Happy 100th Birthday, Cherry Blossoms!

A forest of pink blossoms along the Tidal Basin.

This weekend marks the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. Alas, the blossoms have come and gone already, but they were so beautiful while they lasted. These fluffy pink trees are such a great urban natural wonder. I’m so glad I made it downtown while they were still at their peak.

The MLK Memorial at sunset.

On our cherry blossom adventure, my friends and I met up at the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The King Memorial is an easy-to-find landmark when approaching the Tidal Basin from the National Mall, and does a good job of ushering visitors into its expansive space. Whereas the FDR Memorial blends into the landscape, you can’t help noticing the massive mountains of stone that form the entrance and statue. Every time I have visited, crowds diverse in age and ethnicity have been streaming into the courtyard.

I’m not sure how I feel about the irony of Dr. King’s statue being completely white, but I am amused how he is facing the Jefferson Memorial, glaring at our racially-conflicted 3rd President. My only real criticism of the MLK Memorial is about its logistics.

While the courtyard is wide and expansive, the statue is poorly placed. There is plenty of room for visitors to mill about reading the quotations on black granite walls, but only a small area actually offers a view of Dr. King’s face. On a typical afternoon, the crowd is concentrated in a smaller triangle of space. Everyone and their mother/brother/friend/middle school class is packed into about twenty percent of the floor plan, angling for that crucial statue photo-op. This layout leads to crowded conditions that often block the path to the Tidal Basin.

Compare this to the Lincoln Memorial, where the 16th President is clearly visible from a variety of angles and distances. Good photos can be taken on the steps or inside the structure itself. This encourages an efficient flow of visitors, rather than a concentrated bottleneck. I hope Frank Gehry is considering such things in his controversial design for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.