Fresh Eyes: When creativity became ‘so Winston’

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AndreaLittell_Headshot (1 of 1)by Andrea Littell

“That’s so Winston.”

This phrase pops up regularly during my conversations around town.

A group of rock-and-roll renegades defied establishment to setup an artist collective and music venue in an abandoned part of downtown. That collective eventually grew into a noted coffeehouse, roasting operation and café, and is now a beloved local institution.

“Yeah, that’s so Winston.”

A homegrown nonprofit that supports local artists and public art is awarded a monumental $2 million grant, decides to invest in the city’s future by creating a public art park using local materials and talent.

“That’s so Winston.”

Thing is, there was a time when “That’s so Winston” didn’t resonate so positively. Following a shift away from a historically tobacco-driven economy, the city’s energy and growth slowed for years. But things have certainly changed in my hometown. Today, “That’s so Winston” has become a sort of mantra that speaks to the community’s connectedness and desire to set the Camel City apart.

This year the state Department of Transportation is slated to start rebuilding a one-mile stretch of Business 40 in downtown Winston-Salem. The project will close down a portion of the roadway for two years, and includes replacement of 11 aging bridges. This is one of the most substantial infrastructure projects brought to Winston-Salem in decades.

But there is more to this story than just the closing of a major corridor and an investment of $200 million. After dedicating nearly 9 years worth of time, patience and talents, the Creative Corridors Coalition will finally witness what they are calling a “once-in-a-generation infrastructure project” come to life.

The Creative Corridors Coalition is a volunteer-run, nonprofit organization founded in 2007. The group, formed two years after the DOT originally announced plans for Business 40, was created to provide a voice and a process for residents of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County to influence the design of roadway infrastructure projects in and around downtown Winston-Salem.

Early on, Creative Corridors organizers had a vision to turn this routine roadway project into an economic, aesthetic and social-capital GAIN for the city; GAIN stands for Green, Artful, Iconic, Network. As Chairman Lee French said, “This is our chance to become a proper 21st Century city.”

Since 2007, volunteers have initiated and participated in hundreds of community meetings, organized dozens of community events, and worked tirelessly alongside city and state officials to ensure the new bridges capture the city’s devotion to arts, culture and innovation.

The coalition’s master visionary plan creates pedestrian bridges and vehicular overpasses that double as public art while enhancing accessibility and connectivity with neighborhoods adjacent to downtown. The plan’s projects include Research Parkway betterments and the Twin Arches Bridge at US Highway 52, MLK Jr. Drive betterments, the Strollway Pedestrian Bridge, the Green Street Pedestrian Bridge and the Peters Creek Parkway Bridge.

Commissioned designers include Donald McDonald, best known for designing the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, SC, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the retrofit of the Golden Gate Bridge; Larry Kirkland, whose portfolio includes noted public art projects at the American Red Cross Headquarters and New York’s Penn Station; and Walter Hood, a North Carolina native whose projects span from Oakland to the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Local landscape-architecture firm Stimmel and Associates rounds out the project.

Two of the most noteworthy designs are the Twin Arches Bridge and the Strollway Pedestrian Bridge. The Twin Arches Bridge design draws from the arches of the Moravian community, which settled in the area more than 250 years ago. It was designed to be an iconic gateway into Winston-Salem. Similar to the High Line in Manhattan, the Strollway Pedestrian Bridge will include 12-foot-wide walkways to allow both pedestrian and bicycle traffic and will re-link historic Old Salem with downtown Winston. It is believed to be the first urban land bridge in the United States.

Half of the project’s overall expense will be financed through a combination of city, state and federal funding petitioned for by the organization. Creative Corridors is responsible for securing the balance of the funding.

Currently the iconic bridge projects are in the DOT pipeline and the corridor projects are underway with the city. Creative Corridors needs $5 million to complete the project. To complete funding, Creative Corridors launched its final phase, the community campaign, on Jan. 14 with a crowd-funding effort to raise at least $50,000 from fellow residents.

“Every great city has a defining aesthetic,” French said. “This is Winston-Salem’s opportunity to define itself.”

And as they say, “That’s so Winston.”

Andrea Littell is a freelance writer and photographer living in Winston-Salem. Find her latest stories and handpicked Winston-Salem happenings each week at TowniesWS.com.