Raynard S. Kington
President, Grinnell College, 2010-2020
In 2015, Grinnell College purchased the vacant lot at the corner of Highways 6 and 146, intending to hold it till we had a plan to develop it or trade it for another property. Because of its unusual shape and size, it was a difficult site for development, and we felt it was better to own the property, pay the taxes, and maintain the site than have it sit isolated with a “For Sale” sign. One possibility we had in mind was to place something distinctive on the corner to announce that visitors and residents had reached a crossroads that connected the college and the community, and to signal that Grinnell is a place of significance.
In 2016, I learned of the innovative urban and landscape design work of Walter Hood and the Hood Design Studio in Oakland, California. Their social art and design practice, under the inspired direction of their founder seemed an excellent fit for Grinnell. Hood’s portfolio included a range of projects where he was able to breathe life into unusual and underutilized sites. He took these spaces and transformed them into livable places that were accessible and meaningful for community members. We hoped Walter Hood might be able to work with town and campus to generate an intriguing piece of public art for all to enjoy.
Hood and his team began visiting Grinnell in the Fall of 2016. Through a series of walks from downtown to campus, and from campus to town, along sidewalks, streets, and alleys, we introduced the Hood team to our small, rural Midwestern city. We all learned to see our community in new ways, and Hood returned to California full of ideas, which generated more research about Grinnell and about the specific corner where his art would be placed.
Walter Hood is a strong believer in history as a thread that ties people and places together. By resurrecting information about the two homes that once sat on our corner, and through his fascination with the ways people pass by and through Grinnell, he wove together an idea for a small park that reminds us of our past, acknowledges the many intersections in our lives, and provides beauty and respite in the present. Within the park are the footprints of the two original homes and one carriage house on the alley. Over time, the design evolved from a grid to a diagonal lattice, and from metal to wood, and it allows those passing by and through the space to see through the structures’ walls to what now exists on the corner.
As I prepare to leave my Grinnell home of ten years, I am glad that Grinnell Crossroads will welcome new visitors to the community and will give further reason for all Grinnellians to celebrate their town. I thank Walter Hood and his team for their work at Grinnell and invite everyone to take a few moments to enjoy this addition to our landscape.