The artist designing the forthcoming 40th Street Bridge railing over Interstate 35W grew up nearby.
Seitu Jones said he watched home demolition and freeway construction every day on his way to junior high and then high school.
“It is an honor and very flattering to come back to my old neighborhood and create a project that hopefully speaks to the values of the folks that I grew up with,” he said.
Jones grew up near 45th Street & 4th Avenue South, which he described as an African American community where residents of varying backgrounds worked as janitors or lawyers or doctors. The neighborhood had great expectations for his generation, he said.
“I wanted to create a portrait of that neighborhood for all the folks that travel on 35W,” he said.
Jones refined the design concept with members of the Kingfield and Bryant neighborhoods as well as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park Legacy Council. More than anything, neighbors wanted the bridge to represent a connection between the communities, he said.
Jones designed imagery of treetops and rooftops that’s visible to both drivers and pedestrians crossing the bridge. An open hand will appear in ceramic relief on the four bridgeheads as a gesture of welcome. West African Adinkra symbols will also appear in the center pilaster.
“His proposed railing concepts are derived from photos of the neighborhood and play with shape, line and perspective, providing a view of the nearby houses and tree canopies,” states a project summary submitted by Mary Altman, the city’s public arts administrator. “On the face, this design appears to be simple, but it is actually extremely complex, with varying widths of steel pickets making up the lighter and darker shapes that form the house and tree shapes.”
Jones said freeway construction impacted a high percentage of African American communities nationwide. Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in a 2016 speech that during the first 20 years of construction of the interstate system, a majority of the people displaced were people of color.
“The freeways followed the path of least political resistance,” Jones said.
He said the new design provides an opportunity to connect “both communities along that freeway, to open them up.”
The bridge is scheduled for construction in 2018. For project updates, visit dot.state.mn.us/35w94.