Tag Archives: Providence

Greater Kennedy Plaza Receives $200,000 for Placemaking

The National Endowment for the Arts has award $200,000 to the Greater Kennedy Plaza effort. This is incrediable exciting. I have worked on this placemaking project for close to four years now. The Our Town grant funds will be used for a variety of arts and placemaking related activities:

Providence’s Our Town grant will support the Creative Capital Hub project. The project will use arts programming and new urban design plans to transform Greater Kennedy Plaza from a bus terminal with disconnected parks to a grand plaza and central gathering place for the city’s residents, tourists, and workers. Project activities include developing a master urban design plan to guide capital improvements and programming of artistic performances and festivals at the plaza. The project activities will offer an improved public transit experience for the 71,000 individuals that utilize the Greater Kennedy Plaza daily.

Not too long ago I wrote about the long term vision plan that I helped develop for Kennedy Plaza, and thanks to the support of the NEA planning and urban design for phase one work will be able to move forward. A big thanks needs to go out to Buff Chace, Lynn McCormick, Cliff Wood and the entire grant writing team. I also need to thank Fred and Ethan Kent for encouraging us to be zealous nuts when it comes to transforming a public square.

I am glad to see that a division of our federal government is seeing how investing in the creation of a high quality public realm can effect economic development and livability.

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Life & Urbanism has been neglected the last few months due to a host of new projects. News on those efforts will be posted soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your weekend by visiting one of your city’s great public squares.

Are You Enjoying Your City’s Region?

There is a community in Providence that takes full advantage of the city’s proximity to the sea. All too often, I am lucky to get a call at 5:00 AM from someone in the group who is heading down for a pre-work surf. Getting two hours worth of surfing in before hitting the office at 9 AM makes living in Providence special. My question to you on this Friday evening is how are you going to enjoy your city’s regional amenities this weekend?

A big thanks to friends Damian Ewens and Stephanie Ewens for producing and editing the above film. I am looking forward to shooting more of these experimental films this spring (hopefully in warmer water). Also featured in the film is Clay Rockefeller and Carter Blackwell… they kept the pace for the paddle while I brought up the rear. You can find out more about Providence Dawn Patrol here and the Get Lively Experiment here.

Now get out there and enjoy your city’s region! Have a nice weekend.

Integrated Transit Planning: Principles for Providence’s Mobility Network

Public Transit is the live blood of the modern city. It has become more and more apparent that the cities that have robust regional transit options will be the cities that prosper. I am excited about the plans that the Rhode Island Public Transit Administration is drawing up for the first Streetcar line serving downtown in over 60 years. With all the talk of transit going on due to RIPTA’s Core Connector Study, I pulled together the principles below to hopefully inspire the creation of a better plan that supports a more prosperous region that is, of course, a nicer place to live.

This is an incomplete list, and it would be great to hear your additions in the comments below.

The Region

The physical organization of the Metropolitan Providence should be supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. Transit, pedestrian, and bicycle systems should maximize access and mobility throughout the region while reducing dependence upon the automobile.

A transit system should support the ongoing development of towns and cities by respecting historical patterns, precedents, and boundaries.

Transit should serve to connect activity centers within the region. Corridors should be located to encourage the redevelopment of existing city fabric. The evolution of suburban development should also be considered when locating these corridors. Failing suburban retail center, big box stores and office parks should be consider retrofit opportunities that would add higher densities if served by transit.

Strong connection to regional rail and shipping services is not only an economic necessity, but will provide further alternatives to highway driving for the business and citizens in Providence.

Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods should be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and mixed-use. Districts generally emphasize a special single use, and should follow the principles of neighborhood design when possible. Corridors are regional connectors of neighborhoods and districts; they range from boulevards and rail lines to rivers and parkways. Transit spines should work with these larger linear features to enhance the connections between neighborhoods.

Transit corridors, when properly planned and coordinated, will help organize Providence’s metropolitan structure and revitalize the urban core. These corridors should be planned to connect neighborhoods and to provide easy access to the services and destination located in Downtown.

Wherever possible, new development shall be sited on underutilized, poorly designed or already developed land. Transit stops should be located in these areas to encourage redevelopment. Future development should be organized based on the principles of a walkable neighborhood with plans for transit integrated into the design.

Neighborhoods must be compact, with a range of densities that are compatible with existing places and cultures. Successful transit options require lively, mixed-use urban places.

Brownfields shall be redeveloped, using cleanup methods that reduce or eliminate site contaminants and toxicity. Redevelopment of these sites should rely on transit and reduce or eliminate parking requirements.

Networks

Multiple transit option should be provided to ensure all citizens of Providence have access to jobs, entertainment and recreation. Automobile travel should be discouraged to promote more sustainable forms of mobility.

A resilient transportation network requires many nods, stations and multiple opportunities to navigate to a destination. Planners must recognize that people will change their course if needed and the network should provide as many choices as possible.

A transit system should be organized around a network of corridors, and thoroughfares. Transferring from one mod to another should be easy and well organized. Expansion of the network should create a web of transit facilities.

Providence has a fragmented urbanism which transit should work to connect. The network should provide transportation option within a neighborhood as well as travel between neighborhoods.

Streets and Blocks

The design of streets and the entire right-of-way shall be directed at the positive shaping of the public realm to encourage shared pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular use.

All transit stops should be designed as permanent amenities to the streetscape. These stations should build on the culture and identity of both the corridor and neighborhood.

Development should create a positive public realm that is designed to provide pedestrian comfort and safety. Transit should be integrated within developments and public space to further enhance these aims.

Retail and first floor commercial uses are important elements of a mixed use neighborhood. Transit should be planned to enhance the economic development potential of first floor uses that will add life to the street and enhance community safety.

Buildings

Development within a five minute walk of transit should not require parking. The market should dictate if any off street parking is needed based on sales or leasing requirements.

Transit infrastructure should respect the character of the neighborhood. The streetscape, including transit facilities, should be designed to improve the pedestrian experience, and enhance the surrounding businesses.

For more on smart planning principles click herehere and here.

[Image By food_pvd]

Paris Inspires Rebuilding of Bridge in Providence

Cities are for people. How often do you think of a city as the human habitat? Do you ever look at your daily routine and how it could be improved if the environment you lived in were different. Lions live in the Serengeti because the habitat provides them with what they need for life. Does your habitat provide you with what you need for life?

There is a project just taking off in Providence that has the potential to improve the habitat and in turn the daily lives of many citizens. On Wednesday the City and RIDOT will be unveiling the final design proposals for the pedestrian bridge that will be replacing the original 195 highway. My hope is that at least one of the design proposals will provide Providence with a bridge for people. My gut seems to be telling me that we will mostly be getting proposals for a semi-functional “icon” that will look “sexy” or “modern” on a postcard, but once constructed will provide a dismal environment for humans. I’ve spent a little time thinking about what this new bridge should do with the hopes that those in the position to select the winning design give more thought to what the bridge needs to do for the humans who will be using it.

A quick aside, I placed my order today for Jan Gehl’s new book Cities for People because of his firm’s great commitment to building comfortable cities. I am noticing more and more good work happening in places like Copenhagen, New York and San Francisco and hope that places like Providence will get it soon as well.

Now on to the criteria for a great bridge:

It is All About the Water

If a pedestrian bridge is going to be vibrant it must be about experiencing the water. Being on the water. Looking across the water. Watching the objects upon the water. This natural connection can be accomplished in various forms. The Passerelle des Arts is perhaps the best example of a successful pedestrian bridge that I have experienced recently. As you can see from the photo above, the bridge connects directly to the quay below allowing for folks to stroll right on down to the water. Another important detail connecting the bridge strongly to the water is the use of wood planks as the surface material. The cracks between the boards allow you to feel the water passing below you. I also enjoy how the structure of this bridge seems to disappear giving way to the river beyond.

Simple & Durable Details for Comfort

A pedestrian bridge is everyone’s and no ones’. People will take photos on it. People will sit on it. People will have a picnic on it. People will even get engaged on it. Yet, none of this will happen unless they feel comfortable on it. The bridge needs to feel like you are the first person to sit in that spot, ever. This is how a bridge becomes everyone’s living room. So how does a bridge do that? The design cannot be too complex. The materials need to be durable, and simple so that if they do need to be replaced they can be quickly and easily. The bridge needs to be clean, and have the receptacles to encourage cleanliness. The bridge needs to be warm. People will sit on anything, but they will enjoy sitting on certain materials more then others. Pick those. The structure needs to be firm and realistic. People understand their living rooms. To be comfortable, they need to understand their bridge as well.

Not Too Much Room

If a pedestrian bridge is going to evolve into more then just a way over the river then careful attention needs to be given to width. Too wide and people will lose their connection to the water. Too narrow and there is no room for leisure. The best pedestrian bridges have three zones. The center is for clustering. This is the area for bigger picnics, benches, ping-pong, and all sorts of small group activities. Moving outward, the main travel ways need to be wide enough for two people to pass each other comfortable or for a strolling couple and a stranger to pass without discomfort. If the proportions properly sized, then this area should also handle nicely the frequent bicycle. At the railings of the bridge is the most important zone. The railing needs to not only protect you from a fall, but also be a coffee table, a leaning post and a writing desk. All manner of activity will take place in this zone, and the rail is the key to making it prime real estate. Think of the bridge’s cross section like a great boulevard where activities mix well with the passing people. Particular attention needs to be given to each of these zones. A foot here and six inches there can put this dance way off balance.

Something is On the Other Side

You would think that all bridges have something on the other side. However, they don’t. Humans love to know that something, anything, is worth crossing over to the other side. A visual indication that there is life across the water is good. In Providence, there will be two new parks on both sides of the new bridge. What will people find in these new parks on each side of the bridge? Will you be able to see it form the other side? Principally, a bridge is a transit connection. It provides access for travelers to get to and from their destinations. Will these new parks be great destination in their own right? If not, what are the other destinations that this bridge will serve and how can its design help make it fun to go over the bridge to get there?

Leave Room for Traditions

Flexibility is a key ingredient to all successful public spaces. A framework needs to be created that not only provides a comfortable environment for the citizens of a place, but also supports its evolving culture. A design needs to leave room for these living traditions. The Love Padlocks of Paris have a place. These tokens give life to this bridge. They are a powerful ornament, but a simple little detail that would not have been possible unless the design of the railing was flexible. When two people come out onto a bridge, kiss and leave feeling more alive their city is providing for them in more ways then modern planners can count. This is the art of city building. This is the alchemy of creating authentic place for people.

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The Public will have an opportunity to view the proposed bridge designs of 11 finalists competing in the Providence Pedestrian River Bridge Design Competition at a special reception on Wednesday, November 3rd from 5pm until 7pm at Providence City Hall. (via Greater City Providence)

A New Vision for a Public Square

Cities often overlook their forgotten public squares and parks as key economic development tools. Providence is slowly rediscovering this fact. I have had the pleasure of illustrating the redevelopment vision for Kennedy Plaza. Currently, the square is mostly know as a bus transfer center. However, it is the planning groups aim that one day this space will house New England’s largest, outdoor public market. I am particularly excited about this goal considering my bike ride to and from the office passes right through the square.

It has been a pleasure working with all the partners on the creation of this vision. It represents the best ideas the Friends of Kennedy Plaza have today, and they are looking for ways to improve upon it. Visit www.kennedyplaza.org to submit your comments.

The film would not have happened without the skills of Ben Chace. Check out his award winning film Wah Do Dem on Hulu. If you would like to know even more about what is in store for the future of Kennedy Plaza click here.

Bicycle Diaries, Emergent Architecture and David Byrne

David Byrne @ Bellhouse Jan 11, 2010 The incredible wise and creative Mr. David Byrne lectured in Providence at the invitation of the Mayor earlier this week. I hope this is an indication that the city is ready to look seriously at its bicycle infrastructure. Biking can be such a pleasant, and affordable, way to travel the city, and with Providence’s compact size we are missing a huge opportunity. The number one excuse I hear from potential bikers in Providence is the hills. Well, San Francisco has hills and they have still managed to embrace a bicycle culture. Real cities all over the country are putting biking on an equal footing with bus, rail and streetcar as a serious transit component. It was great to hear Mr. Byrne’s thoughts on the subject.

If you have not had the chance to read Mr. Byrne’s latest book, Bicycle Diaries, I highly recommend it. There was one particular chapter that has kept me thinking. Here is a quote:

“It is as if some genetic architectural propensity exists in us, that guides us, subtly and invisibly, as to how to best organize first a kiosk, then a stall, and from there add incrementally as our innate instincts guide us. Until soon enough there exists a whole marketplace and neighborhood.” – Bicycle Diaries, p.138

He is pointing out an interesting occurrence where public markets found throughout the globe are organized in strikingly similar forms. These forms are perhaps patterns that emerge from us humans as naturally as bees construct their hives or beavers their dams. The contemporary practice of urbanists and architects might be fancied with the theory of Emergent Architecture. However, I still think more focus is needed to fully apply this natural occurrence to the planning of our cities and towns.

Here is a link to more information about the David Byrne lecture. There is also some interesting writings over at Living Urbanism that are related to Emergent Architecture.

Photo by marc dalio

Providence 2030: A Vision for a Livable City

What will your city be like in the year 2030?  Over the past nine months I helped lead a group of young business and community leaders in Providence answer that question.  Twenty years in the life of a city is not that much time when I realized that my old neighborhood, the South End, took 40 years to construct.  However, organizations such as Architecture 2030 believe that monumental achievements are possible by that date. As with Ed Mazria, this group in Providence has hope that achieving such a goal in a small span of years is possible. That is if the idea is compelling enough…or visionary.

Here are the key themes of the Providence 2030 vision as one would explain the city in that year. The entire document can be downloaded here.

  1. We continue to grow a vibrant economy.
  2. We support our world renowned culture.
  3. We care for our engaging civic realm.
  4. We celebrate our mobility.
  5. We value and educate our youth.
  6. We are a leader in sustainable practices.

We hope that the Providence 2030 vision is powerful enough to help guide the change that is needed over the next 20 years.  Let me know what you think?  Bonus question: Has your community created a grand vision for its growth and development? If not, shouldn’t it?

A big thanks to the Providence Foundation for supporting the creation of this document.  Since its publication, the Foundation has formally adopted it as the organizations vision.  I hope future posts will talk about projects the Foundation is taking on that will help realize this vision.

Thoughts on Providence from Nail Communications

My friend Matt Grigsby is shooting interviews around Providence this fall for the Foundation. The first few in the series are available here with more on the way soon. I felt compelled to share the interview of Alec, from Nail Communication. Not only does he have some great things to say about Providence, but the video gives you a glimpse of their offices that I helped design and build last year.

Leon Krier Lecturing in Providence

2009_11 Krier Miami BuildingSave the Date! Leon Krier, one of the most influential architects and urbanists of modern time, will be lecturing in Providence on December 3rd at the De Ciccio Family Auditorium on Brown University’s Main Green, 5:30 to 7:30 PM.  For years, I have enjoyed coming back to Mr. Krier’s books for inspiration and clarification.  His cartoons are some of the most memorable diagrams I have ever scene. They so elegantly capture the direction we should be taking the development of our built environment.  Having recently lectured in a building of his design, I can attest that he is master of light and space.  It will be a true honor having him spend a few hours in Providence with us.

For more information on the lecture click here.