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News & Notes

Snowy evening in Helsinki

Snowy evening in Helsinki, image (cc) Niklas Sjöblom

The Guardian: Helsinki’s ambitious plan to make car ownership pointless in 10 years

The Finnish capital has announced plans to transform its existing public transport network into a comprehensive, point-to-point “mobility on demand” system by 2025 – one that, in theory, would be so good nobody would have any reason to own a car.

Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

Old Urbanist: Going Driverless, or Not

A heated debate over the significance of Google’s so-called driverless car has been raging over the past several weeks. On one side of the aisle are those hailing it as a “revolutionary” technology that will dramatically alter personal mobility to the point of eliminating private car ownership. On the other side are those who reject the premise that the technology represents a groundbreaking shift, instead characterizing it as merely a “slightly different variation” on current transportation modes that is “so incremental that it epitomizes our national short-sightedness, and failure of imagination, when it comes to improving mobility in America.”

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Inspired Providence Lecture Series

Inspired Providence

Inspired Providence
A Fall Lecture Series Celebrating 375 Years of Providence History
Thursdays, Sept. 29 through Nov. 10
6pm • Free
See below for locations

PROVIDENCE, RI – Roger Williams National Memorial is pleased to present Inspired Providence|a fall lecture series celebrating Providence’s rich cultural heritage from Roger Williams’ “lively experiment” in 1636 to the rise of a “Creative Capital.” Seven evenings of civic discourse and lively debate will take place between September 29th and November 10th at cultural institutions across the city. Each free lecture will begin at 6 pm and is open to the public.

The series, part of the larger Celebrate Providence 375 Years commemoration, kicks off Thursday, September 29th at 6pm at Roger Williams National Memorial. On this opening night, park ranger and local historian John McNiff will examine and discuss the beliefs of Roger Williams and how they were echoed in a truly revolutionary document, the United States Constitution, more than 100 years after Williams’ death.

Each subsequent talk will take on a distinct moment in Rhode Island history from the emergence of Rhode Island’s first portable restaurants in the 19th century, to the Hardscrabble race riot of 1824, to an architectural competition that forever changed the face of the East Side. The series also includes a special family program at the Providence Children’s Museum with storyteller Len Cabral, a public discussion moderated by “Action Speaks” host Marc Levitt, and a presentation of the Latino Oral History Project led by Marta Martinez.

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Notes from the PPS Symposium Morning Session

The Cove, Providence

The Cove in Providence in 1889 looking northeast as seen from today’s Kennedy Plaza. Photo (cc) Providence Public Library

The Providence Preservation Society Symposium, Make No Little Plans started today, and I was there, scribbling down notes. If you follow @gcpvd on Twitter then you caught some of it, and I’ll be Twittering again at the afternoon session.

The presentation was “By the Cask or Smaller Quantity: Providence’s Waterfront and the World the Merchant’s Made” by C. Morgan Grefe the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Ms. Grefe spoke about the period from Roger Williams’ settlement through the slave trading and China trade periods to just before the start of the Industrial Revolution.

I’m going to basically type my notes as scribbled down expanding what I can remember or my impressions as I can:

  • In the hundred years before 1790 Providence’s population increased from a sleepy town of under 1,000 to a city of 10,000.
  • Newport was wrecked during the American Revolution while Providence remained largely untouched, allowing Providence to take over Newport’s lead on the title of Rhode Island’s primary city (remember, through 1900, Providence and Newport were co-capitals of Rhode Island).
  • From Roger William’s time through the 18th century Providence’s urban form was mixed use. Though the town had a small population until the end of the city, it was densely settled with no separation of work, live, and recreation areas. The people of that time would have to testify to how they felt about that.
  • The early city was laid out linearly along the east bank of the Providence River and into The Cove with tall masted ships making their way almost as far as what is now College Street and other ships reaching near to where Smith Street is now. Trade and port activity took place at the wharves along South Water Street. Other merchant activity and housing climbed the hill toward Benefit Street.
  • John Brown built his house on Benefit Street so he could keep track of all the port activity from that vantage point near the top of the hill.
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Historical Essays Marking Providence\’s 375th Anniversary

Celebrate Providence 375 YearsThe City of Providence is truly honored to have secured the contributions of nearly two dozen area historians who have written topical essays covering the entire spectrum of the city’s 375-year history.

The essays cover topics such as Indian-White relations, the remarkable contribution of Roger Williams, the sometimes painful transformation from town to city, Providence as an industrial titan, the city’s significant architectural heritage, and its response to the Great Depression — among others. The series ends with an essay by Mayor Angel Taveras on his vision for the future of the city.

The essays will appear on this site periodically over the next several months. You can find links to the essays on this page. Enjoy reading about Providence’s amazing history through the lens of our local historians!

Read the three essays collected so far.


News & Notes

Fast 14 project an exciting demonstration of American innovation [USDOT Fast Lane Blog]

The challenge was tremendous; last summer gaping holes opened up in bridges along the crucial I-93 corridor near Boston. It was clear that the superstructure–the concrete decking and steel beams–of the aging bridges was failing and had to be replaced. Unfortunately, with conventional techniques, closing lanes to replace the 14 structurally deficient bridges on this primary commuter artery would likely tie Boston-area traffic in painful knots for four long years.

The Massachusetts DOT design-build team proposed to cut that four years down to 14 weeks by prefabricating the superstructure pieces off-site then quickly fitting them into position. Rather than close lanes for the weeks it would take to fabricate a bridge’s superstructure on-site, lane closures could be limited to weekends when the pre-fab superstructure could be lowered into place. Preparatory work, they suggested, could be done in advance without disrupting the flow of traffic.

Why isn’t everyone doing this?

Transit systems face across-the-board cuts, diminished funding stream under House bill [Transportation for America]

The House proposal contains scant information about public transportation, but by most indications, non-highway projects would have more difficulty receiving funding and prioritization compared to current law.
The outline did not explicitly call for maintaining the historic 20 percent share of Highway Trust Fund dollars for public transportation, though both Chairman Mica and Committee staff indicated verbally at a press conference that the 80/20 ratio would be preserved, albeit as part of a much smaller share of total dollars. Though even with the 20 percent share intact, the overall 35 percent cut would result in steep fare hikes, service cuts, job losses or some combination thereof.

See also: Federal transportation program slated for 35 percent spending cut in House bill [Transportation for America]

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News & Notes

Some photos of RI (and New Bedford) in the ’30s and ’40s [WPRI | Ted Nesi]

Ted digs up some photos from Depression era Providence and New Bedford, including this one of Kennedy Plaza before it was Kennedy Plaza:

Photo from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

A Home Is a Lousy Investment [The Wall Street Journal]

At the risk of heaping more misery on the struggling residential property market, an analysis of home-price and ownership data for the last 30 years in California-the Golden State with notoriously golden property prices-indicates that the average single family house has never been a particularly stellar investment.

In a society increasingly concerned with providing for retirement security and housing affordability, this finding has large implications. It means that we have put excessive emphasis on owner-occupied housing for social objectives, mistakenly relied on homebuilding for economic stimulus, and fostered misconceptions about homeownership and financial independence. We’ve diverted capital from more productive investments and misallocated scarce public resources.

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Providence Subway!?

Check out this map posted in our Flickr Group by pdxcityscape:

Proposed Providence Subway Map - 1914

Visit the Flickr Page to see a larger version.

That’s a plan for a streetcar system with central subway for Providence from 1914. pdxcityscape writes on Flickr:

Proposed Providence Subway Map – 1914

Imagine Providence now if this was built…

Around the time that the East Side Streetcar (now Bus) Tunnel opened was a plan to expand it into a larger streetcar subway system in Providence running west to Olneyville, east to Red Bridge/Seekonk River, north to the North Burial Ground on North Main and south to Broad and Elmwood. The four subway branch lines would consolidate onto a single main trunk line between Dorrance and Benefit Streets, streetcar lines would run in the subway tunnels in the core then emerge outside downtown to finish their routes on the surface. The proposal went nowhere in 1914, it reemerged in the 1920s but again went nowhere, then because automania had taken over and the focus was on building new wide streets.

From ‘Engineering News’ March 19, 1914 (available on Google Books: search “Providence Subway Olneyville”)



Alissa Graham: Providence Independence Trail

Prospect Park

This post was originally posted on Alissa Graham’s blog, Alissa: Adventurer and is reproduced here with permission.

Yesterday, May 4th 2011, Rhode Island’s Govenor Chaffee and Providence Mayor Tavares unveiled the “Independence Trail.” This three mile, downtown Providence trail will “feature 75 sites ranging from a place where George Washington slept to a statue of Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, whose distinctive facial hair coined the word ‘sideburns.'” (

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Capital Ideas: Planning Providence 1636-2020, May 4

Capital Ideas: Planning Providence
May 04, 2011 – June 22, 2011
Providence City Hall Gallery, 2nd Floor
25 Dorrance Street, Providence, RI 02903
Opening Reception and program: May 4 • 5-7pm
Exhibit Times: 8:30 am – 4:30 pm

Can you imagine zipping around downtown on a monorail train? Rowing a boat in front of the State House? Driving on a freeway soaring above the canal? At one time, these incredible ideas were proposed for our city.

Capital Ideas: Planning Providence” commemorates the history of Providence by presenting design plans drawn from the City Archives. View proposals for never-built projects and imagine the places in Providence that might have been.

What kind of Providence would you design?

Exhibition Opening Event Details
The opening event in City Hall is an all-ages exhibition opening with programming that includes a talk from the City Hall archivist, Paul Campbell, as well as poster-making; visitors will create the imaginary Providence that they would like to see realized. These posters will be laminated and displayed at the Roger Williams National Memorial to serve as a monument to the 375th.