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Providence Field Trip

  • 9:05 AM — Leave RWU.
  • 9:45 AM — Arrive in Providence, Wickenden Street at South Main (Shell station).
  • 3:15 PM —  Return to RWU. 
    • Bus, West Main
  • 4:00 PM —  Arrive back at RWU.

2013 News

  • To be posted

2010 News (September-October 2010)

2009 News (September-October 2009)


Divine Providence is no stranger to Roger Williams — as he first settled here in 1636. But the last 350 years have seen a lot of change, most recently an enlightened urban renaissance starting circa 1986, spurred by a 80s downturn that has provided the seedbed for positive change, guided in part by the Mayor's Office, the Providence Plan, and other initiatives including the Livable Providence 2000, which will result in the drafting of a new urban environmental plan for the City of Providence. Recently, 2004 Duaney and development of a vision for Providence 2020 by Sasaki Associates (Sasaki text only; Draft Zoning Ordinance, June 2, 2005; ProJo June 27, 2005).


From Bristol, this trip usually means taking I-195 (Part of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System (FHWA, Wikipedia). For the upside see The American Highway Users Alliance and FHA history of the system; for the reality: look around as suburan sprawl, urban disinvestment, and devastating land-use practices. I-195 and I-95 — introduced in the late 50s and early 60s — cut through the heart of the city and also occupy or act as a barrier to the city's river and marine waterfronts. But this is changing.Through 2009, I-195 is being "realigned" (Relocation of Interstate 195) to outside the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier (1966), eastward up to a "reconstructed" Washington Bridge. Much is already in place, including the signature Providence River Iway Bridge (See RIDOT podcasts on YouTube, listed below.)

This scheme will increase public access to the waterfront: here, India Point.There has been a Replacement of the India Point Park Pedestrian Bridge (New India Point Park podcast on YouTube). Friends of India Point Park is an active community group that has a shared concerns and interest in the 18 acres of open space along the 3,600-foot shoreline at the confluence of the Seekonk and Providence Rivers where they widen into Narragansett Bay. (See RIDOT podcasts on YouTube, listed below.)

Demolition of the existing I-195 bridge will also free up land for "development" on each side of Old Harbor, link the Jewelry District with Downcity. North of Point Street Bridge isthe Dynamo House (350 Eddy Street), the former Naragansett Electric plant, with 300,000 (or the total 419,000) square feet of mixed-use being co-developed by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse (Dynamo House, brochure); with the Smithsonian Institution-affiliated Heritage Harbor, which includes a partnership of over a dozen museums, using 55,000 square feet. The $150-million project will include a hotel, office space, restaurants, cafes, retail shops, the Heritage Harbor Museum ($48.2-million) the artistic (by Alex Castro) reinstallation of six historic smoke stacks(191 feet off the ground, approved as a variance by the Providence Zoning Board of Review, alogn with heating and cooling equipment on roof, a large clock, and signature Dynamo House signs. For some work in Baltimore see GReater Fells Point) and a roof garden, including a LEED-certified green roof largely covered by grass and other vegetation. Groundbreaking started November 2007. (See Museum seeks to overcome troubled history, ProJo, November 8, 2007.)

Related RIDOT podcasts on YouTube.

  1. Iway Project Overview
  2. Building a Better Highway
  3. Bridge Design and Construction
  4. Iway Bridge Float
  5. New India Point Park
  6. A Revitalized Waterfront

South Main Street

South Main Street displays the results of early 'historic area renewal,' guided by the College Hill Study (1959), for the time a truly enlightened plan that saved historic areas instead of solely considering 'slum clearance,' and other euphemisms for the wholesale destruction of historic resources.

South Main Street incudes late 1960s through 80s commercial rehabilitation projects, infill of residential units, a very large Hospital Trust Building (that introduces the subject of zoning, addressed later when we are Downcity), and the beginnings of civic, academic, and cultural institutions, including the Old Stone Bank, Licht Judicial Complex, Rhode Island School of Design, RISD Museum of Art, Providence Athenæum and, uphill, the Rhode Island Historical Society, Brown University, and other schools.

Prospect Terrace

Prospect Terrace provides a splendid vantage point. Here Providence is seen as part of a greater whole. The East Side of Providence — from the Providence River up to the "Hill" is part of the southern terminus of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, 250,000 acres between Providence and Worcester, an area that includes 25 towns, two states. Here, the National Park Service is working in partnership with towns, cities, and states to focus on resource protection, appropriate economic development, heritage tourism, and other initiatives.

This watershed includes the Blackstone River (that becomes the Seekonk), which joins the Providence River: a river that begins in downtown Providence, at the confluence of the Moshassuck River (now covered by Providence Place Mall), from the north, and the Woonasquatucket River (an American Heritage River) from the west. This confluence is now identified as Waterplace Park and Riverwalk, a 90s civic project, funded in large part by the Federal Highway Administration — and largely developed by William Warner, Architects.

The target of the Capital Center Project [speech by Mayor Cianci, June 20, 1996] is to the north of Waterplace. It includes Center Place, the new Amtrak Train Station (designed by SOM, and built after the relocation of the railroad tracks out of downtown), the Rhode Island State House (Wikipedia), and, nearby, the Masonic Temple, a 135,550 square foot pile begun in 1928 but never completed. Now, after state and city money and effort, and a design charrette sponsored by the Providence Preservation Society (with the help of RWU/HP students Cliff Laube, Colleen Meager, and Jessica Snow), it is about to be an adaptive use project: a hotel. The Capital Center Project must be connected to DownCity. This brings up the subject of linkage.

The Woonasquatucket River Greenway Project, developed with the help of the Urban Land Institute, will provide a greenway and promote rehabilitation of abandoned industrial sites ('brownfields'), including the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse...if it had not been demolished (it has) (Art in Ruins); Carpionato Properties gets OK to demolish historic warehouse, ProJo 1/10/08; Developer wastes no time in targeting Providence Fruit warehouse, The Phoenix, 1/16/08). Now there is a federal probe: Feds probe state’s sale of former farmers’ market in Providence, Providence Journal, March 22, 2010

Providence Place Mall, the mega-mall that includes three anchors, eventually hundreds of stores, 20 cinemas, a five-track railroad (Amtrack), and the river. South of Waterplace, the Central Business District — known by some as 'Downcity' (a historic district) — awaits our later arrival.

North Main

Down hill, to the west along North Main Street, is Roger Williams National Memorial Park, maintained by the National Park Service. On Thomas Street, just east of North Main, is the Fleur-de-Lys Studio, a National Historic Landmark (NHL), whose recent award-winning restoration (the PPS annual preservation award) included conservation of the polychromatic exterior plaster, undertaken by RWU Historic Preservation students/alums. This project was done by Architectural Conservation Services with John Vaughan (principal of ACS), Alex Mason, Chris Emery, Dave Bunnell, and Kane Borden, all RWU alum. Nearby, the First Baptist Meeting House, 75 North Main Street.

Benefit Street

Benefit Street's "mile of history" displays the results of the College Hill plan that addressed the history (including the special settlement pattern) and restoration of this historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which also includes structures listed as National Historical Landmarks. This north section was a 'blighted urban slum' by the late '50s. It is now a preferred address in the nation. These early preservation efforts also give us pause to reflect on the issue of gentrification.

The change in understanding the 'significance' of historic properties is illustrated by the parable of the Six Triple Deckers, a story in which the Providence Historic District Commission (not to mention the RI Superior Court) forbids the owner, a former PPS president, from demolishing the structures. But there is always demolition by neglect, as these structures have been unoccupied and not maintained since 1988. As for demolition by neglect: a state statute forbids such action. But, then again, what politician will ever put up money to protect these houses and then try to collect repair costs from the owner. This all became a mot point: in the summer of 1998 these structures were demolished by the owner.

Meanwhile, PPS has just formulated a demolition policy; an innovative initiative that shows preservationists need not react to, but should best anticipate, change. With change comes new construction and the issues of infill, sympathetic new construction, contextual design, design review, and certificate of appropriateness.

Both the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHP&HC) and the Providence Preservation Society are on or near Benefit Street. At 150 Benefit Street, the Commission is housed in one of the several former Rhode Island State Houses.

Jewelry District

The Jewelry District is a roughly triangular section of downtown Providence, once the center of a booming jewelry manufacturing industry. The District is bounded to the North by the Southside of Pine Street. It is bounded to the South by Henderson Street. Bounded to the East by the Providence River, and to the West by I-95.

As the long-awaited I-195 relocation is completed, the property under the existing portion of the highway that runs through the district will be available. About 31 acres will be freed up (19.2 acres for redevelopment) and has been the focus of a planning project called “Old Harbor”. The Jewelry District’s plan and the plan for Old Harbor are melded together. Spearheaded, in part, by the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council high-tech firms are occupying some of the properties. Brown University has recently bought several properties in the Jewelry District.

Riverwalk and Waterplace

Riverwalk is the former site (once referred to as 'Suicide Circle') of the World War I Monument, now located in Memorial Park, adjacent to Riverwalk (a Federal Highway Administration project), which includes 21 panels that chronicle the city's history. Five years ago, Riverwalk was one of the country's widest asphalt-covered bridges, obscuring the Providence River. Upstream is Waterplace, which must be experienced, not written about.

Downtown ("Downcity")

A bit over decade ago, downtown had — among other woes — a dead, decaying pedestrian mall with late-19th and early 20th century structures obscured by 1960s siding (such as the Old Providence Journal Building, now restored), and worse — all promoted by the Downtown Master Plan of 1959. Today, many public and private sector players are involved in the future success of Providence, and the vital role Downcity will play. For example, in 1994 the Coalition for Community Development was established, with Roger Williams University as a member.

Major goals are: the center of an Arts and Entertainment District; change the perception of danger and concern for safety in the forefront of (potential) visitors mind's (see Providence Police, Weybosset Information Center, once a 'comfort station'); use the new zoning ordinance (that is not limited to downtown, but also addresses the waterfront, public space, and open space), which promotes preservation; create a diversity of uses (Yes, Jane Jacobs.); consider: recreational facilities (a skating rink) in Kennedy Square; improve access and circulation of public transit; develop upper floor loft housing (57 Eddy Street and Peerless Building, both behind City Hall) especially for artists; locate additional municipal parking facilities; enhance the arts (including initiatives on Empire Street, described below); possibly locate a new Downcity cinema, in tandem or in competition with Providence Place initiatives); retain and recruit educational institutions (Johnson & Wales and, now, University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University) and with them student vitality and museums (Rhode Island Black Heritage Society); rehabilitate empty commercial buildings; be street smart (reopening streets, restoring two-way traffic, retaining alleys as public ways; limit the scale of development; scale of streetscapes, including sidewalk width, here on Weybosset Street; recruit tenants (anchor stores, destination stores, incubator space for start-up businesses); 'retail detail' (merchandising, retailing, display -- lighting, planting, color, props; signage; filling empty storefronts with displays); and develop advocacy and awareness (including "Positively Providence" training).

Exemplary projects to date include the Providence Arcade ("America's first mall," built in 1828, now listed as a NHL), the old Providence Journal Building, City Hall, Union Station, the Shepard Building, others.

Kennedy Plaza

With a kickoff on October 15 (press release), the Greater Kennedy Plaza Working Group hosted a reception to celebrate the first steps taken this year to transform Kennedy Plaza. Organizers solicited feedback from participants on how they would like to see the Kennedy Plaza area evolve in the future. The vice president for Project for Public Spaces, Ethan Kent, will be a featured speaker at the reception. Project for Public Spaces is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that has helped more than 2,000 communities in 26 countries transform underutilized public spaces into lively, secure destinations.

The "plaza" includes Burnside Park, the Bank of America Skating Center, Biltmore Park and Kennedy Plaza.

The Working Group is a public/private partnership focused on transforming Kennedy Plaza into a lively public square, rich with activity. Public programming now includes events like Public Square Tuesdays, Market Thursdays, Friday Farmer's Market and Rhythm & Soul Sundays and happenings like the Street Painting Festival, Roller Derby, IndieArts Fest, Peace Flags, the Bolivian Festival and R&B Heritage Month.

Critically, the Working Group hired a Project Manager (a "placemaker manager" in Ethan's parlance), Deb Dormody, 401.421.2489 x273.

Westminster Street and Environs (select sites)

  • Urban Core Revitalization: Downcity Providence, Cornish Associates
  • Downcity Providence, commissioned Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company
  • Alice Building (Art in Ruins), 236 Westminster Street, is a seven-story classical revival structure built in 1898 by rubber baron Joseph Banigan and named for his daughter. Now 38 loft-style residential rental units.
  • Peerless Building (Art in Ruins),229 Westminster Street. Constructed in 1890’s, what is now known as the Peerless Building is actually five individual buildings: the two most prominent are the Callendar, McAuslan & Troup building and The William H. Low Estate buildint. This cluster of buildings, which except for the Hannah Green Estate building, make up the entire block of Westminster between Eddy and Union Streets. This block was famous for housing the largest and most successful regional department stores until the 1980’s when the Peerless store closed it doors. Now 97 loft-style units with first-floor retail.Houses underground parking with sixty-seven spaces.
  • Smith Building (Art in Ruins), 229 Westminster Street. Built by real-estate developer Edwin A. Smith in 1912,. Now has six residential floors and first-floor retail.
  • Wilkinson Building aka Westminster Lofts (Art in Ruins), 210 Westminster Street, former Lerner Department Store, constructed circa 1900. Now four residential rental floors with first-floor commercial.
  • Mercantile Block, 135 Washington Street, AS220 (Unions fight tax break for AS220, Providence Journal, October 19, 2009)

Empire Street

The Empire Street Arts District is being developed along Empire and Washington Streets, and the neighboring area. The existing resources (Trinity Repertory Company, AS220, Perishable Theatre, Groundwerx Dance Theatre, other nearby clubs) need to be sustained and augmented. Issues that are being addressed: coordinate first floor retail and restaurant (Packard Building) uses along the street; enhance vehicular circulation by re-opening streets, reverting to two-way streets, and improving signage; develop new mixed-use properties, especially along the now lifeless I.M Pei park.

Weybosset Hill

The southwest terminus of this 'urban renewal' atrocity -- I.M Pei park -- is Cathedral Square, part of the Weybosset Hill Project redevelopment, completed by the Providence Redevelopment Agency in 1962-63. Consider: retain urban grid; Mayor Doyle the so-called pioneer 1870s pioneer in urban renewal (so much for revisionism); the Blue Cross Building; the Brutalist Beneficent House (designed by Paul Rudolph), and the lack of diversity, 'eyes on the street', and other issues that Jane Jacobs addresses in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, written one year before this project.

If I.M Pei Park were not enough to separate this part of Westminster Street (Downcity's 'Main Street') from the central business district, try constructing the Bishop McVinney Auditorium across former Westminster Street or -- for that matter -- an Interstate highway (I-95), with its north-south axis. Combined, these projects have severed Downcity from the (somewhat) residential area to the west, flanking Westminster Street and, northwest to Federal Hill, including the Broadway neighborhood ('a Victorian Boulevard') and the center of the Italo-American community flanking Atwells Avenue.

While crossing over I-95 consider air rights and decking over I-95, improvement of service roads (connector streets) into boulevards, and other initiatives that might breech this barrier. Then, to the west, consider: use, diversity, and scale as they relate to 60s and 70s urban renewal projects (Westminster House, Classical and Central High Schools, which are planning new streetscape landscaping with the help of RISD and Brown), and physical and chronological connectivity, as described by Kunstler. Consider: Citizens Bank, Canonicus Square (and the "potato"), Police and Fire Headquarters, demolition, infill, overlay zoning and retail needs, brownfields (Louttit industrial site), endangered properties, new SRO (single room occupancy) hotel -- the Gemini Hotel, and John Hope Settlement House; rise in asking price of real estate, too.

Woonsasquacket River

Valley and Smith Hill, Providence Neighborhood Profiles

Already completed or underway is the:

  • $400 million Providence Place Mall;
  • Jefferson Place condo apartment complex;
  • Promenade Apartments, formerly the 500,000 square foot Foundry redevelopment, formerly Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing (Art in Ruins);
  • American Locomotive Works, Valley Neighborhood. 25-acre site developed by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, will include rehabilitated mill buildings and new construction, with the potential to reach two million square feet.
  • The Steel Yard, 27 Sims Avenue, offers arts and technical training programs designed to increase opportunities for cultural and artistic expression, career-oriented training, and small business incubation. It has 5612 square foot industrial shop featuring a foundry, ceramics studio, blacksmithing shop, and welding shop, as well as studio space and outdoor work and exhibition space. Steel Yard has been granted a Neighborhood Street Tree Planting Award for 18 new trees to be planted this October (2008) on Sims and Harris Avenues.
  • Monohasset Mills (Art in Ruins, as the mills web site is down), at 530-532 Kinsley Street, using using HOME funds (which is the largest Federal block grant to State and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households);
  • Eagle Square (see Art in Ruins for a perspective on demolition of most of the structures) "redevelopment" (255,000 square foot) anchored by New England’s largest Shaw’s grocery store.

The Woonasquatucket River (along with the Blackstone River) is an American Heritage River (also: American Heritage Rivers Allicance) due to its key role in the industrial development of America. The Woonasquatucket River Greenway Project (WRGP; Master Plan as PDF file) is a catalyst for renewal along the Woonasquatucket River in Providence. Work includes three parks (Donigian, Merino, and Dyerville); a bicycle path; mitigation work aided by it's 1998 designation as a Brownfield Showcase Community (Brownfields and Land Revitalization, EPA); 5.7 miles of paths and green spaces stretching from the Johnston-Providence line to Waterplace Park in downtown Providence.

Brownfields Showcase Communities have three main goals:

  1. to promote environmental protection, economic redevelopment and community revitalization through the assessment, cleanup and sustainable reuse of brownfields;
  2. to link Federal, State, local and non-governmental action supporting community efforts to restore and reuse brownfields; and
  3. to develop national models demonstrating the positive results of public and private collaboration addressing brownfields challenges. A partnership of more than 15 Federal agencies with interests in brownfields redevelopment has designated 16 Brownfields Showcase Communities.

The Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, organized by staff of the WRGP, is composed of residents, representatives of local and state government, and local non-profits and works to improve the environmental, recreational and economic assets of the Woonasquatucket watershed.

The American Heritage Rivers initiative is an innovative response to help river communities that seek federal assistance and other resources to meet some tough challenges. Without any new regulations on private property owners, state, local and tribal governments, the American Heritage Rivers initiative is about making more efficient and effective use of existing federal resources, cutting red-tape, and lending a helping hand. (Executive Order 13061) Also: Surf Your Watershed, EPA.


  • Olneyville, Providence Neighborhood Profiles
  • Olneyville, Wikipedia
  • The Plant, 60 Valley at Delaine, offers live/work, office, commercial, a restaurant and event space.
  • Puente, 60 Valley Street. In work with non-profit and start-up businesses, PUENTE creates a powerful bridge to development that allows the organizations to create optimized space for their activities.
  • Rising Sun Mills, was Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse's first project in Providence

West Broadway - Armory Historic District

The West Broadway/Armory District neighborhood is working on many initiatives, including: adaptive use of a 165,00 square foot former National Guard armory, the Armory; possible and permissible uses of the Training Grounds; rehabilitation of structures for affordable housing under the HUD HOME program (through PPS Revolving Fund, Inc.) and Armory Revival; and -- through the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA, a grass-roots housing and community development corporation) -- traffic calming; development of a business association; infill and compatible new construction, moving and demolishing historic houses, alleyways, advocacy and neighborhood promotion; street associations; TIP through ISTEA (WiIkipedia); street cars; small businesses (Cool Cats Building, Pet Store, the street corner Hudson Market); neighborhood meetings; funky urban projects such as Firehouse 13; the restoration of a Teague Texaco station, the WBNA headquarters, for a neighborhood center. The exterior enamel panels were restored by Architectural Conservation Services, including John Vaughan and Chris Emery, RWU students.


Or beginning . . .