Reclamation through Interpretation: One Community’s Path to Healing

How Urban Communities are Healing in the Wake of Destruction by Transportation Infrastructure.

This article appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of NAI Legacy Magazine.
The passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 launched a massive program of federally funded interstate highway construction. This program, which continued into the 1980s, resulted in over 40,000 miles of limited-access highway across the country. It also served as a tool for the destruction of communities of color, perpetuating and reinforcing policies such as urban renewal that shielded racist and harmful actions behind seemingly beneficent urban planning.
Despite the physical destruction of their neighborhoods, former residents are working to reclaim their communities in innovative ways.
One of these methods is by recasting the physical manifestation of neighborhood destruction—the freeways themselves and adjacent infrastructure—into interpreted places that showcase the communities’ culture, values, history, and enduring presence. The Rondo Commemorative Plaza, an interpretive pocket park developed by residents of Rondo—Saint Paul, Minnesota’s historic African American neighborhood—commemorates the community, which was devastated by the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s. With the development of this interpretive plaza, the site is transforming from a locus of trauma and loss to one of community strength and healing.