John Robinson, Jr. Town Square
John Robinson, Jr. Town Square
24th Road and S. Shirlington Road, Arlington, VA 22204
Artist: Walter Hood
Materials: Laser cut aluminum panel, metallic gold urethane topcoat (FREED)
Artist and designer Walter Hood took inspiration for the design of the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square and sculpture from the history and community of Green Valley. Hood is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards that include election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a United States Artist Fellowship, Senior Loeb Scholar at Harvard, the Gish Prize, and a MacArthur Genius Award.
Over the course of five years, Walter Hood engaged residents and community leaders in the design process, supported in part through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town program.
Hood was especially influenced by the historical ties between the neighborhood and Freedman’s Village, a community for escaped slaves 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, Hall’s Hill and Green Valley.
John Robinson, Jr. Town Square is composed of two juxtaposed geometries: a set of diagonal walkways laid over the orthogonal street grid creating a place that allows for a variety of community programs, including markets, festivals, and daily leisure. The need to accommodate these various kinds of activities was discussed with Walter Hood at multiple meetings of the Green Valley Civic Association (GVCA).
A green swath bisects the ground plane creating a sinuous swale that references the topography of Green Valley and includes a lush planting palette comprised of native plants that treat the site’s storm water 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 marks the origins of the swale at a high point of the site with a stage, which was requested by the community, overlooking a bosque of river birches.
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, whether experienced as a historical or contemporary and personal or collective condition. 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. The suggestion to use Adinkra symbols was generated from a GVCA meeting.
Watch a video 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.
The Community Voices, The Nauck Community Heritage Project, completed in 2008 in partnership with the Arlington County Department of Community Planning, Housing, and Development, invited historian Harold Anderson to document the oral histories of residents in the south Arlington Green Valley community. This work heavily informed the John Robinson, Jr. Town Square project.
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 November 2020, the County Board approved naming the town square in Green Valley as John Robinson, Jr. Town Square.