Tag Archives | Environment

Guest post: Parking reform should start at the State House


The State House with a lot less parking. Photo courtesy of the Providence Department of Planning & Development.

Reader James Kennedy writes about reforming parking at the State House. Follow James on Twitter: @TransportPVD.

The State House is a great place to start reforming Providence’s parking crisis. The great map that Jef put up last April shows that the State House contributes considerably to the overwhelming of our downtown space by surface parking.

From the outset, 10% of State House parking lot space should be repurposed as a vegetable and flower garden, which could be run in private-public partnership with the Southside Community Land Trust. Repurposing State House parking will highlight one of the city’s best reasons for optimism, the Land Trust’s Lots for Hope program. Produce from the raised beds could be used to fill food banks around the state, or could be sold at Rhode Island’s farmers’ markets to return a modest revenue boost to the state budget.

The remaining spaces should no longer be free. Legislators and other State House employees should receive a transportation stipend, equal to the amount of money currently being spent on paving a parking spot for them to use. Those who continue to drive to the State House would not lose money, but they will at least be aware that parking is a fiscal choice. But many others will choose to save money by carpooling, taking transit, or biking to the capital. The plan will be revenue neutral to taxpayers, in that it will simply repurpose funds already being spent.

Parking demand will decrease if this plan is put in place, and as it does, the state should gradually remove more spaces to increase the area of the garden. As in Denmark, where cities have committed to remove 2-3% of parking spaces per year to reduce their carbon footprints, the State House could set a per year goal for removal of spots, with the eventual culmination of a parking lot half the size of the current one. The gradual pace of change will allow for other transportation options to be developed.

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News & Notes

Human Transit: Countering The “Empty Buses” Myth — With Video!

The Pinellas County, Florida transit agency has done this video to help counter the impressions people get from seeing empty buses around the area. Seeing empty buses often causes people to complain that the buses are too big, are obviously not needed, should be replaced with smaller ones, etc.

Next City: That Tree on the Corner May Be Worth More Than Your Houses

Given the city’s annual expenditures of $850,000 on street tree planting and maintenance, Tree Pittsburgh concluded that the city received $3 in benefits for every dollar it invested in street trees. That math helped convince the city that upfront investment in trees was worthwhile, and so last summer Pittsburgh released a detailed master plan for maintaining and expanding its urban forest over the next two decades.

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Environmental initiative to create urban farms on vacant City land


An urban farm in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo (cc) tcd123usa

Providence Environmental Initiative Will Transform Vacant City-Owned Parcels into Urban Farms

‘Lots of Hope’ program awarded $100,000 by Rhode Island Foundation and Florida-based Local Sustainability Matching Fund

PROVIDENCE, RI – The City of Providence, in partnership with the Southside Community Land Trust and the Rhode Island Foundation, is embarking on a new initiative to convert city-owned vacant lots into productive urban farms.

“Lots of Hope is an innovative new program that will help to build a more sustainable and healthy City for years to come,” said Mayor Angel Taveras. “Providence has a vital environmental community committed to helping make the city more sustainable. Together, we are moving forward to transform Providence into one of the greenest cities in the nation. I thank the Rhode Island Foundation, the Local Sustainability Matching Fund and Southside Community Land Trust for partnering with the City of Providence on this exciting initiative.”

The Lots of Hope program will enable Providence residents to access low-cost, underutilized public land from the City along with technical assistance and hands-on support from Southside Community Land Trust. The program is financed by a $50,000 grant from the Florida-based Local Sustainability Matching Fund and a matching $50,000 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation.

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News & Notes


Wetlands to provide a storm surge buffer for New York City. Image from Architecture Research Office

Fast Company: A Plan To Hurricane-Proof New York, With A Ring Of Wetlands

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there have been a flurry of ideas on how to deal with the prospect that storms of such magnitude may no longer be once-in-a-lifetime events but the most visible manifestation–if you’re not a polar bear–of the havoc wreaked by climate change.

Seawalls. Levees. The kinds of things the Army Corps of Engineers typically builds to protect low-lying places like New Orleans just aren’t feasible for a place like Manhattan, says Stephen Cassell, the cofounder of New York’s Architectural Research Office. “It’s hard to predict how bad climate change will be,” Cassell says, noting that Sandy’s devastating surge was nearly 14 feet, which wasn’t even the worst-case scenario. “What if we build a barrier and the surge goes beyond that?”

Yes Providence, what if the storm surge is higher than our storm surge barrier?

New York Post: Growing NY through smarter taxes

How might two-tiered taxation work? In New York, land and improvements in residential areas are subject to an 18.6 percent property tax.Thus, land with a taxable value of $10,000 would be taxed $1,860, and improvements with a similar taxable value of $10,000 would owe another $1,860, a total of $3,720. Under a two-tier system, the tax rate for land could jump by, say, 50 percent, while the rate for improvement could be halved.In that case, the owner would pay $2,790 in land taxes and $930 for improvements — keeping the total to $3,720.

But here’s the payoff: The owner’s tax bill under that scheme would climb another $2,790 if he purchased a second lot with a taxable value of $10,000 — but by only $930 if he used that money toward building.Thus, hoarding would be discouraged; development encouraged.

The two-tier property tax has a proven record of success. In 1979, Pittsburgh began taxing land at a rate six times higher than improvements. In the ensuing decade, building permits increased by 70.4 percent.

Via: Nesi’s Notes

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News & Notes

ecoRI News: Parking Lots Proliferate at Twin River

Getting a parking lot built in Rhode Island typically requires permits and review by state agencies and local officials. But in one case a large lot at Twin River Casino inexplicably appeared next to a wetland.

Urbanophile: Milwaukee’s Relationship with the Chicago Mega-City Revisited by David Holmes

I was intrigued by Aaron’s recent post “Don’t Fly Too Close to the Sun Piece” which focused on the relationship between Milwaukee and Chicago and the notion of whether “proximity to Chicago or another mega-city represents an unambiguous good,” or – as posited by Aaron – may actually be more of a curse than a blessing, and something that drains vitality instead of increasing it. This is a topic that interests me both from the perspective of a long-time resident of Milwaukee and as a long-time fan of the City of Chicago. There are likely unique combinations of factors to consider in this type of evaluation for every city pair – including the distance between the cities, the presence or absence of high speed and/or low cost transit options between the cities, and the relative size. Although I did not comment on Aaron’s post at the time of publication, I thought it would be useful to consider some specific examples of ways in which Chicago enhances or decreases Milwaukee’s economic vitality as both the article and many of the comments on Milwaukee-Chicago and other city pairs, seemed to lack specific examples of both positive and negative impacts.

Some Providence-Boston talk made its way into the comments.

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News & Notes

firstworks dining

People eating at Kennedy Plaza during last month’s FirstWorks Festival

The Atlantic Cities: The Power of the Movable Chair

In his classic 1980 study of the use of public spaces in New York City, William H. Whyte and his team of researchers used cameras to watch people and understand how they used the public places in the city. One of the takeaways from the film footage was that people like to sit in public places, and, far more fascinatingly, that if given the option they will almost always move chairs before they sit in them.

The New York Times: How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party

A leading Republican columnist, trying to re-stoke her candidate’s faltering campaign before the first presidential debate, felt so desperate that she advised him to turn to cities.

“Wade into the crowd, wade into the fray, hold a hell of a rally in an American city – don’t they count anymore?” Peggy Noonan lamented in The Wall Street Journal. “A big, dense city with skyscrapers like canyons, crowds and placards, and yelling. All of our campaigning now is in bland suburbs and tired hustings.”

But the fact is that cities don’t count anymore – at least not in national Republican politics.

See also: Greater Greater Washington: Presidential debate again ignores urban issues

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Two stories about the 195 Commission today


195 Land aerial. Photo © RIDOT.

First in the Journal; “A step forward for vacant land – Former Route 195 land less polluted than anticipated, reducing one of many hurdles

The prime real estate in the heart of the capital city now available for development after the Route 195 relocation project got an environmental green light on Monday night from an engineering team.

Environmental studies by the firm Fuss & O’Neill show the former highway land is in far better shape than its past use might have suggested, engineer John A. Chambers told the Route 195 Redevelopment District Commission at its monthly meeting.

“This is fantastic news,” said Chambers, a vice president with the firm hired by the commission to conduct civil, environmental and transportation engineering. “I felt like Chicken Little telling you at previous meetings what we might find. I’m ecstatic we didn’t find it.”

Then, from the Providence Business News; “I-195 Commission worries over budget

The commission managing the former Interstate-195 lands considered the $900,000 in this year’s state budget the minimum needed each year to redevelop and maintain the downtown properties. But I-195 Commission Chairman Colin Kane said Monday that state budget officials have told him they expect that money to last three years.

“It was a surprise,” Kane said about learning from budget officials representing the governor, House and Senate leadership last Wednesday that they did not expect to repeat the fiscal 2013 appropriation in the budget for next year. “There is surely a minimum standard that clearly I didn’t [previously] articulate strongly enough.”

I have to assume it never occurred to anyone at the State House to set a budget for this Commission before creating it.


News & Notes

Governing: Tree Population Falling in Cities

Trees have a tough life in cities. They face heavy stress from storms, insects, air pollution, road salt, low-quality soil and even reckless drivers. Yet the benefits of a healthy tree population are vast, from the numerous environmental qualities to the aesthetic value that comes with a green canopy in a city park or along a busy street.

There’s also the economic value of trees. Real estate experts say trees on residential and commercial properties can increase the value by as much as 23 percent. They can also cut the cost of cooling a home or building, and their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide makes them a great investment. According to the U.S. Forest Service, that value can average $2,500 per tree in urban areas.

Hartford Courant: After 2nd Wave Of Layoffs in 2 Years, Mohegans Look Beyond Gaming For Future Growth In State “We’re Going To Have To Seek The Appropriate Size For The Gaming Floor”

In the gaming industry, it’s always about the next big thing.

But this week’s layoffs at the Mohegan Sun casino — the second wave in two years — are about something else: the permanent downsizing of gambling operations in Connecticut, as major casinos face intensifying competition in neighboring states.

Mitchell G. Etess, chief executive of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, said Friday that the tribe’s future growth in Connecticut is likely to come from other attractions such as dining, shopping, lodging and entertainment.

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New City of Providence recycling program

The gist of the program is next month, all households are set to receive a new grey bin which will now be used for trash. The current green bins will be retrofitted with a blue lid and will now be your super duper single stream recycling bin.

Here’s all the details from the City:

Download a flyer explaining the program pdf

Providence Launches New Recycling Initiative Wednesday, September 26, 2012

‘Big Green Can’ barrels currently used for trash will now be used for recycling; larger barrel aims to increase recycling rates by making it easier to recycle.

big-green-canProvidence’s Big Green Can is about to get greener and recycling is getting a lot easier in the capital city.

Starting October 1 and continuing through the end of the year, every Providence household will receive a new, 65-gallon gray trash barrel. As soon as a gray can is delivered to a household, its large, 95-gallon ‘Big Green Can’ barrel currently used for trash will be used for recycling. Waste Management will replace the lids on the Big Green Cans with a bright blue lid and graphic instructions on the new recycling procedure.

The larger recycling barrel, coupled with the statewide transition to single-stream recycling, aims to increase recycling rates by making it easier for all residents to recycle.

“I am excited to launch this recycling program and make a new, stronger commitment to sustainability in Providence,” said Mayor Angel Taveras. “Cities that have implemented similar programs have seen increases in their recycling rate. That is great for the environment, and it is also great for our bottom line. It has never been easier to recycle and together, we are building more sustainable, greener future for our capital city.”

Residents should begin using their Big Green Can for all recyclables as soon as they get their new gray barrel for other trash. Recyclables don’t need to be sorted – simply put all plastics, paper, glass, metal cans and foil together in the Big Green Can.

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News & Notes

Some people get wicked excited to take the bus…

Via Human Transit.

Biking in Heels: Watching the Pedestrians

My theory is that when pedestrians feel that the rules aren’t fair to them, or create unnecessary hardship for them, they ignore the rules and do what is simplest and easiest for them. By making things clear and easy for pedestrians, Cambridge has created a place where pedestrians are happy to obey the “rules” and generally don’t interfere with other modes’ right of way. In Boston, where pedestrians are forced to wait too long for their “turn,” are given signals that don’t seem to make sense, and aren’t given enough legal places to cross, they take the law into their own hands.

USA Today: City living will feel like a blast from the past

In the next American metropolis, people will live in smaller homes, relax in smaller yards, park their smaller cars in smaller spots. They will be closer to work, to play and, above all, to one another.

Global warming will be a fait accompli in 30 years, and so these urban Americans will raise their own food, in fields and on rooftops, and build structures to withstand everything from hurricane winds to Formosan termites.

They will walk and ride more and drive less. And they will like it.

This is the future envisioned by Andres Duany, architect, town planner, teacher and polemicist. And the future, he will tell you, is his business.

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195 Redevelopment District Commission Meeting – June 11, 2012

A meeting of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission will be held at the offices of Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, 315 Iron Horse Way, Suite 101, Providence, Rhode Island, on MONDAY, June 11, 2012, beginning at 5:00 p.m., for the following purposes:

Public Session

  1. To approve the public and closed session minutes of the meeting held on May 14, 2012.
  2. For discussion and consideration of directors and officers liability insurance.
  3. For an update regarding, and consideration of, the Department of Transportation road construction and utility matters.
  4. For an update regarding, and consideration of, Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council permitting.
  5. For an update regarding, and consideration of, the open space design.
  6. For an update regarding the District’s current and prospective budget and the bond transaction.
  7. For discussion and consideration of the Executive Director selection process and finalization of the job description.
  8. Executive Session

  9. To consider and act upon such matters, indicated in agenda item 7, as may be considered at a meeting closed to the public pursuant to the Open Meetings Law, specifically matters permitted to be so considered under subsection (7) (investment of public funds) of Rhode Island General Laws, Section 42-46-5(a) (the Open Meetings Law).
  10. Public Session

  11. Chairperson’s Report and Commission update.
  12. To establish an agenda for the next Commission meeting.


ecoRI News: New Launch Date for Single-Stream Recycling

The goal of single-stream recycling is to dramatically increase the volume of recycable items collected, thereby extending the life of the state landfill. The new sorting machines can bundle a variety of plastics, such as coffee cups and yogurt containers. Selling bales of these plastics to recycling processors is expected to bring in additional revenue to the RIRRC and participating cities and towns.


News & Notes

Texting while walking, via Transportation Nation.

Planetizen: The Smart Math of Mixed-Use Development

Most of us – city planners, elected officials, business owners, voters, and the like – understand that the city brings in more tax revenue when people shop and eat out more. However, we often overlook the scale of the property tax payoff for encouraging dense mixed-use development.

Many policy decisions seem to create incentives for businesses and property developers to expand just about anywhere, without regard for the types of buildings they are erecting. In this article, I argue that the best return on investment for the public coffers comes when smart and sustainable development occurs downtown.

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News & Notes

Seattle Sharrows - 1 of 8

Sharrows on a Seattle Street, Photo (cc) The Prudent Cyclist.

News & Notes Sharing time: Tracking the ‘sharrow’ on city streets [Grist]

Like many experts on transportation bicycling, Fucoloro wasn’t enthusiastic about them. Sharrows are spread so indiscriminately on Seattle streets, he said, that “they mean nothing now.” He has noticed that there seems to be “slightly less aggression” from drivers when they’re in place. “But does that mean all the streets without sharrows are worse?”

In other words, with sharrows everywhere, do drivers assume that cyclists don’t belong on streets without them?

Five myths about your gasoline taxes [CNN]

A perpetual deadlock in Congress has resulted in eight extensions of the national transportation bill, causing roads to crumble, bridges to fall, and transit to break down.

Come March 2012, politicians will once again enter into a political debate about funding American mobility. Without a fiscal safety net in place, the Highway Trust Fund will go broke.

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Roger Williams Park Ponds Restoration Public Meeting, November 15

Roger Williams Park

Roger Williams Park Ponds Restoration Public Meeting

Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, 7-9 p.m.
The Casino at Roger Williams Park
1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI
Hosted by the City of Providence and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
Contact: Robert F. McMahon, Supt. of Parks, 401-785-9450

The Ponds: Roger Williams Park is the largest area of public open space in Providence|a regional resource and a neighborhood park, with more than a million visitors each year. The centerpiece of the park is a 100-acre system of interconnected freshwater ponds, created when the park was built, flowing into the Pawtuxet River and Narragansett Bay. The ponds are important for boating, fishing and scenic value, yet they suffer from persistent water-quality problems, caused in part by storm-water pollution from local sources and urban areas upstream.

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News & Notes

VIDEOS: Atop Washington Monument, Visitors Scrambled During Quake [NPR]

Shaking starts around 1:45

Video from the National Park Service

When a 5.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia shook states from the mid-Atlantic into New England on Aug. 23, one of the places not to be was near the top of the Washington Monument.

Visit the NPR website for more information and another video.

Manhattan’s Stalled Construction Sites Could Become Urban Oases [Gothamist]

There are currently more than 600 stalled construction sites around NYC according to the Department of Buildings, and given the moribund economy, it doesn’t look like they’ll unstall anytime soon. So in the meantime, why don’t we do turn lemons into lemonade, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer wants to know!

I like that the article is illustrated with a concept from Boston.

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