SAINT PAUL, Minnesota — "The garden is our way of showing people that there is beauty within this community."
It's a fresh start for St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood, a site with both a beautiful and tragic history.
"The Rondo community was a thriving African-American community from the late 1800s right up until the 1950s. And it was a pretty secure, safe, close-knit community until the decision was made to route I-94 through the Rondo community," explained Marvin Anderson, Saint Paul native and executive director of the Rondo Center of Diverse Expression.
More than 600 African-American families lost their homes, along with hundreds of businesses. Now, Anderson is helping to preserve the neighborhood's history with the nonprofit ReConnect Rondo. "It's a legacy that America needs to know about."
Along with a rain garden, volunteers and organizations are planting odes to the past. "The elm trees actually touched each other, and it was a beautiful sight to walk down Rondo." So, while Anderson reminisced about the incredible natural beauty of the neighborhood, he pointed out one of the new elms saying, "It will spread out and provide shade for that mound which is a mound of history."
There's an even bigger initiative, to physically reconnect the north and south sides by building a land bridge. The goal is to knit together a portion of the Rondo community that Anderson says was destroyed by the freeway.
Plans are underway that include housing and new retail. But before that project blossoms, this summer is about planting the seeds to bring this St. Paul community back to its roots. "So, we believe in the spirit of old Rondo that having a community garden plays, has a way, it's solidifying what old Rondo was, and it's also looking to what Rondo can be," said Anderson.
There are also plans for an arts and cultural district connected to the land bridge. ReConnect Rondo has virtual morning and evening discussion sessions about the work on July 7th.