Washington, D.C. was designed with two major milestones: when George Washington hired Pierre L’Enfant to plan the nation’s capital and when the McMillan Plan was commissioned. L’Enfant became friends with Washington while fighting in the Revolutionary War. As an engineer and French artist, he was interested in designing D.C. because he would be able to basically start from scratch. During L’Enfant’s time, Europe’s planning style was Grand Manner. It focused on wide, tree-lined, straight streets, focal monuments and uniformity. The main difference in Europe’s depth of city planning versus the U.S. is that Europe has more controls over private property. While the U.S. is built on the pillar of personal freedom, Europe has placed less weight on it in their culture. In Europe, eminent domain is less controversial and they can set building regulations as detailed as the building materials, height and angle of the roof pitch. Here, the government does not have autocratic control like that. However, for almost a hundred years there were some of the most strict zoning laws in the U.S. to keep the skyline full of focal monuments instead of skyscrapers.
Now back to L’Enfant: He designed a plan with a lot of baroque styles. He designated 15 large spaces for monuments for notable people from each state. He laid the streets on a grid pattern with axial streets leading to focal points of the city. When the city decided to sell land, L’Enfant opposed it because it was too early into the plan. He valued each piece of land because there were endless possibilities and selling the land would limit those. He refused to turn over his maps of the city and were therefore fired from planning D.C. Andrew Ellicott, a surveyor that worked closely with L’Enfant, was then commissioned to re-map L’Enfant’s plans from memory. After this, the McMillan plan was commissioned by the city to finalize the plan and begin implementing. The first urban planners (ish), Charles McKim, Daniel Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., were leading the McMillan plan. They were fully devoted to L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C. and made only minor changes to it. L’Enfant was so influential that he has a grave at Arlington Cemetery (which I just learned about and am now going to visit).
Now that the History of Planning lesson is over, let’s move on to other things I’ve learned this week. As an intern, you have to insert yourself into conversations about projects to get things assigned to you. Right now, I have a lot of projects with no deadlines or areas where I need a lot of guidance because I’m new to the organization. This means that sometimes I’m doing things of substance while other times I’m researching things as a shot in the dark because I don’t know where to go from where I’m at. Today, I overheard a coworker talking to my boss about the loads of things she has to do but doesn’t want to work on. So naturally, I awkwardly inserted myself into the conversation from a cubicle away by staccato-ly declaring, ‘I am an intern,’ and then we proceeded to talk for an hour. I ended up getting assigned 3 tasks that I am totally under qualified to do but am willing to learn about and will be good resume experience. There are a few other things I learned at my internship, but due to the nature of the Office of Inspector General (OIG), a lot of things need to be discussed with discretion. I don’t think a blog post on a public website is the most responsible place to discuss. However, I can tell you the Peace Corps really is the hippie part of the federal government. It’s also such a rare environment for the government because people like helping each other so things get done much faster (it also doesn’t hurt that everyone is just slightly afraid of OIG). I look forward to working alongside my quirky coworkers, hearing about their international experiences and learning about a part of government I had never even heard of before this internship.