Business 40 Landscape Designer Wins MacArthur 'Genius' Grant And Bridges Divides
Charlotte native Walter Hood was recently named a MacArthur Fellow — an award known as the “genius” grant — for his work revitalizing neglected urban spaces. The landscape designer reimagines roadways, bridges, and parks — raising people’s awareness of their surroundings and allowing them to engage with those spaces in new ways. Hood’s projects have been recognized around the world, and his new Strollway Pedestrian Bridge in Winston-Salem may soon be added to that list.
It’s part of the Business 40 Improvements Project. One of its stated goals is to mend communities here that were divided by highway constructions in the past. Hood spoke about it with WFDD’s David Ford in 2017 during his tour of the construction site for a previous story.
Hood is the Creative Director and Founder of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, CA, and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Some of his most notable work includes like the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, and Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.
His Strollway Pedestrian Bridge, connecting Old Salem with Downtown Winston-Salem will accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic. It will be the first urban land bridge in North Carolina. Large planting beds on either side of the walkways will be filled with native plants and trees and, hopefully, says Hood, lots of human interactions.
On re-imagining the strollway:
Right now, if you talk to someone, and ask them about their experience with the strollway, they would say that the strollway goes under the freeway. The new strollway will go over the freeway, which is a profoundly different way of moving through space. Going under the freeway you hear the rumblings of the cars overhead, but this is going to change the whole equation. The cars now will be down on the ground, and we’ll be flying overhead.
On past successes with urban landscape design:
One of our projects, Splash Pad Park [in Oakland, California], sits right next to an elevated freeway. But it has a market on Saturdays. That’s awesome! And what we try to do is to just get people to say, ‘The freeway is there. It’s going to be there — until we stop using cars — but we can’t have that impact how we live.’ Because without the space, people were still using it. They were still in their cars. They were still walking by it. They just didn’t stay. And once they stayed, then the logic completely transforms the freeway.
On the challenges of reuniting communities torn apart by highways:
It’s really hard this notion of stitching — trying to reclaim landscapes that were taken by infrastructure. And I think what we’ve tried to do is try to re-imagine them with the infrastructure. Because it’s an uphill battle… particularly [with] these state and federal roads that come through. A lot of times they’re not even about the local community. They’re about these larger more regional issues. And so, these battles are just really hard to win.
On how infrastructure awareness and engagement strengthen communities:
For me in the landscape, what’s really fantastic is that it’s one of the few physical places that we have to share. That’s where you can begin to bring back some of these memories and have these conversations about an African-American who owned land where the freeway is, 11 acres here. You can talk about I-40 and how freeways have been used planning-wise to segregate communities. And we know that. Least resistance, that’s where we go in.
We also know ecologically that the more biomass that we have in our cities, the healthier we can be, the more active we can be. So things like trails, walkways, strollways, trees, infrastructure, all of these things can begin to create a sort of context for discussions on subjects that people used to not want to have. And today, hopefully, you can have those discussions.