Greater City Providence

Re-imagining our squares

Emmett Square | View Larger Map

The city has a plan known as the Downtown Circulator (I think that’s what it is known as), which would make Weybosset and Empire Streets two-way, rebuild Fountain Street, and rebuild and reconfigure Emmett and LaSalle Squares. Currently, the city is on track to begin this work next spring (last I heard).

Thinking of what these squares could be, let’s look to Madison Square in New York. Madison Square sits at the intersection of Broadway, 5th Avenue, and 23rd Street adjacent to Madison Square Park and the iconic Flation Building. Recently, the city Department of Transportation rebuilt Madison Square to deemphasize auto traffic and improve pedestrian and bike ameneties.

This video from Streetfilms shows the transformation of Madison Square:

As Emmett Square sits aside Burnside Park, Madison Square sits aside the large and lush Madison Square Park (home of the Shake Shack). In a way I wonder the attraction of sitting at a chair in Madison Square, which in effect is really just a glorified traffic island, especially when a large leafy park sits across the way. Certainly the reconfiguration makes the area better for pedestrians (I’ve crossed here and it was a nighmare) and it looks like traffic may also flow more smoothly, the intersection is at the least, less confusing after.

I see the true utility of this area as a meeting place, rather than a pure recreation or relaxation place. “Meet me at Madison Square,” is more exact than, “meet me in Madison Square Park,” which would require more definition to zero in on the location that you are actually going to meet someone at. The same could hold true for Emmett Square versus Burnside Park or Kennedy Plaza. As it is now, one would never consider meeting someone in Emmett Square, there’s no there there to meet at. Reconfigured as Madison Square was, certainly people would see the area as an actual place, rather than an intersection.

This could also serve as a pedestrian way station. Formalized parks such as Burnside require a modicum of commitment, one actually has to enter the park to reach the benches to stop and sit. As one is wandering through a city, one often needs places to stop, make a phone call, tie a shoe, look through a purse, read something, etc. Wandering through Providence, the city’s built environment does not provide many of these way stations for the pedestrian. Rebuilt Emmett and LaSalle Squares could be among the first places to serve as way stations. These small spaces serve as stepping stones to allow pedestrians to move from place to place through the city on their way to their final destinations.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


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