Greater City Providence


Photo (cc) sfbike

San Francisco StreetsBlog reports on the city’s Pavement to Parks initiative.

On Divisadero, the city has taken two parking spaces from the street and created space for bike racks, planters, and cafe tables.

“This is all about taking the narrative of the 25 percent of our land mass that [is] streets, and begin to take a little bit of that back and open that up for the community and create a framework where there is a stronger community connection, a stronger sense of place and a better community environment as well,” said [San Francisco Mayor Gavin] Newsom.

The parklets cost $15,000 each and the Mayor has pledged to create 12 in 2010.

Photo from San Francisco StreetsBlog

Of course I see this and immediately start thinking of where this would work in Providence. Atwells Avenue leaps to mind.

Really, there is barely any street parking on Atwells, every damn restaurant has their own valet parking reserved spaces side by each lined all the way down the avenue. The restaurants should team up on parking. Make 3 or 4 valet loading zones up and down the avenue. One would be able to park at any valet zone, and pick their car at any other zone. The valets would be connected by radio and be able to retrieve the cars to where their driver’s end up.

This frees up dozens of street spaces which we could turn into parklets. Having these extensions of the sidewalk would then enable people to actually walk down Atwells. The way it is now, the sidewalk tables take up the whole damn sidewalk and you can’t walk down the street without landing in someone’s calamari.

When I was in Spain I saw many of these sidewalk extensions. A commenter on the StreetsBlog post remembers them from Spain as well and notes that they are on wheels to allow for removal for street cleaning. One mitigating factor for us would be having to remove and store them in the winter to allow for snow removal. Of course we could get around that by not making these temporary, but by actually extending the sidewalks into the street.

And Atwells is not the only area where this would be a welcome addition to the streetscape of course. I could see these on Thayer, Hope Village, Broad Street…

[Andres Power, Pavement to Parks project manager for the Planning Department said] “We’ve gotten calls from New York City, Portland, Boston, Seattle, and Washington DC inquiring about how we are making these happen.”

Providence should call.

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.


  • These would be perfect for Atwells! It’s easily the most annoying street in the city with people coming in from the suburbs not knowing where they’re going, people who think they own the place, the valets blocking the road, the tables blocking the sidewalks (and the dirty looks you get for accidentally bumping into someone sitting out in the middle of what should be a pedestrian walkway before it’s a dining room)… I’ve taken to avoiding Atwells at almost all costs. I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten at a restaurant there simply because I just can’t stand going up there.

    What really annoys me is that the businesses on Broadway have to fight to get their outdoor tables even though the sidewalks on Broadway are a lot wider than those on Atwells. The restaurants on Atwells just get to put their tables out every year even though they block the sidewalk. Something like this would give people room to walk around those tables and without all the street parking on Atwells, maybe fewer people will be driving on it knowing they should park on the side streets.

  • Initially I laughed out loud at the thought of parklets on Broad Street. Even overlooking the daytime-drunks and the increased leering they’d be able to do with people sitting at tables halfway in the street , there are only a handful of sit-down restaurants to even support parklets on Broad St. The majority of the street’s food service consists of convenience stores and some groceries, but maybe parklets would change that. Maybe that’s the point of such demonstrative, structural changes–not only to reinforce what’s already there but to encourage new and different development.

    Given the potholes on Broad St, though, I’d want the road repaved before any outcropping of diners gets put in the way of all those impetuously zig-zagging drivers. It’s terrifying enough to be biking near them.

  • Sarah:
    That is what I was thinking when I mentioned Broad Street, create the sidewalk culture. There aren’t many sit down restaurants on Broad Street that would have sidewalk table service. But there are places to grab an empanada and a Coke, that one could take to a parklet and enjoy.

    Or parklets on Broad Street could feature bike parking.

    Or simply be a place on the street where people could stop and interact with each other.

    Broad Street won’t have a vibrant street scene until we design the physical environment to allow for it. The high traffic and many surface lots and driveways interrupting the sidewalk are not helping to foster that now. Though, there is heavy pedestrian traffic despite the street’s physical flaws.

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