It's improving. It's better. Americans can be proud of it again.
What, you thought we were talking about Congress?
We're talking about the National Mall — this city's national park that contains everything from the Washington Monument to the national carousel.
After decades of deferred maintenance that caused the Mall to slip into a blowsy, weedy, concrete-crumbling state, it has been whipped into semi-respectable shape in just 30 months.
The earthquake-damaged Washington Monument finally reopened May 11, and it looks splendid inside and out. A renovated, more interactive and lively White House Visitors Center officially opened Sept. 13.
And that is just part of it.
The National Park Service, the Smithsonian and the non-profit Trust for the National Mall have used a combination of drips and drabs of public money and intense private fund-raising to achieve badly needed Mall renovations.
"It is America's front yard, and everyone has a role to come together to take care of it," says the Trust's president Caroline Cunningham.
If it has been more than two years since you visited the Mall, you will notice the upgrades.
The wretched, algae-filled Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was totally rebuilt in 2012, given a new water supply and serene, wide sidewalks.
Several panels of the weedy lawn near the Capitol have new, green grass — and you easily can see the contrast by looking down at the Mall from the top of the Washington Monument.
Part of the Jefferson Memorial seawall near collapse has been fixed. About $2 million worth of helpful directional signs for visitors have been installed around the Mall.
More improvements are coming.
The Mall gets between 25 million and 29 million visitors a year, more than Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon put together.
It contains everything from the historic National Gallery of Art to the 3-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Visitors don't just see monuments and museums; they sit in the parks and wander its miles of stone pathways until their feet hurt and their backs ache. The Mall is not just the heart of this city. It is the heart of the nation.
And there is still work to be done.
Constitution Gardens is a beautiful 50-acre area with a scenic pond and curving walking paths between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial. It also needs $150 million worth of work. Its stagnant water is filled with thick, mucousy green algae. Its shabby asphalt paths have potholes and crumbling edges. Parts of it smell bad.
Fortunately, this area is about to get "human scale" improvements, starting in 2015, says Cunningham. "In the future it will be a real lake so people can go fishing, float model boats, go ice skating and play hockey. We will install a food facility and a little bookstore," she says.
National Park ranger Bob Healy is more cautious about the timing of improvements: "I hesitate to put a timeline on it because of the funding."
But inch by inch, things are changing. Projects are underway across the Mall. In fact, visitors are now seeing scaffolding go up on the Capitol dome. Scaffolding eventually will rise to the top of the dome as a $60 million, two-year project repairs more than 1,000 cracks.
In the next two years visitors will see more new grass on the Mall, with special cisterns underground that keep the area hydrated during hot summers. That will vastly improve the look of the Mall without banning the grassy areas' use.
Even Mall reseeding is being used as an artistic opportunity.
From now through the end of October, an artist will "paint" a huge face on a 6-acre section of sand and dirt that will be reseeded this winter near the World War II Memorial — a face so big it will be visible by satellite.
The National Mall is the city's playground, with soccer, touch football, Frisbee, cartwheels, picnics and festivals. It also has been the site of massive demonstrations, inaugurations and pivotal moments in our nation's history.
The Mall has always cared for America. Now, America is finally caring for it.
"It represents everything that is good about our country," says Cunningham.