If the United States were a house, one might question the priorities of its 305 million owners. Big money goes to tchotchkes—a stadium here, a condo tower there—while the repair bill keeps growing (because who wants to deal with that?): $1.6 trillion for crumbling infrastructure, $4 billion to $6 billion for deteriorating national parks, and on and on. The National Mall—shown here in early November—is often called "America's front yard." But to live up to its potential, the mall needs $350 million. Congress has come up short, not surprisingly, so a private trust is stepping in to find the dollars.

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