Author Archive | Jef Nickerson

Don’t abandon Bradford Street

Last October, hundreds of Providence residents, as well as city employees and elected officials, participated in the week-long kickoff of Providence Tomorrow, a neighborhood planning and growth process that showed that regardless of neighborhood, income or race, Providence residents support the move into the 21st century by making Providence a more urban, more walkable, transit-oriented city, while upgrading the quality of life in the neighborhoods and preserving what is special about their communities. Over five hundred comments have been made on the Planning Department’s website regarding the Comprehensive Plan, and public hearings on the subject have been well attended. Providence is poised to continue its evolution as a renaissance city, and Providence residents, businesses, and employees are interested and excited about being a part of shaping the vision of Providence’s future.

However, last week, something happened to derail Providence’s diligence and served to remind us all of why we want change in the city. While the City Planning Commission (CPC) voted to continue a request to abandon a portion of Bradford Street, a viable city street, for a large scale building project dubbed Vista Della Torre, just an hour later, in a move that may prove to be legally questionable, the City Council Ordinance Committee voted to approve the abandonment without the necessary recommendation from the CPC.


Proposed site plan for Vista Della Torre

Greater City Providence opposes the abandonment of any portion of Bradford Street. Bradford Street serves as a vital north-south connector in a neighborhood with high traffic and few north-south arteries. Bradford provides a connection from Downtown via West Exchange Street to Atwells Avenue and Broadway. The street is also one with great potential for dense development in this area so close to Downtown. Closing the street provides roadblocks to future development along the street. The traffic plan proposed by Garofalo & Associates for the Vista Della Torre on Federal Street does not serve the residents of the neighborhood or the city at large.

The abandonment of Bradford Street and making Federal Street one way will displace traffic to other areas such as Dean Street, which already sees a very high level of traffic and presents a hazard to pedestrians in the area, and will most likely negatively affect businesses at the end of Broadway. Federal Hill has already lost several streets (and housing stock) to abandonments which never served the public, but instead are used for parking. These issues and others need to be addressed before permission is given to abandon a public street.

While Greater City Providence does not reject the concept of a tall, important gateway building project for this location outright, a lot of unanswered questions remain, and the current design of the building and the site plan is unacceptable. If street abandonments at the City Plan Commission or City Council level are the only public input for a project of this size, then it behooves us to fight that battle where we can. One of the unfortunate lessons of the past has been that you cannot “unring the bell” – street abandonments cannot be taken back when the developer’s project falls through or changes drastically. Providence has seen entirely too many of these projects fast-tracked with little or no public comment; the details of which are often worked out on the sly, benefiting not Providence as a whole, but merely a few individuals whose commitment to the City’s vision and quality of life may be suspect at best.

Greater City Providence promotes the growth and development of the Greater Providence region in as urban a pattern as possible. Special emphasis is placed on the development of more walkable, affordable, and vibrant neighborhoods that are served by more robust mass transit and fueled by greater economic opportunity. Our primary focus is participating in the zoning and planning process to ensure that the Providence of the future is an urban environment and not a city plagued by inconsistent, uninspired, automobile-centric, and suburban-style development.

We encourage you to contact your elected officials to voice your opinion about this project and specifically the abandonment of Bradford Street, which may be voted on by the full City Council as soon as next week. Please contact your City Council person, and Ward 13 Councilman John Lombardi about the street abandonment. Please contact the Mayor to ask why this project is moving through the approval process so fast, with so little chance for public input, and without the proper approvals by the proper agencies in the proper order.

Mayor David Cicilline: (401) 421-2489
Councilman John Lombardi (Ward 13, Federal Hill): (401) 453-3900
City Council members: (401) 421-7740 (ask for City Council office)
Department of Planning & Development: (401) 351-4300

Street tree grant deadline

PNPPThe deadline for the next round of Providence Neighborhood Planting Program street tree grants is rapidly approaching. Applications must be postmarked or received by June 2, 2007 to be considered for a neighborhood planting for Fall 2007.

Over 6000 Providence residents have taken advantage of the Neighborhood Planting Program, a private organization which award groups of Providence residents with 5-20 trees on their street, providing they participate in the planting and take on the responsibility of the young trees’ care. The City of Providence is a partner in the PNPP and matches the cost of the street trees and the preparation of the granted locations.

Each December and June the program gets as many as 45 applications from residents and neighborhood groups for street trees. A strong application is one where there are at least five households involved (including children,) with consecutive plantings along one street (ie., not a “one here, one there” planting spread across several streets,) and where the residents are willing to participate in the aftercare necessary to keep street trees healthy.

Applications are available on the web at or by calling 351-6440, or by stopping by the Program office at 8 Third Street.


Bret discusses Transit 2020 on “The City”

This month Greater City Providence’s Vice President, Bret Ancowitz appears on The City, Mayor Cicilline’s cable access television show. Also appearing are Scott Wolf, Executive Director, Grow Smart RI and Garry Bliss, Director of Policy, City of Providence.

The topic of conversation was the recently released Transit 2020 Report. We look forward to having Garry at our next GC: Exchange meeting on May 8th to discuss Transit 2020.

You can view the show below or catch it on TV at the following times:

Channel 18 – Providence/Kent County area
Thursdays 10:00pm / Fridays 9:00am

Channel 15 – (Interconnect C) Statewide
Mondays at 6:30pm / Wednesdays 8:30pm

The show runs throughout the month of April


Another successful GC: Exchange

Tuesday night we held our third GC: Exchange meeting at MoJoe’s Bar & Grill on Broadway. The evening was very informative and (I hope) a lot of fun for everyone there.

I’d like to thank our special guests for attending and sharing their work with us.

First up were Baruch Sachs and Cynthia Langlykke from the West Broadway Neighborhood Association. Baruch and Cynthia told us the history of the WBNA, got us all up to speed on their current work, and discussed some of their plans and wishes for the future. You can download the handout they had here .

Also be sure to visit the WBNA website for more info on the upcoming Armory Open, taking place May 11th at the Cranston Street Armory.

We also had Stephanie Federico and Pleshette Mitchell from City Hall come to talk about the Mayor’s Graffiti Task Force. The Task Force is preparing to announce people who have won the $500 reward for information leading to an arrest. Through the spring the Task Force will be catching up on the graffiti that has been piling up over the winter. In the summer neighborhood watch programs will be implemented throughout the city. We look forward to seeing the city continue to attack the graffiti problem and seeing how the community can become more involved. We’ll be talking more with Stephanie and Pleshette in the coming months and will be posting more information here.

In addition to thanking our guest speakers, I’d also like to thank MoJoe’s for hosting us, and of course thank everyone who came. We had some great questions for our guest speakers and some great discussion over good food (mmmm Doughboys…) and drink.

The next GC: Exchange will be on Tuesday, May 8th (as always the 2nd Tuesday of the month) where we will be discussing the Transit 2020 report. Check back here for the time and location of this and future meetings, or sign up for our newsletter to receive our latest news.


Tree planting season is here


Photo by Kathryn Laferte for the Providence Neighborhood Tree Planting Program

The Providence Neighborhood Tree Planting Program has upcoming tree planting events on April 14th and 21st:

SATURDAY April 14th
8:15am: Transit/Hope/George Power & Hope Williams/Governor
12:15pm: Brook Street
1:00pm: Pitman/Waterman Salvation Army
70 Trees

SATURDAY April 21st
8:30am: 50 Pembroke Street
10:30am: Corner of Tell and Knight Streets
10:30am: Westminster Street
1:15pm: Third Street
42 Trees

There will also be a planting on Arbor Day, April 27th. Check The Providence Neighborhood Tree Planting Program for details.

Getting out and planting trees is a good way to meet your neighbors and of course a great way to help the environment and make the city a generally better place to live. For more information on this spring’s tree plantings and how to request tree plantings on you street, please visit The Providence Neighborhood Tree Planting Program.


Graffiti Taskforce


Under the Exchange Street Bridge in Waterplace Park; Tuesday, March 27th, 2007.

It’s that time of year again, it seems like every year around this time, Waterplace becomes covered in graffiti (as does much of the rest of the city). Last year at this time I contacted the Downtown Improvement District (DID) to see what their jurisdiction was over Waterplace. They told me it is not in the area that they are responsible for, however they did patrol it and report problems to the Parks Department. This year we have the Mayor’s new Graffiti Taskforce, people with a vehicle and presumably a budget to tackle graffiti, but this year, Waterplace is again in the same sad state it was last year.

Now, I was told last year that the DID shuts down their graffiti operations in the winter because their machinery depends on temperatures being above freezing in order to work. One might also be able to assume that the city’s machinery has the same need for above freezing temperatures. But that does not mean that someone can’t get out with some cleaner and a scrub brush and work on removing the graffiti by hand. Especially if that someone was caught and convicted of tagging public property and was sentenced to graffiti removal. Regular citizens don’t have fancy graffiti abatement equipment and are forced to scrub when their property is tagged, no reason the Graffiti Taskforce can’t be doing the same.

In order to remove graffiti of course, the Graffiti Taskforce needs to know its there, how anyone could miss the graffiti in Waterplace is beyond me, but let’s just for argument’s sake believe that no one in city government is aware of it. What do we do? Well we go online to fill out the handy Graffiti Removal Request Form, how convenient (there’s also a phone number: 1-800-TAGGERS).

This form has some issues though. First of all, at least on my browser, the CSS isn’t rendering properly making the page a little hard to read, but I can suffer through it. Second, the form does not leave a space for additional comments. One of the first things it asks for is an address, well I don’t know what the address would be for “under the Exchange Street Bridge.” So I left the street number blank and listed it as Exchange Street at the intersection with Memorial Boulevard, not very descriptive when you realize where I’m trying to describe. The other thing it asks is what kind of surface is tagged. There is not an option for ’tile wall’ so I chose ‘wall – unknown surface.’ Again, not very helpful. If there were a box at the end of the form for additional comments I could have explained the exact location and the wall type. I really don’t know what good the information I submit will do.

I’ll keep an eye on the situation and report back when the graffiti has been cleaned, or if I hear back from the Taskforce (the form space for my phone number was not working, but I did submit my name and email).


Providence Tomorrow: Washington Park & South Elmwood Neighborhood Charrettes

The Providence Planning Department has announced the first in a series of neighborhood charrettes that will be taking place around the city as part of the Providence Tomorrow planning process.

The charrettes will be taking place at the Washington Park Community Center, 42 Jillson Street on the follow dates and times.

March 22 through March 28, 2007

Kickoff/Open House
Thursday, March 22, 2007 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Stop by to say hello and learn more about the neighborhood planning process!

What is the future of your neighborhood?
Saturday, March 24, 2007 – 8:30am to 12:00pm or 1:00pm to 4:30pm
Come spend a few hours telling us what you want the future of your neighborhoods to be. Give us your vision! Come in the morning or the afternoon, the sessions are the same! Childcare will be provided for children between the ages of 3 and 10.

Elected Officials Forum
Monday, March 26, 2007 – 6:00pm to 7:30pm
Tell Mayor Cicilline and your councilmen your ideas about your neighborhoods!

Neighborhood Plan Progress
Monday, March 26, 2007 – 7:30pm to 9:00pm
Check out what’s been done so far. Let us know if we’re on the right track!

Public Works Session
Tuesday, March 27, 2007 – 6:30pm to 9:00pm
Details to be announced soon!

Wrap up party and plan presentation!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Come see what we’ve accomplished! Bring the family for food, entertainment, and fun!

Thank you for helping us to spread the word. We look forward to seeing you and the members of your community at our Charrette. If you have any questions about the comprehensive plan or the planning process, please contact Linda Painter, Deputy Director of Planning at 351-4300 ext. 515 or email.


Interim Comprehensive Plan Draft Released

The latest step in the Providence Tomorrow process is the release of the Interim Comprehensive Plan. The plan is online with an interactive system for public comment. Public comment is open until March 30th at which point the planning department will be review the comments and preparing them for presentation to the City Plan Commission.

For those without computer access, a computer terminal has been set up at the Planning Department offices, 400 Westminster Street. Physical copies of the plan are also available in Libraries and Community Centers with comment forms.

Next month the City Plan Commission will host public hearings:

April 11 at 5:30pm
Meeting Street School, 1000 Eddy Street

April 12 at 5:30pm
Times2 Academy, 50 Fillmore Street

The adoption of Providence Tomorrow as the City’s Interim Comprehensive Plan is just the first step in the process. In the coming months the City will host the first of 10 neighborhood charrettes to develop plans for every neighborhood in the city. Those plans will be used to amend the interim Providence Tomorrow into a new comprehensive plan that will guide growth and development in the coming years.


Greater City Providence featured in Providence Business News


David Ortiz from Providence Business News attended our last Greater City: Exchange and sat down with Bret and I to talk about Greater City Providence, what we’re about, and what we hope to accomplish. The article [subscription required] appears in this week’s Providence Business News.

A new advocacy organization was launched last week that aims to promote cutting-edge urban planning and development practices in Providence and surrounding communities.

Greater City Providence will focus on transit, architecture, open space, zoning, and residential and commercial development issues in the capital city, said Jef Nickerson, the group’s president.

Don’t forget, our next GC: Exchange takes place on March 13th at Jewel Cafe & Lounge, 15 Elbow Street.


A short history of the Grove Street School


Grove Street School, in the middle of Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood, one of many small neighborhood schools was built at the turn of the Century and was in use until sometime in the late 70s, early 80s. The City, in an effort to divest itself of these small schools (in desperate need of repair after years of deferred maintenance) in favor of larger, more centralized schools, offered the Grove Street School for sale to interested parties under the agreement that the properties would be redeveloped within a certain amount of time or the properties would revert back to the city.

This school, (like many others of its ilk–Fruit Hill School, America Street School) sat fallow for years and years, and was never redeveloped. Owned by a Federal Hill family who owns a funeral home (Tarro Brothers) on Broadway, the agreement to redevelop was never fulfilled. The “Reverter Clause” was invoked, however it was ruled that too much time had gone by and the city had lost its chance at getting it back. Meanwhile, Fruit Hill School was demolished to make room for a Hollywood Video in the Manton neighborhood, and America Street School (also on Federal Hill) fell victim to arson (that case was never solved.)

Grove Street school continued to languish and calls to code enforcement did little to encourage the owners to do anything with the school. Neighbors eventually stopped calling and complaining because it was clear that complaints to code enforcement only caused them problems–several neighbors report having visits by Code officials at their own properties (on Ring and Grove Streets) after calling about the school.

Meanwhile, many interested parties came calling on the Tarros, and other members of the community–wanting to buy or redevelop in partnership with the owners, and all were sent away. The revaluation of 2003 put the taxable value of this historic building, and the land it sits on at approximately $144,000.

In 2002, this building was put on the Providence Preservation Society’s 10 Most Endangered Properties, where it has stayed every year since then. The Industrial and Commercial Buildings District ordinance was enacted to protect buildings such as these by designating them their own historic district.

In the past 2 years there have been several attempts to damage the building to make it look like it is falling down and in need of condemnation, and at least two visits by demolition crews and equipment. A meeting with community members yielded interesting results. When asked what the owner intended to do with the property, they were told “Parking for the funeral Home.” When asked how many parking spaces they needed, it was not known. When asked how many parking spaces tearing down the school would yield, the owners suggested 60. When asked if that was enough parking to suit their needs, the answer was no.

Last week, a neighbor reported talking to a contractor working in the building, pulling out radiators and other materials. When asked what was going on, the contractor replied that the building would be coming down on that Wednesday (January 30th, 2007.) The community once again mobilized, calling the Planning Department, the Mayor’s office, The City Council office, the Building Department, and the Providence Police Department and the community was assured that the building would not be coming down. No demolition permits had been pulled, and the Historic District Commission had not approved of the implied demo, but police were to monitor the property for activity and a Stop Work Order was affixed to the door of the building.

The building did not come down on Wednesday, however contractors did arrive on site on Saturday morning and began demolishing the east side of the building. Area residents told the contractors of the lack of permits and the posted Stop Work Order, and yet they continued their destruction. Contractors finally ceased sometime after the police arrived on the scene. The Mayor and the City’s building officials arrived some time after that and a 24-hour police detail was assigned to the property.

On Monday, February 5th, the Rhode Island Superior Court issued an Order Granting The City’s Emergency Motion For Injunctive Relief which states that no further demolition or alteration may be made to the Grove Street School. Additionally, the WBNA has been informed by city officials that they are looking at various actions to protect the building, including a Providence Redevelopment Agency meeting on Thursday, February 8th at 4pm at the Department of Planning and Development, 400 Westminster Street, 4th floor to hear plans for the acquisition of the Grove Street School from the current property owners.

Greater City Providence believes that preserving the historic fabric of our city’s neighborhoods is vital to maintaining their livability. Certainly removing such a valuable structure as the Grove Street School for surface parking is not the direction that Providence should be going in. This building has suffered a massive wound, but it need not be fatal. The building can be saved and put to good use for the community. We urge the city to find a way to ensure that the future of this building is entrusted to someone who understands its importance to the physical fabric of the neighborhood. Furthermore we urge the city to enact new legislation that will strengthen the penalties against property owners who carry out illegal demolitions and the contractors they employ. The penalties are so minor now that a developer can knock down a wing of a building (as has been done here), receive their wrist slap, then continue with their demolition as they’ve now left the structure in an irreparable state. Let this be the end of the Old Providence way of doing business.


Grove Street School partial demolition

Another week another illegal demolition in Greater Providence…

Contractors showed up at the site of the Grove Street School early yesterday morning and began an illegal demolition. Neighbors alerted the authorities and the demolition was halted. Currently a Providence Police detail is guarding the building. More commentary later, but for now here are some photos of the site.


Pawtucket train station update

A couple recent newspaper articles about the future of the Pawtucket-Central Falls Train Station:

Interesting development regarding Amtrak, from The Journal article:

The city claimed its position got a boost last week when officials from Amtrak, which runs the railroad lines that pass through the station, wrote Seelbinder to assert what Amtrak says are its rights to review and approve any demolition plan. Michael Stern, senior associate counsel for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation – Amtrak’s formal name – advised Moses that deed restriction placed on the property in 1972 gave Amtrak the right pass judgment on any demolition plan.

“To ensure the safety of Amtrak operations at the Pawtucket/Central Falls train station, demolition work may not proceed until Amtrak reviews and approves the developer’s demolition plans and the contractor’s means and methods of demolition,” Stern wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to Seelbinder’s lawyers.

J. Speck has some photos of the partial demolition on his Flickr page:


Image Copyright J. Speck of The Bucket Blog.

The Pawtucket Alliance for Downtown Success (PADS) continues to post updates about the station on thier site as well.


Demolition of the Pawtucket train station started today!


UPDATE: The Pawtucket Foundation has posted some updated information on their website.

PADS has the full story. Earlier today Bilray Demolition Co. started demolishing a portion of the Pawtucket-Central Falls Train Station after obtaining a permit from the city of Central Falls. This a day after an engineering firm hired by the City of Pawtucket determined that the depot was the best location for bringing rail service back to Pawtucket; and a day before a Pawtucket City Council meeting that will discuss the future of the station, and it’s possible seizure by eminent domain.

The city of Pawtucket has obtained a restraining order which will halt the demolition for 8 days.

Tomorrow, December 6th, at 7:00pm at Pawtucket City Hall there will be a meeting to discuss the future of the station. The Pawtucket Redevelopment Authority will request the City Council to amend the city’s Redevelopment Plan to enable the PRA to acquire the train station by eminent domain.

Residents of Pawtucket are strongly encouraged to attend this meeting and express their desire for the station to be saved, rail service be restored to Pawtucket, and sensible urban development to take place on the depot site and in the surrounding neighborhodd.

Call the Pawtucket City Clerk’s office at 728-0500 for councilor contact information, or email the councilors at:


Pawtucket-Central Falls Train Station threatened


The future of Pawtucket-Central Falls train station has been the subject of much debate over the last several years. Currently the owner, Oscar “Ike” Seelbinder, has plans to demolish a large portion of the historic structure to build a CVS pharmacy.

On Wednesday, December 6th at 7:00pm local residents can express their dismay about this plan by attending the City Council public hearing on the future of the train station. Station supporters are looking for the City Council to move the train station property onto the official Pawtucket Redevelopment Plan. The meeting is at Pawtucket City Hall, 137 Roosevelt Avenue, 3rd Floor at 7:00pm.

The Pawtucket Alliance for Downtown Success (aka PADS) has written an open letter to CVS CEO Tom Ryan, urging him and the developer to come up with a plan for the site which saves the station and creates a more urban-friendly environment in this important area of Pawtucket and Central Falls.


Long week, interesting week, informative week, fun week

The main sessions of the Providence Tomorrow charrettes are over. There’s a work session for Planning staff and the charrette facilitators Friday at 400 Westminster. The public is welcome to drop in, add more photos to the collection, and talk to the staff about the week. On Saturday there will be a wrap up session and final presentation.

The process has been… what’s the word for it… I don’t know, I’m tired but happy to have been involved. We’ll be processing our thoughts and posting them shortly.

A big thanks goes out to the Planning Department staff for planning and running this process, and the Facilitators for coming here and helping us wth this process.

I’m off for a good sleep, look out for more updates soon!


Providence Tomorrow

The City of Providence has begun the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance. The city has invited the public to be part of the process of re-evaluating the Comprehensive Plan, and started that public involvement on Wednesday, July 26th with a workshop and ice cream social at Roger Williams Park Casino.

The project called Providence Tomorrow, continues with a series of charrettes starting tomorrow. View the charrette schedule here . Members of Greater City Providence will be there, and we will be blogging our thoughts and ideas throughout the week. Stay tuned, and join in by attending the charrettes and commenting here.