Providence, RI (2009)

Client: Providence Foundation; City of Providence Parks Department

  • Waterfront district planning
  • Community visioning workshop
  • Comprehensive report/analysis

Diagram of the community’s desired uses and activities for the new waterfront spaces

Twenty years ago, the Providence Foundation and the City of Providence requested that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) relocate the alignment of Interstate 195 (I-195) through Providence, which physically isolated downtown from the Jewelry District and much of the waterfront. In 1997, RIDOT agreed to relocate the freeway viaduct to the south along a similar alignment as the Providence Hurricane Barrier. A key outcome of the I-195 relocation is the creation of two new waterfront parks along the Providence River, connected by a new pedestrian bridge built on the abutments of the current I-195 river crossing. These new public spaces were the focus of a 2006 design competition, which selected Brown, Richardson, & Rowe, Inc. as the designer of the western park.

Building on the progress of these events, the Providence Foundation and the City of Providence Parks Department hired PPS to engage stakeholders in developing a preliminary program for the parks and to provide best practices for managing vibrant and successful public spaces. In early 2009, PPS held focus groups with area private developers, city staff, the project engineer and designers, community group representatives, and local institutions to hear their specific thoughts on activating and managing the spaces. Soon thereafter PPS facilitated a Placemaking workshop to brainstorm opportunities with a larger group of stakeholders.

Local stakeholders discuss their vision for the Providence waterfront at the January 2009 Placemaking Workshop.

Informed by both the overarching themes and the detailed ideas that emerged from the focus groups and workshop, PPS provided the City and the Providence Foundation with a set of wide-ranging recommendations for the new waterfront spaces. These recommendations were modeled after the principles of creating a great waterfront, namely designing for flexibility and phased implementation; creating both active and passive recreation areas; encouraging non-vehicular access; programming seasonal uses; and connecting to other destinations in Providence. PPS also emphasized the importance of making the pedestrian bridge a world-class attraction with dining, shopping and entertainment activities.

To excite project stakeholders, case studies of great waterfront destinations around the world were presented. Finally, PPS presented best practices in public space management for translating plans into reality, including various public-private partnership arrangements and innovative revenue sources.