Tag Archives | Density

The further suburbanization of North Main Street


North Main Street facade of proposed LA Fitness

As RIPTA prepares to start running their new Rapid Bus service next month on North Main Street, the City Plan Commission is hearing a proposal to knock down a building to create 300 parking spaces on the street at the Pawtucket line.

CPC agenda:

Case No. 14-009MA – 1300 North Main Street The applicant is proposing to demolish an existing building to create a parking lot providing 300 spaces. The lot will serve a health club on an adjacent lot located in the City of Pawtucket

The building being considered for demolition is the old Sears building at the corner of North Main and White Streets across from Gregg’s (The Down Under Duck Pin bowling alley is on this site too, but I feel like it has already been demo’d? Art In Ruins does not say so).


Old Sears building on North Main Street. Reader submitted photo.

This building would be removed to make way for 300 parking spaces in the City of Providence for an LA Fitness location being built mainly in Pawtucket at the corner of Ann Mary Street.

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News & Notes

UrbanTimes: 10 Ways to Improve Your City through Public Space

Public spaces are increasingly being recognized as a crucial ingredient for successful cities, and for their ability to revitalize and create economic and social development opportunities. But actually finding ways to build and maintain healthy public space remains elusive to many municipal governments, especially in the developing world. The vast web of streets, parks, plazas, and courtyards that define the public realm is often lacking, too poorly planned, or without adequate citizen participation in the design process.

Recognizing these challenges, the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) released earlier this month a draft of their handbook Placemaking and the Future of Cities. It’s intended to serve as a best practices guide for those wishing to improve the economic, environmental and social health of their communities through the power of successful public space.

VolumeOne: Successful Riverfront 101

Must-Have Items For A Great Waterfront Destination By Project For Public Spaces

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News & Notes

From Here to There: A Creative Guide to Making Public Transport the Way to Go [Embarq]

Major automobile companies spend billions of dollars annually to advertise their products to customers. In 2009, General Motors alone spent $3.2 billion on advertising campaigns and overall marketing efforts for their products. Major auto companies collectively spent $21 billion worldwide and it looks like their investments are working. The number of private vehicles in Brazil more than doubled in less than a decade — 1.2 million in 2001 to 2.6 million in 2010. India experienced a 20-fold increase in the number of private motor vehicles in the last decade.

Such overwhelming statistics in favor of private vehicles, backed by billion dollar investments in advertising campaigns, point to the urgency with which public transport must catch-up in this competitive marketplace. Often times, so much energy is focused on the technical and financial aspects of getting public transit projects off the ground that branding and marketing become an afterthought.

In an attempt to give public transport a competitive edge, EMBARQ released a report on marketing and branding public transport.

Great places: smart density as part of economic flourishing [Grist]

Done right, density can be an engine of prosperity. Business executives should love great places just as much as hippies like me do.

Here’s the basic idea: When smart, skilled people start to gather in a place, the process becomes self-perpetuating. More smart, skilled people show up to be near the others. And the more smart, skilled people you get close together, the more you reduce transaction costs and increase “knowledge spillover,” which leads to commerce and innovation.

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News & Notes

EU could ground short-haul flights in favour of high-speed rail [Guardian]

Short-haul flights across Europe could be replaced by high-speed rail under ambitious European Union proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport by 60% over the next 40 years.

True urbanism must come with a big tent [Greater Greater Washington]

Many urbanists seek greater density by revitalizing the built environment. These urbanists advocate for multi-use, human scale developments and multimodal transportation options, taking for granted that the in-migration and density that follow are good.

While density by itself naturally appeals to younger, more footloose residents, such architectural determinism casts a blind eye to those excluded from the benefits of city life when nothing changes but the built environment.

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News & Notes

Regional bike path would include Fall River, Cape Cod [South Coast Today]

Thus was born the SouthCoast Regional Bikeway Summit, a Feb. 15 event that will gather representatives from this region and others to discuss creating a regional bikeway. Sponsored by Mass in Motion, Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, UMass Dartmouth and the Council on Sustainability, the summit will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the Advanced Technology & Manufacturing Center in Fall River.

On the table that day will be a vision to create a bike trail network that extends from Swansea to Wareham and north to Taunton and Mansfield, ultimately connecting with paths in Rhode Island and on Cape Cod.

“From Providence to Provincetown, that’s the way we sort of coin it,” said [Mass in Motion coordinator Pauline C.] Hamel. “And we’re not just talking about biking. These are intermodal pathways for walking, pushing strollers, wheelchairs | there’s a lot more to it.”

European Urbanism: Lessons from a City without Suburbs [Planetizen]

While searching for policies and levers to stem new or to retrofit existing suburbs, it might also be instructive to look for precedents, real examples of a city as it would be on arrival at the “end of the suburban project”. Precedents not only would lure planners and people by the power of their images but could also become practical guides. A contemporary precedent, were it to be found, would have great convincing power since it would have dealt with the modern issues of mobility, accessibility and commerce.

Reassuringly, at least one such city does exist: one that has reformed its suburbs to the point where they are indistinguishable from the mother “city” – Athens, Greece. This article looks at this example, attempts to draw lessons and raises disquieting questions.

New evidence cities rule and suburbs drool [Grist]

Suck it, Thoreau: Looks like big cities are the way to go if you’re looking to lower your environmental impact. According to a new study published in the journal Environment and Urbanization, carbon emissions in cities are lower than in the car-dependent burbs.

R.I. DOT leaves highway logo fee discussion to legislature [Providence Business News]

After facing fierce opposition from business owners, the R.I. Department of Transportation has backed down from a plan to charge businesses whose logos appear on informational signs along the state’s highways.

Community celebrates arts center [Brown Daily Herald]

About 350 attendees explored the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at its dedication ceremony last night, taking in the wide variety of student artwork | incorporating visual art, sound, video, dance and sculpture | that adorns the latest addition to the campus.
The building | which has been open for classes since Jan. 26 | will not be host to any one department, but will “manifest new modes of dialogue between different disciplines,” said Richard Fishman P’89, director of the Creative Arts Council and a professor of visual art, who has championed the building since long before it existed.

Shameless Plug: Please feel free to nominate us as Best Blog in the Phoenix’s Best of 2011. You could also ask your friends, your mom, and your cat to nominate us if you like.


Peter Brassard: The Core Connector system should connect more than just Downtown

This post was submitted Greater City: Providence reader Peter Brassard. If you’ve written something you’d like us to consider posting, please contact us and let us know.

Providence’s Core Connector transit system should be based on its ability to interconnect the city’s Occupation Districts and cultural venues, not just to Downtown and parts of the East Side and South Providence. If the goal is to reduce automotive dependency and produce the greatest number of jobs, attract real estate and economic development, all of the city’s Occupation Districts must be interconnected with a high-frequency transit system. Occupation Districts are employment centers where most educational, institutional, industrial, or business activities are situated. Besides serving employment centers, the Core Connector should provide access to major cultural and public event venues and recreation destinations to accommodate the public and to reinforce tourism.

Service schedules should be high frequency and ideally operate 24 hours, 7 days per week as students, hospital staff, and service workers often travel beyond midnight. The Core Connector should be operational well after the closing hours of bars and other entertainment venues to help reduce alcohol related car accidents. Schedule headway times should be at short intervals for reliable convenient service and to facilitate fast transfers between routes.

If the priority is interconnecting the city’s economic centers, residential neighborhood connections should be considered secondary. If a line passes through a residential area, the neighborhood can be directly served. People can plan in advance to leave or return home with transit that may have longer headway times. They can use existing bus lines to access the Core Connector to get to jobs or schools. Alternately, a series of new “feeder” bus routes or Rapid Bus could be developed to bring residential passengers to the Core Connector.

Occupation Districts
Click image to enlarge

The Occupation Districts diagram analyzes locations and potential maximum densities for Occupation Districts, as well as, showing an overlay of possible citywide routes. Providence regulates land use mostly with height limits, lot coverage, or dwelling unit maximums. Real estate development is generally calculated by potential developable floor area.

A scale of Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is assumed based on permitted number of floors combined with permitted lot coverage maximums to create the diagram. Occupation Districts are differentiated by a color that corresponds to a maximum FAR range or use type.

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News & Notes

The Providence Journal: Endangered properties

Really ProJo? Really!? You’re running a list of the Providence Preservation Society’s 10 Most Endangered Buildings and not anywhere in the piece mentioning that you requested and were given permission to tear one down, making it now the list of 9 Most Endangered Properties?

Way to do some reporting there.

StreetsBlog: “Forgiving” Distracted Driving Won’t Keep Our Streets Safe

Over at the National Journal’s transportation experts blog, Greg Cohen, president of the American Highway Users Alliance, wasn’t convinced that enforcement and driver responsibility are the answer. Writing that “we should admit that we all get distracted sometimes” and “enforced legislation and education can only go so far,” Cohen argued that engineering cars and roads to be more “forgiving” of driver inattention and carelessness is the way to go.


The Urban Times: 1970s Space Colony Art by NASA

Rhode Island Secretary of State: Register to Vote

Saturday, October 2nd is the deadline to register to vote in the General Election. I’m sure everyone is already registered because you voted in the Primary right? Well, just in case, you have until Saturday.

Chicago Business: After Daley’s retirement, Chicago needs a new approach

What Chicago really needs now is fewer ideas and orders from the top and more proposals and initiatives from the bottom. In the same way that this city’s economy is much better at applying than innovating, its political culture needs to be opened up so that new, better policies can be implemented.

:cut: Chicago :paste: Providence

Human Transit: the perils of average density

Sustainability advocates want higher urban densities for a range of reasons, but viability of public transit is certainly one of them. Meanwhile, advocates of car-dominance want to argue that existing low densities are a fact of life; since transit needs high density, they say, there’s just no point in investing in transit for those areas, so it’s best to go on planning for the dominance of cars.

Mees calls on his fellow transit advocates to let go of the idea that good transit requires high densities.


Warwick Intermodal Station spurs development proposal


As the intermodal station at T.F. Green rapidly works towards completion, expecting trains to arrive next year, it is already spurring development in the area in anticipation.

Michael D’Ambra currently owns an asphalt plant adjacent to the train station which he plans to turn into a $300 million hotel and office complex. In addition to the asphalt plant, D’Ambra’s construction company is headquartered at the Jefferson Boulevard site.

The Journal reports that last night, D’Ambra received final approval from the Warwick Planning Board for his proposal. As the Warwick Beacon reported earlier this month, the plan calls for three 7-story office towers with 540,000 square foot of space and a 320-room hotel with direct access to the intermodal facility skybridge, which connects the train station to the airport terminal. The development will also feature retail space. Though D’Ambra now has permission from city officials to move forward, the multi-phase, multi-year development will not commence until there are a enough tenants signed on, and is also contingent on the asphalt plant being moved to Johnston (which has approval from that city).

The Planning Board gave D’Ambra relief on both height and setback restrictions, which allows the project to be built to the street and have a much more urban look and feel. With the Planning Board willing to give variances that make sense from an urbanist streetscape perspective and a number of other hotel, office, and residential proposals in the pipeline, the intermodal station area looks like it could yeild a true transit oriented village near the airport.

The city needs to be vigilant of creating a truly urban village and not a facsimile of urban form without the function. This building being set on the street is a start, though the developer’s lawyer was very excited when speaking to the Journal about how no one need ever go outside here:

K. Joseph Shekarchi [told] Planning Board members that “one of the best things about this project is that you’ll be able to leave your office or hotel room and get in a car or (catch) a flight to Florida without ever having to carry an umbrella or put on an overcoats.”

OK, yes that is good, I’d certainly be happy to leave my plane cross the skybridge and be in my hotel (or board a train, he seemed to forget that it was attached to a train station too). But in order to have a truly transit oriented village in this area, people need to be able to go outside. People in the offices should be able to walk to lunch and other shopping areas. Residents of future develpments will want to walk to the train station to get into Providence and Boston and walk to RIPTA buses that will serve the station. Bikes need to be considered as one of the modes. A development which is a series of skybridges that people drive to is not what should be the result of the investment the state has made in this train station. Warwick has a chance to be a national leader with the airport district and the smart development of it. Let’s hope officials in our neighboring city understand the opportunity they have and make the best of it.

Rendering Robinson Green Beretta Corp. via Warwick Beacon


195 Street Grid Part 5: A look at lot sizes

In Part 4 much of the discussion revolved around lot sizes.

Comment by Corey

Call me naive, but personally, I would take some of the parcels not targeted for institutional use, subdivide them, and then sell the subdivided lots individually; much more in line with what would have been done in the 18th or 19th centuries. […] It also allows a lot of building form regulations to be relaxed without risking so much insensitive development.

  • By allowing room for numerous property owners to have building facades on the same block, you’re almost guaranteed not to have a block-long dead space in any part of the district, because a variety of different uses and architecture occupy each street front.
  • By encouraging buildings with smaller footprints, building heights and proportions tend to be harder to abuse, decreasing the need to spend the time and money on the exhaustive specific zoning regarding height, mass, and proportion which tends to scare away developers. If anything should be exhaustively regulated, it’s materials and energy efficiency.
  • Multiple tenants on each block = greater density, and greater variety of uses, which means:
  • A more constant street life at all times of day, as well as greater walkability, and demand for mass transit expansion.

If anything has been proven to work in Providence, it’s the repetition of historical development patterns. There’s plenty of evidence to support that, and plenty of wiggle room for dynamic new buildings within those patterns. The 195 relocation project in and of itself reflects the fact that the city planners realize this. It just needs to be taken one step further in order to really work well here.

Read through the discussion to see more of the conversation.

The massing renderings below show several different configurations of lot sizes on the east side parcels of the 195 redevelopment area:


Large full block lots • Click image to enlarge


Small lots, some combined • Click image to enlarge


Mixed lots after development pressure • Click image to enlarge

195_iconThis is the fifth of a series of posts we will be doing about the 195 Street Grid. To view all the posts and more information, please visit our 195 Relocation Project page.


Could the schools help provide needed transit for Downtown?


In the comments section of the post about the Route 195 surplus land redevelopment report there is an interesting discussion (recommended reading) going on about dividing the parcels into smaller lots to create a more granular Downcity-like development pattern in the Route 195 land. Part of that discussion is the realization that we need better transit options throughout the Downcity area to allow for less parking for these smaller development parcels. Current zoning calls for parking densities that are not realistic for smaller buildings to support. Parking can be created off-site, or better yet, we can hope that people will leave their cars at home, but we need good options to move people throughout the Downcity area to make that realistic.

David Segal posted over on Daily Dose about the perennial issue of the city losing out when non-profits expand (as is a large part of the 195 surplus land report).

It sees expansion of the universities as the engine for much of this growth - the city is branding a new “Knowledge District” through much of Upper South Providence (the Jewelry District, Hospitals, etc.). It’s easier said than done, because the interests of the city and state are not aligned: The state sees expansion of non-profits as a boon, because it gets to collect taxes from new income that they generate; the city sees it as a potential burden, as new land gets eaten up without providing new property tax revenue, the city’s major source of income. We desperately need to reconcile this conflict.

We can go round and round on this point. Undeniably, the city benefits in many ways from having the schools here. They provide a large, relatively stable, pool of jobs for the city’s residents, provide income to the city’s restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and retailers through the influx of students and their parents, and they provide a general essence to the city that makes it much more attractive than many of it’s college-less peers. However, between schools, hospitals, and state and federal property Providence has a vast amount of it’s land that is not generating tax revenue for it. Here I propose one way that the schools and the city could work together to solve an issue for both of them, a way for the schools to save money while providing for the city and a way for the city to reap a benefit.

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CO2 per acre versus per household


The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index has a number of tools for generating affordability maps. Above is the Providence Metropolitan Area CO2 use per acre (on right) versus CO2 use by household (left). I can’t hyperlink directly to the Providence map, but go here and choose “Providence-Fall River-Warwick, RI-MA” from the drop down where is says “change region.”

As you can see, by acre the cities consume way more CO2 as there are way more people per acre in the cities. However, when viewed by household, the cities are teetotallers compared to the suburbs. This comparison shows the benefit of mixed-use dense regions. Even if everyone in the cities were driving to all their destinations (which we are not), having a mixture of uses, means we do not have to travel as far to reach our destinations; shopping, working, recreation…

Now not everyone is going to move to Providence, New Bedford, and Fall River and start walking and riding the bus everywhere. But we can make the suburbs more walkable and less dependant on fossil fuels. Our region was built around distinct village centers, we’ve lost the village centers to autocentric strip malls such as those seen on Route 2. These areas are designed in such a way that even if one wanted to walk from store to store, one cannot.

As big box stores go out of business and leave empty hulks behind, it is a good time to rethink our suburban development patterns. How can we fill in areas that are sprawling and make them more like the village centers of yesteryear?


Our Transportation Secretary wants you out of your car!

Lone Shopping Cart in the Parking Lot at the Burlington County Mall

Empty parking lot photo by sameold2008 from Flickr

Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary for the new Obama administration, has recently been quoted as wanting to “coerce people out of their cars.”

Good news? Bad news?

For many of the readers of this blog, this change in federal attitude towards how people live and get around is a welcome breath of fresh air. I personally agree that the United States has long needed a shift in priorities in terms of our lifestyle, ditching the car for most of our transportation needs. There seems to be, however, a qualm amongst many (and not only conservatives) with the federal government forcing it’s hand into how our communities are built and connected (see CNSNews article link below). I can personally understand this stance as well, seeing how the policies that will push zoning laws to create denser neighborhoods DOES infringe on our original founding beliefs of property rights.

What I believe the disconnect in the arguments to be though, is that many have forgotten that these rights have been infringed on for the entirety of the lives of anybody reading this, and the uphill zoning law battles of many pushing for greater densification in the recent past serves as evidence of this. The 180 that the federal government is trying to currently pull, is of it’s very own previous stances, both times forced with disregard to property rights. Post World War II decentralization was subsidized through tax breaks for industries leaving the city, insured mortgages on suburban homes, a transportation infrastructure focus on highways, and President Eisenhower essentially telling the nation that decentralization was proper damage control against a potential nuclear attack.

Okay, so why do I bring all of this up?

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Rep. Segal reports on a couple bills up in the Assembly

Old Public Safety Complex Demolition

Site of current Old Public Safety Building Memorial Parking Lot

Over on the Dose, Rep. Segal highlights a couple interesting bills:

  • Restoration of the historic tax credits, for projects with a lot of affordable housing. (I’m open to considering expansions, if it miraculously gets moving, but would certainly want it to be tighter than the original version.)
  • Demolition bonds for buildings in historic districts, to forestall further expansion of the surface-lot district.

    David is looking for feedback on the language of these bills, you can comment over on the Dose or comment here and we will forward the feedback to him.

    Links updated, should work now.


    The Psychological Necessity of Urban Parks

    A little bee sent an article from The Boston Globe my way. Apparently recent studies have found that the population density of a city is directly related to it’s innovative capacity (which would explain Providence’s music, art, and tech scenes), but the same hussle and bustle of city living that brings us these intellectual prizes also seems to put a strain on the prefrontal cortex. This leads to a loss in the ability to maintain directed attention, and is also responsible for weaknesses in self-control (indulging in bad food, etc.).


    It seems that urban parks that contain a diverse collection of vegetation are extremely calming to the prefrontal cortex, and bring a sense of calm and balance to the frenzied city mind. This proves, once again, the great importance of urban parks in our lives. They are not only nice places to have a picnic, fly a kite, or meditate. They play a vital role in our cognitive abilities, and in our psychological well-being. This further illustrates how a proper balance between greater population density and more abundant green spaces is the recipe for a healthier and more innovative society.

    Read the article at:


    The Parking Crisis Illustrated

    Providence Parking Crisis Illustrated

    Download printable copies

    When the future of Downcity is discussed, through planning and charrette processes, one of the hottest topics is parking, or the lack thereof. The parking situation has been described at times as a “Crisis.” Above is an illustration of our “Parking Crisis.” Now not all of these lots and garages are open to the public, some are devoted to individual businesses or residences, but parking for businesses and residence is part of the crisis discussion.

    We do have issues with our parking situation, the lots and garages that are open to the public rarely have clear displays of their hours or rates, and more often than not attempt to gouge potential customers during special events (check out the event rates near the Dunk when something like American Idol is in town). I think what this illustration shows though, is that our crisis is not one of capacity, we have plenty of spaces to park cars.

    I think the important distinction, and part of the crisis attitude, is that very little of this parking is free. As Americans, we’ve become accustomed to ample and free parking. We do have free on-street parking, and this illustration does not show the multitude of on-street parking spaces.

    Of course what we often fail to talk about is the option of people not even bringing their cars into the city in the first place. While we have a good bus system for an American city our size, it is not terribly convenient even for people who live in the city to use to get downtown, nevermind the people arriving from the suburbs and Massachusetts. If you come into the city for dinner or drinks or a show or to go to the clubs, buses can’t be relied upon to get you home when you’re done. With many buses ending service around 8-9:00pm, we can hardly rely on that as an option to draw people into our city to enjoy our nightlife.

    The other issue is American’s attitudes about where they think they should be able to park. Downcity is what, one square mile? Really you could park anywhere and walk to your final destination. However people circle the block of their destination and get angry when they can’t park (for free) within yards of where they are going.

    I think the cure for the crisis is a combination of regulations to get parking lot/garage owners to have clear information about hours and pricing, improved public transit so that those of us who want to leave their cars at home can, and frankly, a change in attitude.

    What do you think about the Downcity parking situation?


    REBOOT: Dean Street Interchange and Viaduct

    reboot dean before

    Click image to enlarge

    REBOOT is an occasional series of posts on GC:PVD where we identify areas of the city that display poor urbanism and propose ways to improve them.

    Our interventions may be simple and quite easily realized, or they may at times be grand and possibly take years or decades to complete. Either way, we hope they generate interest and discussion.

    Our first reboot is the Dean Street Interchange and Viaduct between Federal Hill and the Valley/Smith Hill neighborhoods. Currently there’s no doubt, this area is built for the automobile. Lanes are wide, turning radii are designed for highspeed auto travel, sightlines for pedestrians are limited, and in many areas sidewalks and crosswalks are non-existent.

    There is also no proper streetscape. In the Federal Hill side the street is lined with highway ramps and surface parking, with small buildings set back from the street. On the Valley side the street is lined with industrial areas with open surface lots below the raised berm the street sits on. To the north of that, across the river lie suburban style development, gas stations, car washes, drive-thru fast food joints and more surface parking.

    We propose a radical intervention to make this area more urban, improving pedestrian and bicycle connections between Federal Hill to the south and Valley and Smith Hill to the north, de-emphasize the highway, create urban streetwalls with buildings, stores, and parkland, and free up acres of land for redevelopment.

    Continue Reading →


    N. Main Meeting “Take-Home” Points

    wbna house

    As the phrase goes, we were at last night’s meeting so you didn’t have to be… All three speakers were excellent, but Christine Malecki West of Kite Architects in particular made three key points that are right in line with Greater City Providence sensibilities:

    • Cities are green: Urban living, with its density, walkability, and shared resources is inherently “green” and eco-friendly, especially if planned correctly…
    • The historic vs contemporary architecture argument should be moot: The two extremes, and the vast expanse of architectural styles between those poles, can harmoniously co-exist, especially if one is sensitive to massing, scale, and usage principles. She said the tension between the camps is “divisive” and counterproductive, and I couldn’t agree more…
    • Good urbanism has to be encouraged through incentives, not legislated: There was unanimity from all speakers about this, which I found surprising. Rather than telling people how to build (with all types of unanticipated complications and problems), it’s better to dangle carrots to developers to adhere to urban principles.

    My question to all now is, though, in these tough times, if you don’t have money to dangle as those carrots, what are the remaining incentives?