Arlington Celebrates Opening of John Robinson, Jr. Town Square

Published on May 13, 2022

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Arlington County is excited to announce the opening of John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, a community gathering and celebration of Green Valley’s rich cultural heritage.

The Arlington County Board officially named the town square in Green Valley as John Robinson, Jr. Town Square as part of a grand opening celebration on Sat., May 7, 2022, during an event that featured a ribbon cutting, remarks from the County Board, stories from the community and more.

“The John Robinson, Jr. Town Square realizes a vision for Green Valley that emerged from a community steered planning process and delivers a civic space that will welcome a variety of uses and users through the thoughtful and inspiring design of Walter Hood,” County Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey said. “Through the iconic FREED sculpture, we are encouraged to contemplate historic and contemporary struggles for freedom and equity while drawing inspiration from the square’s namesake, John Robinson Jr., whose life was devoted to uplifting our Black community.”

John Robinson, Jr. Town Square was developed as the anchor for the Village Center, in parallel with the Four Mile Run Valley initiative. Its features and improvements include open space and a plaza, public art, an outdoor stage, neighborhood history and community information, sidewalks and pedestrian improvements as well as seating and tables.

The space was designed by award-winning landscape architect and artist Walter Hood. Hood took inspiration for the design from the history and community of Green Valley.

Over the course of five years, Hood and Arlington County staff engaged residents and community leaders in the design process, including the Green Valley Civic Association (GVCA).

“I would like to personally thank the folks of Green Valley for their kindness and support throughout the project,” said Walter Hood. “I have come to admire your tenaciousness and commitment to tell your own story and support the local histories and futures for the community, starting with the space’s name, John Robinson, Jr. Town Square.” 

Hood was especially influenced by the historical ties between the neighborhood and Freedman’s Village, a community for escaped enslaved people and freepersons established at the end of the Civil War on property which later became home to the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery.

Former Freedman’s Village residents who remained in the area further populated several of Arlington County’s traditionally African American neighborhoods, including Arlington View, Halls Hill and Green Valley. 

MORE: Remembering Arlington’s Freedman’s Village

About the Town Square

John Robinson, Jr. Town Square is composed of a set of diagonal walkways laid over a street grid creating a place that allows for a variety of community programs, including markets, festivals and daily leisure, a desired key feature identified during meetings with the Green Valley Civic Association.

A shallow swale, or drainage path, includes a lush planting palette comprised of native plants that treat the site’s stormwater runoff. Along the banks of the swale, small flowering trees and benches are interspersed, allowing quiet places for seating.

The site’s grade change delineates a lawn with stepping stones on one side and a widened sidewalk with bioretention tree planters on the other. A plaza with a stage overlooks a bosque of river birches. 

About the FREED Sculpture

The primary design feature of the Town Square is the FREED sculpture, a 30-foot-tall beacon which pays homage to the notion of freedom. Each letter of the golden sculpture incorporates laser cut patterns featuring the name of a historic subdivision of Green Valley and a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol. Learn more at the Hood Studios website.

MORE: Watch a timelapse of FREED being installed

About the Process

The County Board adopted the then-named Nauck Village Center Action Plan (NVCAP) on July 10, 2004, to guide public and private investment in Green Valley’s commercial center. Settled by free African Americans in 1844, the Green Valley neighborhood (formerly known as Nauck) is one of Arlington’s oldest African American communities.

Arlington County’s Neighborhood Services Division (within the Community Planning, Housing and Development department) manages the project in partnership with the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Environmental Services and Arlington Economic Development-Cultural Affairs.

The project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts

About John Robinson, Jr.

Born in Arlington, John Robinson, Jr. (1934-2010) was a community activist who fought for decades against racial injustice and inequality in northern Virginia. Robinson published the Green Valley News, a free African American publication that circulated in Green Valley for more than 45 years. Robinson also founded and led the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in the neighborhood and organized food, clothing and furniture drives for local families. Over the years, he opened his doors to hundreds of people who were homeless.

Robinson was widely recognized for his community activism and was often called the "Mayor of Green Valley.” In Nov. 2020, the County Board approved naming the town square in Green Valley as John Robinson, Jr. Town Square.

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