Mary Tracy, executive director of Scenic Philadelphia and president of Scenic America, recently helped mark the start of the 50th anniversary year of the Highway Beautification Act and the White House Conference on Natural Beauty by leading a series of events in Washington, D.C.
Mary Tracy with Lucinda Robb, granddaughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson
On October 21 more than 130 guests filled the Anderson House at the Society of the Cincinnati for a tribute to scenic visionaries President and Lady Bird Johnson and Laurance S. Rockefeller. The Johnson family was represented by Lynda Bird Johnson Robb and Lucinda Robb, daughter and granddaughter, respectively, of President and Lady Bird Johnson, and the Rockefeller family was represented by Larry Rockefeller, son of Laurance S. Rockefeller.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Senator Tom Udall. His father Stewart Udall was Secretary of the Interior during the Johnson administration and played a pivotal role in promoting the scenic conservation policies proposed by President and Lady Bird Johnson. Click here to read Senator Udall’s remarks in full.
Among the public officials present at the tribute was Congressman Sam Farr, who two days earlier joined Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson, at Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California for a ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of passage of the Highway Beautification Act. Nearly fifty years earlier at the same site, Congressman Farr’s father, Senator Fred Farr, joined Lady Bird Johnson to dedicate Highway 1 as California’s first scenic highway.
“Passing the Highway Beautification Act was an historic moment in the environmental movement and I am proud of the Central Coast’s role in creating the first State Scenic Highway,” said Congressman Farr. “I want to thank Luci Baines Johnson for coming to Bixby Bridge to celebrate our parents’ legacy and the legacy of California’s scenic Highway 1.”
On October 22, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Highway Beautification Act, representatives of more than thirty Scenic America affiliates and allied organizations from all over the country packed the National Press Club for a symposium on the current state and future of scenic conservation.
The program began with a video of Henry L. Diamond speaking about his experience as Executive Director of the 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty, an unprecedented event in which more than 800 people came to Washington at the request of President Johnson to convey to him personally what they thought their country should look like. The President asked Laurance S. Rockefeller to chair the conference and Mr. Rockefeller asked Mr. Diamond take charge of the day-to-day organizing of the event. Click here to watch Mr. Diamond discuss his recollections of the 1965 conference.
With the spirit of the earlier conference still in the air, Scenic America unveiled a working draft of its new white paper titled Taking the Long View: A Proposal for Realizing America the Beautiful.
The work proposes bold but achievable solutions for fixing America’s scenic environment in five key areas: Preserving Community Character, Honoring Parks and Open Spaces, Celebrating Byways and Gateways, Undergrounding Overhead Wires and Promoting Beautiful Highways. Click here to download a working draft of Taking the Long View.
Featured luncheon speaker Cokie Roberts captivated the audience with personal stories of her family’s friendship with the Johnsons and of Lady Bird’s work to beautify the nation’s capital. Roberts said that Mrs. Johnson’s energy, enthusiasm and ability to get things done in a subtle but persistent manner were remarkable. Click here to watch a brief video of Ms. Roberts speaking about Lady Bird’s legacy.
The afternoon session included presentations from representatives of allied organizations including the Trust for Public Land, the American Planning Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, Scenic Hudson, the Garden Club of America, Saving Historic Roads, the American Society of Landscape Architects and Scenic Toronto. There was much discussion of how our organizations can better work together to advance the scenic conservation movement.
Also on October 22 a joint resolution was introduced on the floor of the U.S. Senate by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. The resolution unanimously passed the Senate. Click here for remarks by Senators Alexander and Udall on the resolution. Click here for the full text of the resolution.
Scenic America’s conference and white paper are already making an impact with policy makers and leaders in the scenic conservation world.
During debate on the transportation bill on the House floor on November 4, 2015, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced an amendment to require a federal study on the undergrounding of utility wires.
Both Congresswoman Hahn and Congressman Cicilline complimented and said they were inspired by the work of Scenic America to beautify the nation’s roadsides and landscapes. The amendment was ultimately withdrawn due to opposition from Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), who said he believes in the benefits of undergrounding but didn’t think the transportation bill was the appropriate place for it.
Scenic Philadelphia and Scenic America will continue working hard in the year ahead to uphold the ideals of the Johnsons, Rockefellers and other scenic visionaries who set the foundation years ago for America the Beautiful as we know her today.