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Better than nothing is not good enough

cvs-washington

New CVS in Seattle’s Uptown neighborhood will feature two-levels of apartments and underground parking. – Rendering by Schemata Workshop

I’ve been hearing the same refrain lately when it comes to less than stellar development proposals in Providence, ‘it may not be great, but it is better than what is there now.’ The McDonald’s and Family Value in Olneyville is cited as better than the vacant lot that is there now. The LA Fitness on North Main is seen as better than the vacant building that is there now. And on it goes, there’s a defeatest attitude around here about having nice things.

As CVS starts to expand into Washington State, one Seattle neighborhood saw the company’s proposal and asked if they could build something better. Unlike CVS’s recent store back here at home in Edgewood, the company building the new store, The Velmeir Cos., said, ‘sure, let’s figure it out.’

The original proposal was for a one-story CVS at what the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce describes as a high profile corner is Seattle’s Uptown neighborhood.

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What Cheer/What Jeer 2010

What Cheer/What Jeer was originally supposed to be a monthly, or a quarterly thing, but you know what, it is a lot of work putting a list like this together, so it has become an annual thing. So join us as we take a look back at 2010, What Cheering the good and What Jeering the bad.

whatcheerProvidence River Pedestrian Bridge

Whether you love it or hate it, Providence will soon be getting a new pedestrian bridge over the Providence River. Design firms large and small from around the world entered the competition that led to the winning design. And the competition got people around the city interested in transportation and design.

providence-river-pedestrian-bridge

whatcheerRIPTA

Last year we declared that 2010 would be “The Year of RIPTA” and not to be too smug about it but, we were kinda right.

In December 2009 RIPTA and the City of Providence released the Metro Transit Study, which drew a lot of attention to its proposal to run a streetcar line through Providence. This year, RIPTA embarked on their Core Connector Study, the first step toward bringing streetcars back to Providence. In June, U.S. Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood visited Providence and was very excited about our future plans. RIPTA also took delivery of a new fleet of hybrid buses and trolleys in October. This year also saw RIPTA unveil a 5-year plan for the future of transit in Rhode Island. Finally, RIPTA hired a new CEO, Charles Odimgbe. It is early days yet in Mr. Odimgbe’s tenure, so it remains to be seen if he’ll be What Cheered or What Jeered next year.

Certainly all was not good for RIPTA this year, 2010 saw the continuation of an annual tradition wherein RIPTA’s budget falls short resulting in the agency looking to cut routes and/or increase fares. This year they went with increasing fares yet again. Here’s hoping the incoming Governor and General Assembly can work to address the issues surrounding RIPTA’s budget.

whatcheerElection 2010

What an exciting year that was. New Mayor, new Governor, new Congressman from Providence (even if he is a freshman and in the minority party, that’s good for us!), many new City Councilors, Shoveitgate, The Uncaucas, Chris Young… Let’s do that again real soon (well, not too soon).

whatcheerThe Interlink & MBTA to Warwick

October saw the opening of the long awaited Interlink. The skybridge connects T.F. Green Airport to a parking garage, rental car facilities, and a train station via a skybridge with moving sidewalks over Post Road. The Interlink opening was followed in December by the extension of MBTA Commuter Rail service from Providence to the station at the Interlink facility. Next year that service will be expanded and will go further south to a new station currently under construction at Wickford Junction.

Interlink

whatcheerThe Box Office

The Box Office was completed this year. The building, made out of shipping containers brought national attention to Providence within the construction and design communities for its innovative design. Developers from near and far want to replicate the building in their communities.

whatcheerThe Arts

We What Cheered the arts last year, and we’re What Cheering them again this year. Woonsocket’s Riverzedge and Providence’s Community Music Works each took home one of fifteen 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards (after Providence’s New Urban Arts won the same award last year (go Rhody!)). AS220 celebrated their 25th Anniversary this year, commissioned RISD alum Shepard Fairy to create a mural on Aborn Street, and is wrapping up renovation on its third Downcity Building, The Mercantile Block. And basically, art in Providence just continued to be pretty damn awesome. Buy Art!

Last year, we weren’t really in the mood to What Jeer, we had jeered enough I guess. But this year, oh, here go hell come, are you ready? Let’s do it.

whatjeerRIDOT

RIDOT, seriously, you’re killing us here. While we’ve said it time and again, we really like what Director Michael Lewis has to say about not being able to build more highways to end congestion and needing to be multi-modal and what not… the Director’s words have not been matching the agency’s actions.

From the craptacular original design of the Wickenden Street intersection related to the 195 Relocation, to the ridiculous placement of signs on the sidewalk on the Friendship Street bridge, to the utter disregard for any mode other than automobiles in the planning of the new Union Avenue Bridge, and more, RIDOT has proven that they have a long way to go in understanding how to build infrastructure in an urban environment and serve a multi-modal population.

Governor-elect Chafee has decided to keep Director Lewis on at RIDOT, a decision we agree with. Let’s hope that the Director can make the agency’s actions match his own and the Governor’s visions for how our transportation system should look. We’re hoping next year we might be able to What Cheer RIDOT.

whatjeerThe Arcade/35 Weybosset

Though these are separate properties, they are linked in the public consciousness and the destiny of each may best be served by thinking of them together. The What Jeer here is pretty obvious, the Arcade still sits empty and the facade at 35 Weybosset Street remains neglected.

The neglect of the 35 Weybosset facade is the clearest example available of a developer attempting a demolition by neglect, and he is beginning to get a lot of support for that option, though we clearly think there is a better way.

As for the Arcade, we might have to agree with one of our commenters that the best course of action is eminent domain.

whatjeerGrove Street School

Seeing as the Grove Street School’s current owner, Michael Tarro won election to the General Assembly, the school’s future seems more tenuous than ever.

Grove Street School

The good news is, the new City Councilor for Ward 13, Bryan Principe is an ardent supporter of the building. Let’s hope Bryan and the new Mayor can work on an arrangement with Mr. Tarro on the building’s future.

whatjeerCVS

While in the end, CVS agreed to some minor concessions on their initial proposal for a CVS in Edgewood, they’re still basically dropping a box from the sky into the middle of a parking lot. We still don’t know why CVS hates Rhode Island.

whatjeerUnion Wadding Mill Fire

Did they ever catch the bastard who did this? There’s a $10,000 reward you know.

Photo from Pawtucket Foundation Facebook Page

whatjeerParkinglotification

Last year we What Cheered the Smith-Mathewson Building proposed for where the Downcity Diner used to be. This year it is a parking lot. Sigh.

whatjeerAtwells Avenue

As if enduring 14 months of construction at the intersection with Dean Street wasn’t bad enough, at the other end of the Avenue we had a girl who works at a Salon and a City Councilor run down by errant drivers within weeks of each other. We all know which one got the most attention from the media, including us.

After years of people getting hit on Atwells, to the point where those of us who live up there see it as part of life, the hit and run of Councilman Hassett did serve to jolt us all out of our malaise on the topic. After years of inaction we now have some repainted crosswalks, more signs, and a speed bump at the western end of the Avenue (where most of the pedestrians have been struck). Much more needs to be done to improve the safety situation not just on Atwells, but on roads throughout the city.

Let us not fall back into our malaise where we accept people being struck by cars as an inevitable part of city life, it is not. Let us make sure that we follow through on the outrage that followed the Councilman’s injuries and act to do all we can to ensure that it does not happen again.


We could probably go on, but let’s wrap up the What Cheering and What Jeering there. Feel free to add you own in the comments.

Thank you to everyone who reads and contributes to Greater City: Providence. It was a great year discussing the city we all love.

Happy New Year!

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Some observations from Alexandria, Virginia

Last weekend I was in Alexandria, Virginia. My hotel which was mega-cheap and right next to a Metro station was out in the exurbia hell next to the Beltway surrounded by surface parking, but not too far away was Old Town. While walking around the King Street area I snapped a few photos.

CVS without a drive-thru!

CVS in Alexandria, VA

I was very confused by this CVS, it appears to not have a parking lot or a drive-thru. How do people shop there!?!

Adopt a Block

Adopt a Block in Alexandria, VA

Seems like a simple concept.

More Shops

Alexandria, VA

Wondering where the shops are?

Wayfinding

Alexandria, VA

Wondering where and how far away the waterfront is, the Metro Station..? This is not the prettiest sign, but it works.

Public hearing notice

Alexandria, VA

Wondering what is up with that building, wondering when the city is holding hearings about it?

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News & Notes

Café Life, PDX Style: Recreating the Euro Bar

Nothing symbolizes the singular nature of European public life more than the ubiquitous neighborhood bar – a place where people of all ages gather for a variety of food and libations, including coffee, alcohol, ice cream and maybe a local delicacy or two such as anchovies or squid.

Such establishments, also known as snack bars or café-bars depending on the country, are more than community hangouts. Featuring ample outdoor seating, the Euro style bar is also an anchor for the lively street culture that is the envy of many an American urban planner.

[Enzyme PDX]

‘Piano Building’ tunes up

On the intersection’s northeast corner, Rhode Island-based CVS wanted to tear down existing businesses and homes to build a new store that neighbors criticized as not fitting with Dundee’s character.

That’s our CVS, destroying neighborhoods and soiling our state’s good name coast-to-coast. Good on ya. Oh, and in Norwich, CT they’re tearing down a building and 2 houses, and regrading a hill to build a 12,900 square foot store on a 1.78 acre site.

[Omaha World-Herald]

What Is It About 20-Somethings and Cars?

American young adults are driving less, says a recent piece in AdvertisingAge. Only 77 percent of 19-year-olds today have their license, compared to 92 percent in 1978. And the proportion of automobile miles driven by people aged 21 to 30 fell five percent in 2009, compared to 2001.

[The City Fix]

NYS Gov. David Paterson signs monumental smart growth bill into law
[Smart Growth America]

The Childish Folly of Dubai
[UrbanPhoto]

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CVS in Edgewood, Update

CVS has responded to concerns about their proposed store in the Edgewood section of Cranston offering a “colonial” design alternative, which does not address many of the issues concerning the community, or taking 24-hours off the table.

The above renderings (courtesy of the STOP CVS in the Historic Edgewood Neighborhood, Cranston RI Facebook page) represent the design consessions CVS is bringing to the table. This is instead of their typical beige dryvit box they plop down at most locations. This alternative design would also remove the large sign pylon (which would require Cranston zoning approval) and brings the landscaping and distance from neighboring properties in bounds whereas they will not need zoning variances.

According to an article in the Journal, company officials are also “considering” adding more windows and a pedestrian walkway across the 75-car parking lot.

Considering!?!!? a pedestrian walkway!?!?!??! CONSIDERING!?

OK, I have some harsh words for CVS in a second, but first, WHAT THE F*CK CRANSTON!? How in the world does your city’s zoning allow CVS to consider a pedestrian walkway? Like they can or cannot provide a walkway, whatever the hell they feel like, no big whoop. I’m well aware that Providence zoning is probably similarly weak (someone please cite for me where Providence requires pedestrian accomodations if it does so I can feel better), but I’m yelling at Cranston right now. Traffic is a problem that Cranston has, they are well aware of it, in fact the city is working on a traffic plan for the very intersection where this CVS is hoping to locate. Hey Cranston, you know a good way to fight traffic? ALLOW PEOPLE A WAY TO WALK IN YOUR CITY! My Maude, my head is exploding here!

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CVS in Edgewood

Neighbors in the Edgewood section of Cranston are opposing plans for a 24-hour, drive thru CVS in their neighborhood.


Image from Respect4Edgewood

The proposed CVS would replace the existing Rite Aid on the corner of Norwood Avenue and Broad Street, Rocky’s Hardware would also be displaced from their current location. Directly across from the proposed CVS sits a suburban style monster of a Walgreens.


Image from Google StreetView

The current building housing Rite Aid and Rocky’s won’t win any design prizes, but at least it is built to the street with the parking screened behind/beside it. It is good urban form.


Image from Google StreetView

Tearing down a building properly built to the street to build a new building with a drive-thru situated in a sea of parking is so wrong-headed for this neighborhood that I don’t even know how to begin to write about it. Luckily, Cranston Style already has a great post about it, which you should go read.

From the comments on Cranston Style:

Update: The Cranston Planning & Site Review committee sent CVS back to the drawing board. The next Planning Cmte meeting is 9AM June 2, 3rd Floor, City Hall. THE PUBLIC IS WELCOME to attend & voice opinions. Respect4Edgewood is hosting a neighborhood meeting that evening, June 2, 6PM at William Hall Library on Broad Street.

Like I said, I don’t even know where to start on making the most urban part of Cranston more auto-centric. But really, how anachronistic is a drug store built in the middle of a parking lot with two drive-thru lanes at a time when gas is crawling over $3/gallon again?

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Retail Update: CVS at the Mall moving

cvsmall

In the windows of the large, street corner, sidewalk-fronting retail space that wraps around where Memorial Boulevard meets Francis Street are large “coming soon” CVS/Pharmacy signs. The pharmacy-less CVS on the third floor of the mall will be closing and moving to this new street level location with a pharmacy.

There is also a CVS in Kennedy Plaza without a pharmacy. Word is that this CVS will remain. Last year there were reports that the CVS in Kennedy Plaza was planning to expand into the neighboring retail space on Westminster Street (formerly occupied by the Christian Science Reading Room, now the home of the Boston Sports Club retail office and ArtTix). It is unclear what the status of those plans are now.

Certainly one of the things that is missing from Downcity being a fully functioning all inclusive neighborhood is a pharmacy. A strong urban neighborhood should have what it’s residents need within a short walking distance. Downcity’s residence now have to travel to North Main Street or Atwells Avenue to find a full service pharmacy.

One concern about this mall location is that the specific site has walkability issues.

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