The Word from the Papers

March 10, 2005 01:56 AM by Bil

Ian Donnis offers his take on the Downcity housing boom in last week's Providence Phoenix. As usual, he's watching out for the people of Providence who tend to get ignored while we ooh and ahh over shiny new downtown buildings.

On an idea whose time has finally come, the ProJo's Ed Achorn, taking a breather from his usual union-bashing, calls Buddy Cianci out as the biggest hindrance to the Renaissance he's usually credited for driving. The full story is here.

David Brussat's on the case, with a nice wrapup of all the excitement (and the disdain for ugly buildings we love around here).

And my other blog has some thoughts, with comments!

New Westin Hotel Tower Rendering

March 08, 2005 05:57 PM by Bil

Here's a drawing of the new Westin hotel tower, to be built by the Procaccianti Group.

Westin Providence New Tower
(click for larger image)

Thanks to David Brussat and The Procaccianti Group.

It's Funny Because It's True (but Sad)

December 03, 2004 01:56 AM by Bil

I laughed out loud when I read this today:

Statistically, downtown is one of the safest neighborhoods in Providence. Its reputation for insecurity springs from perceptions arising from darkness, litter, graffiti, vandalism, public urination, modern architecture, auto break-ins, and the boisterous behavior of the sweetly stewed.

I appreciate jabs at the structural arrogance we call modern architecture of course, but it's actually true that the alienating-by-design philosophy of modernists does few things as well as permanently blinding "eyes on the street" as easily as it tosses beautiful ornamentation. Read Jane Jacobs for more on that, but you've already done that, right?

So henceforth consider it a civic duty to support your local law enforcement: fight modern architecture!

Welcome to Suburbia

October 08, 2004 05:28 PM by Bil

Buy this magnet here.

where the streets

Wrecking Downtown: A Rebuttal

October 06, 2004 02:10 PM by Bil

Evan Granoff: Jerry Garcia and the future of Providence

This is a pretty good piece from one of the developers targeting a downtown building for demolition. It's not exactly a rebuttal (despite my title), as he says:

Instead of focusing on the loss of the buildings, a more appropriate focus is what can be gained. By removing these two obsolete buildings, we are creating a significant development opportunity between the Turks Head Building and the Providence Arcade, an area of the city in need of new development. And a proper development in this area can revitalize these and other buildings in a way that is not possible now.

I don't think you'll find anyone to argue that, but it's likely we're looking at years of surface parking on the site in question. That's not good.

AND a reply from the executive director of Preserve Rhode Island.

The Wrecking Ball Comes to (Down)Town

September 30, 2004 12:54 PM by Bil

Who could have predicted that knocking down a derelict gas station could lead to the end of Providence as we know it? When Joe Paolino (former Prov mayor and "owner of half of Providence") razed the circular gas station on Broadway last year for (what else?) parking, he set into motion the implosion of the Downcity district that protected downtown buildings from willy-nilly destruction. In light of a court decision (on a technicality) voiding the district, it just got a lot easier to bulldoze any downtown structures. While the city tries to get its act together to reinstate the district, three downtown buildings might face the wrecking ball.

I was afraid that someone might "accidentally" knock them down overnight, so I took my camera downtown on Monday to get some shots. The buildings are:

90 Westminster Street (and the hole in the urban fabric next to it)

110 Westminster Street (next to the Arcade) - Actually, I've been hoping someone would tear down this awful building, probably the worst on Westminster. But I wanted it down so a good building could be put there (and on it's adjoining surface lot).

100 Washington Street, at Mathewson Street. This building is fascinating, as it is only 12½ feet deep. It's probably impossible to understate the value of a building like this, which adds life to the street and shields Washington Street from a block-sized surface parking lot. Especially in this location between the Convention Center and Westminster/Weybosset Streets, and along Washington St, one of Downcity's most important streetscapes. Building-less breaks in the urban fabric are cancers to cities, and left unchecked those cancers metastasize until the city is a lifeless shell. This has happened in the commercial centers of almost every old city in America, and Providence has been luckier than most.

I really hope these buildings don't get razed (even the ugly one) for the incredibly wasteful purpose of parking. Get working, Providence, and get the Downtown district back in place.

Of course, David Brussat's on the case, too.

Capital Center Commission

August 16, 2004 02:39 PM by Bil

I went to last week's Capital Center Commission meeting. On the docket was a presentation by Intercontinental on their development of parcel 2 in Capital Center, so I wanted to check that out. Before that, though, a couple items brought up:

Upscale housing on Parcel 6, along Canal St, between the Mosshasuck and the train station, is moving forward. They have a financial commitment and are now seeking tax stabilization agreements, and progress is being made slowly but surely.

The GTECH building will be presented at the Design Review Committee on August 31st. Will it still be bad? Probably. At least the landscaping is looking up.

The Westin escalator, to keep the riff-raff and other mall patrons out of the hotel lobby while allowing access to the skybridge, is all set to be built, perhaps beginning this October.

Parcel 2 will be developed as two residential/ ground floor retail and restaurant buildings, with further development of perhaps a hotel being a possibility in the future. There will be about 275 apartments, mostly 1- and 2-bedrooms ranging in rents from $1,350-$2,500 per month. There will also be a 500 car garage below street level and screened by retail space. At river-level there will be retail and restaurant space allowing for a lively riverwalk area, and one level up there would be a large glass-walled restaurant as a focal point for the corner on Waterplace.

Urbanistically, the design is very good. There's an internal plaza, a passageway through one building down to Waterplace Park and a good pedestrian environment between buildings.

Architecturally... still a dog. From what I can tell, there's not too much change from this image from Providence Business News. The towers are about 17 stories tall, which makes them by far the largest buildings in Capital Center, taller than the Citizens Bank Building and absolutely dwarfing the train station and the Boston Financial building. Materially, there's no continuity with the rest of the Capital Center or even Waterplace.

The developers are shooting for a late-'04, early-'05 start on construction. Are we stuck with this sore thumb sticking out of the centerpiece of the Renaissance City? We moved rivers for this!?

195 Relocation On Schedule

August 10, 2004 04:03 PM by Bil

Today's ProJo has a little catch-you-up article on the progress towards relocating interstate 195 south of the Hurricane Barrier. There's not much news, but it's a good guide to the changes that are now beginning to show up. I found it interesting that the giant dirt mounds next to Collier Park are actually there to tamp down the silt and soil of the riverbanks. What's more, there's a recent satellite-type photo, which I love.

Apparently only the Point Street overpass is being held up (I was wondering about that...), though I get the feeling the India Point powerlines are going to cause some delay in the next year or two.

In other related development news, if you've driven into Providence from Davol Square recently, you'll have noticed a new road diverting traffic off of the riverbank. I was there yesterday, snapping some pictures (one, two and three). If the Old Harbor area is built as currently conceived, this area will be a Bannister Wharf-life pedestrian concourse. You can get an idea in this video from RIDOT. That's a big if, of course, but it's great to see the continued reclamation of the waterfront.

Transportation Link-fest!

August 06, 2004 04:52 PM by Bil

Of the nation's 75 largest cities, Providence ranks ninth most difficult city to navigate by car. Woohoo! Top Ten, baby! This is right, though:

"I would rather have our winding, historical streets than the bland, wide streets of a grid system," said Thomas E. Deller, director of the Providence Department of Planning and Development. "It adds to the charm and beauty of New England cities, just like the European cities."

I wish someone would rank the best cities to navigate by foot. I think we'd have another top-ten spot.


So they want to widen 32 miles of interstate highways in RI. You ever get the urge to just grab someone and shake them? That's me and the DOT right now. I thought it was finally sinking in that adding a lane to a congested area doesn't alleviate traffic, it just creates another lane of backup. I guess not. And actually, part of the plan calls for widening an uncongested area, because, uh, well... Our ProJo reporter knows where the story is:

Henry Sherlock, who represents the state's construction industry, also backs the Rhode Island road-widening project. "The problem is already there," he said, and alternative transportation systems "are not going to get rid of these cars."

Go figure. How about this one, though:

"It would be a lot less expensive per mile" to widen the southern part of Route 95 than to widen it in the dense urban areas it crosses farther north.

What?! What does that have to do with anything?! It would be a lot less expensive, per mile, to not throw money at unnecessary projects!

Luckily this is all much ado about nothing, as the suggestion was low on the to-consider list for RIDOT. Hopefully these knuckleheads won't be around when the plan actually comes up for review.

No wider highways. No double-decking. No more accommodating sprawl and throwing our money down the freeway pit.


Thinking about congestion in southern RI, though, gave me a good idea. Instead of widening 95 South near the Connecticut border, why don't we knock it down from two lanes to just one? Instead of easing the potential congestion there, it will be constant! As you may know, millions of Rhode Islanders' dollars literally flow to CT just an couple exits into the Nutmeg State. What better way to stop the cash flow than to slow the traffic flow? Perhaps while sitting in the ungodly traffic it would occur to folks that maybe tossing quarter after quarter into a slot machine isn't actually that fun, and certainly not worth the hassle of gridlock.


Meanwhile, as RIDOT tries to imagine ways to blow nine-figure allocations, RIPTA is facing its annual budget deficit, needing about $1.75 million to cover a shortfall. Threats of reduced service and cut routes are making their yearly appearance.

Public Transit funding is one of my favorite little vicious cycles. Transportation policy sabotages public transit, by, say, widening a highway to literally pave the way for rapid suburban expansion, ridership goes down, thus lawmakers see fit to cut the PT budget, which lowers service quality, which drives people away from PT, which precipitates more cuts (hey, ridership is still down...) and on and on.

Listening to AM radio this week, though, it occurs to me that RIPTA should start sponsoring the traffic reports (as of now, warnings of accidents and congestion are brought to you by cool, refreshing Dunkin Donuts iced lattes...). What better way to suggest transit alternatives to people stuck in traffic? (I'd also like to see one of those billboards that say "Don't like the traffic? You ARE the traffic")


Speaking of RIPTA, this week's email newsletter had an interview with RIPTA's planning manager Tim McCormick. This guy "gets it" (can we send him to RIDOT?!) Excerpts:

Who's the biggest pain ?you have to deal with?

People who don't take the bus and have decided that there is no room in the world for people who do, regardless of the applicable laws. This includes businesses and churches (believe it or not) that don't want a bus stop in front of their property, even though it has every right to be there, and property owners who want bus routes removed from their streets.

If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?

A $4 per gallon gas tax -- and fund transit with the proceeds.

Would you label yourself an environmentalist?

Yes, because I believe we should each personally use as little land and resources as possible to get by. I don't have a lot of baggage about it. For me it is like being polite to strangers or not. It is a way to treat other people, animals, and the planet itself.

What's one thing the environmental movement is doing badly?

Attracting the political right.

If you could have every ... reader do one thing, what would it be?

When you travel to another city, always look to see if you can use public transit exclusively. You will learn something about the place and its people that you never would have otherwise, and I guarantee you will have some fun.


Finally, we end on some good news. West Bay commuter rail isn't dead! The new date for construction of the Warwick train station is 2006, and if I remember correctly this was supposed to start in 1997. The Warwick Station has to be one of the biggest no-brainers in the last couple decades, as TF Green Airport is the closest airport to major rail lines in the country. Such a no-brainer, in fact, a cynic would be surprised it's still moving forward.

Apparently, the latest delay was in dealing with Amtrak about adding a few more rails, but that seems to be squared away now. So really, this time, 2006. Please?

Downtown on a Roll

July 09, 2004 02:23 AM by Bil

"[I'm] in the middle of a major plan right now that I think will add greatly to the skyline of Providence." - Providence developer Joe Paolino

I'm sure that quote will send a pleasant shiver down the spine of URBlog regulars. The line appears in this week's Providence Phoenix, though the former mayor declined to elaborate on the plan. The article "Downtown on a roll" is a nice update on the Downcity residential scene. Anyone who's walked down Westminster Street downtown lately has surely been aware of the progress, and there's more on the horizon.

Ian Donnis covers the transformation well, with some history and peeks ahead (and, in true Phoenix fashion, reminds us how the artists and the needy are unable to participate). New to me, the piece says that Sasaki Associates was recently awarded a six-figure contact to create a new vision for more closely linking Downcity with the Jewelry District, Capital Center and the West Side (They were the team that sketched out Mayor Cianci's Narragansett Landing "New City").

Excited yet? I am.

BONUS: Here's a (very unpolished) photo gallery of the area in question, from last December. Art In Ruins has related (and better designed) galleries here and here.