including Conn Ave and Florida Ave --- WTF were they thinking?!?!? It seems every year the imperial presidency gets hungrier and more arrogant and the motorcades become longer, louder and more aggressive. My prayer for hope is that the president will instruct his handlers to be a little more discrete and not deport themselves like Russian mobsters.

Posted by: regentrifydc | January 21, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Mr. King, thank you for this essay. I do not live in the District, but I share this feeling.. .

. . .especially since the feds made entre into the Commonwealth of Virginia yesterday, closing down every major highway inside the Beltway.

Forget about the bridges -- I didn't go to the inauguration, so the bridge closings didn't affect me in the least. But the highway closures made it hard for me to go about my normal business.

So, the question I now have is will we have these highway closures the next time some group comes to DC and brings a sizeable crowd with it? I worry about that. And I worry that no one has really questioned the necessity of closing those highways. Was it for security, or traffic? Either way, it was totally unnecessary.

And for those of you who roll your eyes and make the nasty comments that there is no "right to drive" in this country, let me point out that we all pay for the Interstate Highway system through gasoline taxes and other state taxes. As a tax payer, I do have a right to use those roads.

I'm pretty upset about this. And, like you, I think it was overkill and I can't shake the feeling that the Feds are intruding on my freedom by restricting my movements by car in the suburbs where mass transit isn't always such a great option. (Try getting from Falls Church to Alexandria by mass transit sometime...)

So, thanks for this essay and reminding folks that we have to be vigilant in protecting our freedom. Even the freedom to drive a car out here in the burbs where you need one to get from one place to another.

Posted by: robin14 | January 21, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

It might be wiser to worry about getting ' your city'[sic] back from the gangs and street thugs that terrorize visitors and tie up so many valuable public resources in the effort to clean up the results of their mayhem.

Posted by: tw1111 | January 21, 2009 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Won't wonders never cease? For once, Colbert King makes sense! Annexing Lafayette Park to the White House grounds and closing Pennsylvania Avenue was a paranoid reaction to a problem. Instead of switchng Reagan National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base, making take-offs and landings for airliners an order of magnitude safer, DC airspace has been closed off and also guarded by air defense missiles --- and half a billion dollars was spent upgrading the control tower but not the approach radar systems. Nor was the Metro system tied by a rebuilt Wilson Bridge to the Maryland shore of the Potomac and to Andrews. Not all the chuckleheads are in the Secret Service; a fair number of them are in the City government and in Congress.

Posted by: dmh86201 | January 23, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse


Stop cowering under your afghan. It's a city. Random street crime happens. DC is no different from any other city in that regard.

Posted by: mason08 | January 23, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I know President Obama has a lot on his plate, but I hope he takes a little time to work on relaxing the culture of security in DC. I'd at least like to see the White House open to tourists again and the west side of the Capitol re-opened. I never venture to the Mall on the 4th of July anymore because standing in the hear for the security lines kills the atmosphere for me.

I also hope that people will recognize that the terrible crowd control at the Inauguration was a security issue of its own. I was in one of those mobs and it was a wonder nobody got trampled to death. It's not just a "disappointment". It's positively dangerous to herd people in that fashion. The size of the crowd was not to blame. It was the number and positioning of the barriers combined with a lack of policing.

Posted by: MitchellPolman | January 24, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

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