The White House, Unbesieged

Just after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the part of Pennsylvania Avenue that runs past the White House was closed to traffic. That move was for valid security reasons, but it went too far by setting a national example of how not to cave in to terrorist threats.

Concrete barricades along the street and ever-present Secret Service vehicles help promote the image of a country under siege. The "people's house" is somehow less public.

A strong democracy needs to show openness and accessibility. Indeed, the White House itself is the only residence of a head of state in the world open daily to the public.

There are other options for keeping drive-by shooters, or trucks filled with explosives, away from this site (or other popular sites). Among the alternatives: pedestrian bridges at either end of the block, low enough to prevent big bomb-carrying trucks from passing through; reshaping the avenue so it curves away from the White House; or turning the street itself into a park.

The need here is to make the White House look less like a fortress while keeping the area secure.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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