Greater City Providence

Reader Submission: What is your favorite street in Providence?

Westminster Street
Westminster Street, Downcity. Photo © kd1s.

A reader wrote in to suggest this topic, what is your favorite street in Providence, and why?

I must admit, when I first read his suggestion, my mind drew a total blank. I guess I get so intent on pointing out what is wrong and what needs to be fixed mode, that sometimes it is hard to switch gears.

After some thought, the first street that came to mind was Westminster, Downcity. From the river to Snow Street the street has only two holes in the streetwall (110 Westminster Street and Grant’s Block). The economy has created some holes in the retail landscape, but it is holding in there. During the day (during the week at least) there is a healthy amount of life on the street and this is augmented by cafe tables and retailers selling merchandise on the sidewalks. The section from Dorrance to Snow is also well treed.

A comment on one of my photos on Flickr also made me think of another collection of streets I like.

Dean & Federal
Bond Street, Federal Hill. Photo by Jef Nickerson.

The alleys of Federal Hill make up a rather special urban environment; Bond Street, Pequot Street, Mountain Street, Jones Street… Living on one of these alleys, I am often confronted with the problems of them; poor to no maintenance cause massive puddles, dirt, rats (yes, they are making a comeback on the Hill), valets driving way too fast… But even though they are rough around the edges and many of the buildings on them are rundown or worse, wrapped in vinyl, they make up a unique built space.

So let us know what your favorite street(s) is in the city and why.

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.


  • I have too many.. however, if I were to narrow to just one:
    Having lived in Providence for three years, off Broadway for over one of those years, I have come to love this street more each day. While in college, Broadway was always a constant site for one of my many courses looking at adaptive reuse, historic preservation planning, architectural styles, etc. The street has a unique blend of Greek Revival, Second Empire, Stick, Queen Anne (etc!) architecture along with various uses. I often dream up buildings or uses for the under-utilized sites (the pharmacy across from Julian’s, the abandoned gas station across from the Armenian church) and even new uses for the many law offices on the street.

    And besides, regardless of when I’m walking down Broadway everyone around seems to be enjoying it just as much.

  • First street to come to mind is Washington Street downtown. It’s had a lot of potential for a long time and is now starting to be met. First with the Dreyfus, now the Mercantile (yes, AS220 has done most of the work). The narrow building is being rehabbed after the fire. The biggest issue is where Sierra Suites was supposed to go. Something needs to happen there and not a parking lot. Sort of in conjunction with Washington Street is Empire Street which is one of the more happening streets downtown.

    I really want to be able to say Atwells, but now that I don’t live on the Hill anymore and can’t walk to anything there, it’s just not as great as it once was for me. The sidewalks are too narrow for the way they’re used. The crazy amount of rude people annoys the hell out of me, especially those who feel like the sidewalk is really their dining room and shouldn’t be used as a sidewalk. The valets are obnoxious and the fact that there is a valet stop at every single restaurant is one of the worst parts of the street. But if they changed some of that, it would be one of the better streets in Providence. They’re already making it more pedestrian friendly as previous posts here have shown, but all that other stuff makes it pretty bad. One of the best parts of Atwells is the signage. Nothing hides what it is (except Lili Marlene’s).

  • Jim, Empire came to mind for me too, except for the fact that the whole side where the BCBS buildings are is pretty terrible (improved pocket park notwithstanding).

    As for the Sierra Suites lot, that seems pretty likely to become parking 🙁 There are some issues now with water infiltration at the Mercantile Block which need to be dealt with. One hope I have for that block is, even though AS220 doesn’t own it, I hope AS220 can exert some influence on it’s future. There will likely be some sort of parking, but the landscape requirements can certainly be exceeded, maybe AS220 can play with some temporary structures along the street edge or some public art.

  • I have had the luxury of working in pretty much every neighborhood in Providence so I’ve been on a lot of streets and I’m not sure I can pick just one favorite because there are just so many.

    I think about the ones full of residents who all know each other, and who know eachother’s pets and kids–those are nice streets–like Pleasant Street in Mt Hope, or Willow Street in the Armory, or almost any street in the Summit Area. Or Chace Ave where the residents came out with roasted chickens after we planted trees. Or East Transit where there was a french cafe band (a guitar and an accordion, plus singing!) when the tree truck pulled up.

    and I think about the streets where there’s this unexpected view of the statehouse, unexpected because the neighborhood is a little rundown and you just look through two buildings and there it is, like Jewet Street, that even has a few storefronts right on a corner. I love that little street. There is a perfect place for a secret community garden over there too and some beautiful houses.

    Or streets where the quiet and green is so complete and encompassing that you can’t believe you’re in Providence because it feels like you’re in the middle of a park like Cooke Street at Power, or the street that the tree farm used to be on in the park. Sitting under a tree, eating lunch in the truck, watching the goslings and the dragonflies and maybe a coyote in the meadow stalking mice… Good times.

    So I don’t think I can pick just one street because I’ve been lucky to be on almost ALL the streets in Providence and for the most part they all have something to offer.

  • I’m with Jen, it really is hard to pick just one. The charm of the city is its sheer variety of streetscapes in a small space; I get very different but equally interesting impressions from each one.

    It may be predictable, but if I had to pick one, it would be Benefit Street, because there just isn’t anything physically like it, anywhere. No other neighborhood on the east coast has the dramatic topography of college hill. No place on the west coast has the monumental european architecture. Benefit has both, and supports its own cultural scene, in the geographic center of a major city.

    The only thing keeping me from naming Broad Street as my favorite is the fact that, as someone of diminutive proportions, I don’t always feel safe walking there. I absolutely love its scene though: nothing glamorous (although there’s plenty of cool architecture if you’re willing to look around), but loud, random, colorful, and active at least 18 hours a day. I see more people “out”, interacting with each other, on Broad than anywhere else in town. I feel like I’m in Brooklyn, not Providence.

  • I’m with you on Westminster. I’ve only lived here for 3 years, but I always enjoy walking or biking down that street and seeing all of the buildings. It would be so great to see every storefront filled and successful. I’ve also been enjoying Broadway more and more.
    I know that it’s just a row of mansions, but I really like Stimson Ave (off of Hope, just north of Angell). I often find myself going a little out of my way to walk or bike along this street.
    I know this a post about the streets we love, but I have to mention that in an odd coincidence, the “anti-spam” word that was presented to me (in order to comment on this post) was “thayer,” one of my least favorite streets!

  • Speaking of Westminster, I’m being told that Oop is in the process of closing, right, now.

  • I would agree with Corey on selecting Benefit Street. Specifically the stretch north of Hopkins Street and south of Cady Street contains an extraordinary variety of architecture of varying periods, uses, and scales. The sensibility exists nowhere else; it’s distinctly Providence.

  • Gentian Avenue between Smith and Admiral Streets in Elmhurst is a wonderful tree lined street with beautiful homes from the 1920 -1950’s.
    It has all the charm of Benefit & Broadway without the shops. The side walks are well kept and while some of the trees had been thined out the big ones still provide a canopy. Many homes have outstanding gardens.

  • Seriously? Oop is closing? That’s too bad. I love that store (but admittedly rarely shop there and even more rarely buy anything).

  • My favorite stretch is South Main Street. It’s probably the city’s longest unbroken stretch of sidewalk fronting facades and properties and feels “complete” in ways that make many of the city’s other main avenues (Westminster, Washington, Broadway, Thayer, Wickenden, Wayland, etc) feel like teases…

    Walk down those other streets and just when you start to think things are getting interesting then BAM! something happens to end the experience… The sidewalk fronting retail strip may be too short (almost all of the above) or you hit a huge expanse of surface parking on empty lots (Washington) or you reach decades old empty and neglected storefronts punctuated by offices cloaked with blinds (Westminster).

    That really doesn’t happen on S. Main. It’s incredibly diverse, from private residences to historic structures to brand new construction. While its retail strips are themselves too short and interrupted by RISD and the courthouse, you can walk from Wickenden to Smith Street and have interesting shops, restaurants, 3 parks, a cinema, historic buildings, and a museum to explore.

    My sincerest hope is that when the 195 land is redone that Wickenden will somehow be connected via the streetscape to S. Main so they “feel” contiguous in ways that were the case in the late 19th century. Imagine walking from Rustigian Rugs at Governor through Smith Street on a largely contiguous streetscape….

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