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Neighbors unite over I-95 bridge

As DelDOT plans a major rehabilitation of I-95 through Wilmington,  residents are working to bring together the neighborhoods split apart by the highway in the 1960s. 


The 7th Street bridge over I-95 in Wilmington was shut down to cars this week to make room for three days of community events under the banner “united neighbors.” A mural was painted on the bridge Thursday. A free community meal was held there Friday. A block party will be held on the bridge Saturday. 

The events were organized by West Side Grows Together, a program of Cornerstone West CDC, along with residents, faith and community development organizations, and other stakeholders.

Nearby resident Sherry Rose came to the mural painting Thursday after seeing a flyer on her door. “I think this is a great idea,” she said. “It’s bringing flair to our city.”

Terrance Vann is lead artist on the mural project – and cofounder of Wilmington-based creative production company VibePro. He grew up in West Center city.

“You see the word here, it says ‘united’,” he said, describing the mural. “And on the other side it says ‘unidos,’ which is united in Spanish. And that pretty much represents what we’re trying to accomplish here. Uniting the neighborhoods, the city, through visual art.”

He says the project was spurred by the planned rehab project on I-95. “This is paying homage to the past here, where the city used to be unified. I-95 kind of put a split. There used to be houses and businesses and churches all where these bridges are today. So when that happened, unfortunately a lot of activity got separated because it was harder for each side to communicate.

“So as we’re looking to redo these bridges and redo 95, let’s speak to that history and try to reunite and heal some of that that happened in the past that kind of still has an effect today.”

Vanity Constance was contracted to help organize the project through Cornerstone West Community Development Corporation. She calls ‘united neighbors’ a “movement” to connect West Side and West Center City.

“When I-95 was built, it destroyed so many families,” said Constance.“We’re here just to make a connection and say, ‘Yo, West Center City, you’re still our family— and we’re willing to connect with you all as well.’”

Constance also sees the events as a “pilot” for a project like a permanent land bridge over I-95. That idea was raised by residents at a community meeting held by Cornerstone West last fall.

DelDOT officials said at the time that “capping” the highway would be beyond the scope of the rehab project. 

“The land bridge— it’s not that it’s shot down, it’s just that it’s a huge investment, and no one’s willing to commit that much money to a project right now,” said Sarah Lester, director of Cornerstone West CDC. “That’s why these types of events where you can demonstrate the changes that you want to see for a period of time and gain a lot of momentum from the community and get buy-in, I think that’s what’s so important. This is just planting the seeds for future conversations like a land bridge.”

Lester notes there is no single vision for what should happen around I-95, and that any plans should be driven by the community that has been “impacted by this highway for decades.” 

She says that is where projects like “united neighbors” and coalitions like West Side Grows Together, which is led by Cornerstone West CDC, come in. “It’s all about how do we get the community together and talking about it, so that they can guide what happens next."

This story has been updated.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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