Public historians Greg Donofrio and Denise Pike recently hosted a historical walking tour with MnDOT for the 35W@94 project. Their research presented focused on highway planning in the 1950’s and 60’s and how assumptions were made about the neighborhood along 35W, leading to long-term social and economic impacts. We got the chance to interview them about their research—
Q: What inspired this project/ research?
Greg Donofrio: There are several reasons why Denise and I wanted to develop a community-engaged pubic history project centered around 35W in South Minneapolis. Between the two of us, we've been working for several years on different projects with collaborators who live and work in that community-my students and I on the Arthur and Edith House, and Denise and her co-curator Kacie Lucchini Butcher on the exhibit Owning Up. Our collaborators identified the the freeway as a topic worthy of community exploration and discussion because many have painful memories of its construction, and they have continued to live alongside it for the past fifty years.
The timing of the project also made sense to us because the current 35W@94 corridor improvement project is on the minds of everyone who lives in and commutes around the Twin Cities and beyond. And we imagine that the large earth moving equipment and associated sounds and piles of construction debris that are now on-site enable us to better understand, at an experiential level, the freeway's original construction. Lastly, there is an emerging local and national discussion about the disparate impact of freeways on communities of color, which the city seeks to address in its proposed Minneapolis 2040 Plan.
Q: How do you think this research will impact communities in Minneapolis?
GD: Diverse members of South Minneapolis communities accept our invitation to contribute to a digital archive about 35W, and suggest ideas for the exhibition. We believe that understanding one’s own experience as being important to the history of a place can be transformative, validating, and affirming. This also extends to the experiences of one’s family and forbearers.
The project sheds a light on this topic of community concern, drawing people together who haven't yet met each over but who share a common experience of, or impact from, the freeway. The exhibit will generate and reinvigorate new discussions about the freeway--its historical legacies as well as its ongoing impacts.
Discussion will contribute to action. The section on "Freeway Remediation" in the Minneapolis 2040 Plan talks about wanting to "repair the damage done" to people who were harmed by freeways. But we believe more public discussion needs to happen to determine who was harmed, and how, and what they would like to see by way of "repair." So, we hope that this project becomes a base of engagement that helps communities organize and prepare to participate in planning for the future of South Minneapolis neighborhoods, documenting and amplifying community solutions for change.
Photograph courtesy of Hennepin History Museum archives.