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ProJo: 195 Commission agrees to deal on $50-million, 500-bed student housing development

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Image from 195 District Parcel 28 – Google Streetview

The I-195 Redevelopment District Commission voted behind closed doors Monday to sign a purchase and sale agreement with a Texas development firm that specializes in privatized student housing to build a $50-million, six-story housing development that will accommodate 500 renters on the west side of the Providence River.

Kane said the commission authorized him to sign the purchase and sale agreement, which will be a binding document requiring the firm to break ground by August 2015. Brodie said the firm expects to open its doors Sept. 1, 2017, ready for people to move into its rental units.


First, yes, it is going to be great to get something built on the 195 Land, and work is projected to begin next summer. With 20,000 square feet of retail space, this project should be able to provide some badly needed retail services to the Jewelry District neighborhood. And having 500 units of housing dropped from the sky has the potential to really have a positive impact on the neighborhood.

However, as the commenters at ProJo said, this deal literally took place behind closed doors. However, people involved in development and real estate all seemed to know this deal was coming, it was just the general public that may be surprised to hear about this this morning. So, if the people most involved in the process, pretty much know what is going on through industry chatter, where’s the need for the secrecy? I know there is a degree of discretion needed to complete a real estate deal, but the Commission really needs to do something about the perception that these Executive Sessions send to the public.

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News & Notes

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Eddy Street in Providence. Image from Google Street View.

CityLab: Why 12-Foot Traffic Lanes Are Disastrous for Safety and Must Be Replaced Now

Unfortunately, trained to expect this sort of behavior, highway engineers apply the same logic to the design of city streets, where people behave in an entirely different way. On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment. Are there other cars near me? Is an intersection approaching? Can I see around that corner? Are there trees and buildings near the road? Are there people walking or biking nearby? And: How wide is my lane?

When lanes are built too wide, pedestrians are forced to walk further across streets on which cars are moving too fast and bikes don’t fit.
All of these factors matter, and others, too. The simplest one to discuss, and probably the most impactful, is lane width. When lanes are built too wide, many bad things happen. In a sentence: pedestrians are forced to walk further across streets on which cars are moving too fast and bikes don’t fit.

As with most other State and County road departments across the country, RIDOT mostly insists that all roads should strive for 12′ lanes and the Providence DPW does not much disagree.


BuzzFeed News: The Hidden Reason Why Rent Is So Expensive In Cities: Parking Spaces

While many factors contribute to drive up the price of rents, parking is among the most significant, according to University of California Los Angeles professor and renowned parking guru Donald Shoup. BuzzFeed News sat down with Shoup during the CityLab 2014 conference in Los Angeles Monday to talk about how parking makes housing more expensive. His point: “It’s unfair to have cities where parking is free for cars and housing is expensive for people.”


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News & Notes

One proposal to combat sea-level rise in Boston, convert Clarendon Street into a canal.

BostInno: 6 Visuals for How Boston Can Adapt to Rising Sea Levels

Though Boston has historically grown outwards into the ocean, with landfill expanding its boundaries over the decades, the threat of it being submerged back into the Atlantic is very real. Though the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has introduced numerous legislation in an attempt to curtail rising sea levels, as has the City of Boston, there needs to be a shift in thinking from how we can combat the effects of climate change to how we can adapt to them.

A new report published by the Urban Land Institute’s Boston/NewEngland branch makes a number of municipal design suggestions and reaffirms on several occasions that the time to act is now.

The study, called The Implications of Living With Water, examines four specified areas dangerously at-risk should Mother Nature decide to unleash her wrath in the form of a hurricane not unlike Sandy, which devastated the Eastern seaboard from New York City down to Florida.


BostInno: It’s Official: Allston Is Going to Get a New MBTA Station

Tuesday afternoon Governor Deval Patrick announced that previously derailed plans for West Station are back on. When West Station is complete, commuters will be able to make direct trips back and forth between Allston and Back Bay or South Station – without having to suffer the misery of the Green Line.

Harvard University will help pay for the new railroad station in Boston’s Allston neighborhood.

The MBTA has long range plans to do short run subway-like service on some of it’s commuter rail lines within areas in and close to Boston using smaller DMU trains.

If/when the MBTA moves ahead with plans for purchasing DMU’s, Rhode Island should be ready to get on board with them (sorry). DMU’s would be perfect for running higher frequency intra-state service in Rhode Island.


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WJAR: New apartments coming soon behind Garden City

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“It’s our belief that there is a movement out away from the big suburban house. People want to live in the heart of something where they can be a part of the community and where they have all the amenities and access to all the great things that are happening at Garden City,” said Jordan Durham of D+P Real Estate.

First, I think it is sad that Garden City can be described as having a ‘behind’. Great urban spaces shouldn’t have a front or back, they should be seemless. It is telling I suppose that Providence Place is also often descibed as having a ‘behind’ or ‘back’.

Second, as I said on Twitter the other day, I might pay a lot of money to ensure that I never had to go to Garden City ever again (I really cannot stand it there), of course I’m sure there are more than a few people who would say the same about Providence, so to each his own I suppose.

All that said, it is encouraging to see people putting real money into apartment living in the suburban sections of our urban core. This won’t be car-free urbanist living to be sure, the article describes the development as featuring underground parking with elevator access, but it will give people the option of dipping their toes into the environment of living closely with neighbors, the option to at least consider walking to Garden City to buy groceries or have dinner… a simulacrum of urban living. It is a start.

For more information on the development visit liveatgardencity.com.

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News & Notes

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Bloomberg: Icahn Urges Family Dollar CEO to Seek Sale ‘Immediately’

The retailer has been struggling to compete with rival discounters, drugstores and big-box retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. To combat slumping sales, Family Dollar embarked on a review of its business this year. As part of its turnaround plan, the company is closing about 370 underperforming stores and opening fewer new ones. It’s also lowering prices in a bid to entice shoppers.

‘Consistently Underperformed’

Family Dollar has “consistently underperformed its peers” in same-store sales, total revenue growth, sales per store, sales per square foot, operating margins and capital-structure efficiency, Icahn wrote in the letter, which opened by remarking on the “cordial nature” of the previous night’s discussion.

Meanwhile, in Providence we’re throwing out our zoning regulations to accomodate the “proven business model” of this “consistently underperforming” retailer. Olneyville risks ending up with an empty big box more craptacular than the building that was torn down to make way for it.

Providence Business News: Solomon proposes citywide 15-year tax stabilization plan

“I want to send a loud and clear message to the development community that Providence is open for business,” Solomon said in the news release. “If we don’t bring certainty to this process we are losing a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow our tax base, grow our population and create much needed jobs. I plan to reach out to the developers who have expressed frustration with the process to assure them my plan will remove the politics and uncertainty that has plagued this city for far too long.”

The new system would be based on recommendations issued earlier this year by an economic development task force formed by the city council partly in response to the continued vacancy of the Industrial Trust building.

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PBN: Regency Plaza owners plan new addition to apartment complex

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Image from Bing Maps

Richard Lappin, co-owner of Regency Plaza LLC and president of Lisco Development, said the new building would be either five or six stories, but declined to go into more detail because of the early stage of the project.

The owners are asking the City Plan Commission, at their meeting this evening, to abandon part of the width of Broadway (as well as the right turn lane from the Service Road) to make way for the project.

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ProJo: Route 195 redevelopment panel hears pitch for life-science accelerator facility

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ProJo gets some info about what took place in “Executive Sesion.”

A lawyer, a doctor and an architect met behind closed doors Monday night with the Route 195 Redevelopment District Commission and Governor Chafee to pitch their idea to build a life-sciences accelerator in Providence with laboratories and all the co-working space necessary for 15 to 20 nascent companies to work at any given time to build their companies.

They foresee health care, information technology and diagnostic medical companies working together on the former highway land now available for development, in a building on the western side of the Providence River. It would also have room for lawyers, venture-capital investors and others who work with such companies, the three told reporters after meeting with the commission.

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Parking Lot-ification in Wanskuck

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At their May 28th meeting, the Zoning Board of Review will consider a proposal by Manni Realty and Admiral Smith Realty, LLC (owners of the building LaSalle Bakery on Admirial is in) to demolish three residential buildings for expanded parking said to support LaSalle Bakery.


MANNI REALTY, LLC, OWNER OF LOT 197 AND ADMIRAL SMITH REALTY, LLC, OWNER OF LOTS 198, 200 & 201: 685 Admiral Street (Lot 198, consisting of 8,184 square feet of land area), 697 Admiral Street (Lot 200, consisting of 3,100 square feet of land area), 782 River Avenue (Lot 197, consisting of 4,400 square feet of land area) and 85 Crandall Street (Lot 201, consisting of 3,600 square feet of land area) on the Tax Assessor’s Plat 79, Lot 198 is located in a Limited Commercial C-1 Zone and Lots 197, 200 & 201 are located in a Residential R-2 Two-Family Zone; filed an application requesting Use and Dimensional Variances pursuant to Section 200, seeking to demolish the existing residential structures on Lots 197, 200 & 201 and constructing two (2) parking areas to support the existing bakery located on Lot 198.

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News & Notes

Kennedy Plaza

Two ProJo articles last weekend about Kennedy Plaza:

The Providence Journal: A View from Providence: Hangout or hub, Kennedy Plaza certainly is quirky

People get off buses. Others get on. Some stand in line, others stand around. They wear headphones and backpacks, some carry bags.
The plaza draws folks from all walks. Students. Workers. Homeless. Peddlers. Visitors.

The Providence Journal: Some argue that good parks and public spaces can revitalize RI economy

In Kennedy Plaza, bus and vehicle traffic compete with people wanting to use the park. There is too much hard surface; too few trees. There’s too much noise; too little to do.

“If you leave public spaces barren you get this blight,” Wood said. “You create a draw for all sorts of undesirable activity.”

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Jane’s Walk – May 2-4, 2014

janes-walk-thumbOn May 2–4, Providence will participate in its second annual Jane’s Walk!

Jane’s Walk celebrates the ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs by getting people out exploring their neighbourhoods through free walking tours, led by locals. By walking together, communities engage in civic dialogue about what matters most in the places they live and work.

Last year, more than 800 walks were held in over 100 cities in 22 countries worldwide, including eight walks in neighborhoods around Providence, from downtown to the Jewelry District, Olneyville to Elmwood, College Hill to Smith Hill.

Anyone can lead a walk about almost any topic—all you need is a story, an interesting way of seeing the city, or hopes and concerns for your neighborhood. Just go to Janeswalk.org and click the “Create a Walk” button to get started.

I will be assisting with a walk on Saturday the 3rd. Do people live downtown? Yes. The walk leader is Steve Durkee, we will be meeting at noon at the Johnson & Wales Starbucks at the corner of Chestnut and Pine Streets. The walk will end at Grant’s Block where the Cinco de Mayo Block Party will be underway.
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News & Notes

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Photo (cc) Cristina Valencia

The Washington Post: Actually, cyclists make city streets safer

In the hysteria that predated the launch of New York’s bike-sharing system last year, many critics cried that the bikes would make the city’s streets less safe. All those cyclists wouldn’t be wearing helmets! They’d have no insurance! Accidents would skyrocket, and with them lawsuits against the city. Fatalities would triple!

The system’s safety record quickly turned out to be less sensational. But this was as bike advocates expected. Biking — as with walking — offers a prime example of the power of crowds. As more people bike and walk, cycling and pedestrian fatalities actually decline. That’s because the more people bike and walk, the more drivers become attuned to their presence (either on sidewalks or road shoulders), and the more cities are likely to invest in the kind of infrastructure explicitly meant to protect them (all of which further encourages more cyclists and pedestrians).


The Boston Globe: Boston’s parking solution is not more parking

Northeastern University professor Stephanie Pollack has studied gentrification around transit stops across the country, and she’s found that one of the biggest mistakes municipalities make is requiring too much parking. Pollack’s data show that, given the choice, residents will self-select: Heavy drivers choose to live in homes that provide parking, and residents who don’t own cars will choose transit-oriented, low-parking homes. This is especially true for renters. So the answer to an urban parking crunch isn’t adding supply. It’s recognizing that parking demand isn’t monolithic. Urban parking is a choice, and if Boston really does have too many cars already, the answer isn’t to build room for more.

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ProJo: Reviving Olneyville: Providence plan seeks overhaul of public housing

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A strategy is being developed to give the low-income [Manton Heights housing] development an overhaul and link it to the rest of Olneyville — one of Providence’s poorest neighborhoods, but a community improving with a helping hand from residents, the city, business owners and nonprofit groups.

Called Build Olneyville, the ambitious plan calls for replacing the development’s buildings with contemporary housing and reconfiguring the layout so there are through streets and mixed-income families living side by side. They also want to double Manton Heights, create jobs and add community amenities for the whole neighborhood, including a new early learning center.

The goal is to inject Olneyville with $100 million — up to $30 million from a federal grant and the rest in public-private partnerships.

See also:

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News & Notes

Electric car charging.

Electric car charging station in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo (cc) CityofStPete

Grist: States promise to sell one new EV for every 24 people by 2025

They’re starting to step up. Eight states that represent, according to the New York Times, “a quarter of the national car market” just announced they’re going to work together on creating a better system for drivers of electric vehicles. They are, in descending order of population size, California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and they say their goal is to help get 3.3 million new EVs sold by 2025. With a combined population of 79 million people, that means one EV for every 24 people.

How are they going to do it? By creating a system that will give EV owners something only gas-guzzling car drivers have now: certainty about where and when and how they’ll be able to fuel up.

I’m all for things that help improve the environment, but I’ve got to say, I’m a little sad that the environmental press is not being more thoughtful on this story. Reduced carbon emissions are wonderful, but it is not simply the carbon which is problematic, it is safety (for people inside and outside of cars) land-use, household budgets, and more. These are among the things states are supposed to do to encourage electric cars:

  • More charging stations
  • Building codes that require chargers at workplaces and “multifamily residences”
  • Reduced tolls
  • Better parking
  • Cheaper electricity prices

These are all things that encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic (I don’t think you’re any less dead after getting run over by an electric vehicle than you are getting run over by a gas powered one), and leaving individuals and families tied to the expense of a car (granted, made less so by reducing the costs of powering the vehicle).

Rhode Island seems quite proud of itself for being part of this group of states, but Rhode Island continues to poorly support alternatives to automobile use, namely mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

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News & Notes

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Montreal’s bike share system, Bixi. Photo (cc) arcsi

CBC: Bixi to continue despite financial problems

A member of Montreal’s city executive committee says he cannot guarantee the municipal administration will put more money into Bixi if it requires financial assistance.

The bike-sharing program has struggled to make ends meet since it first hit Montreal streets in 2008.

Jean-François Lisée, the provincial minister responsible for Montreal, said Bixi was a valuable service and deserved to be helped out. He said the Quebec government is working on a $5-million bridge loan for the program.

See also: The Atlantic Cities: In Paris, Thefts and Vandalism Could Force Bike-Share to Shrink


The Walking Bostonian: Car-free housing in Boston is natural

I feel strange explaining the concept of a market to someone as old as Tom Keane. The idea that residents could rent or purchase a parking space in a nearby garage should not be that difficult to grasp, and it’s not much different from the many other transactions which take place between residents and local businesses. For example, most apartment buildings are not constructed with grocery store requirements. However, most people seem to understand that when a resident wants a bottle of milk, they can walk down to a nearby store and buy one. We do not need to build “minimum grocery store requirements” into the zoning code because those products are handled perfectly well by normally operating markets. And parking spaces are no different. They are just one type of land use, among many, that can be purchased or leased on the real estate market.

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Downtown Providence Living Tour – September 21, 2013

Downtown Providence Living Tour Showcases 9 Properties in the Heart of the City

Offering an Up Close and Exclusive Look at the City’s Newest Developments, including the Arcade Providence and Providence G

DLT-Postcard-Front_WebGet the inside view on downtown living! On Saturday, September 21st from 11 AM to 5 PM, The Providence Foundation and Downtown Providence Improvement District will host a Downtown Providence Living Tour showcasing downtown’s transformation into a desirable mixed-use district. Ranked by the real estate website Walk Score® as the most walkable neighborhood in the city and described as a “Walker’s Paradise,” downtown Providence offers residents access to restaurants, shops, cultural offerings, transportation options, and other amenities within a few blocks. The tour will feature nine properties in the downtown core, including The 903, Arcade Providence, Avalon at Center Place, The Promenade, Providence G, Regency Plaza, The Residences, Waterplace, and Westminster Lofts. The tour is self-guided, and people are encouraged to walk or bike from place to place, although shuttle service will also be provided.

Tour organizer Joelle Kanter, program manager for The Providence Foundation, says, “Whether people are considering a move into downtown Providence, or they simply want to preview city’s latest developments, we invite everyone to see how the neighborhood has noticeably evolved since our last tour in 2010.” In 2011 and 2012, 35 new retail businesses opened downtown, and this year, 10 have already opened. The quality and breadth of offerings are steadily improving, with new additions including popular eateries such as birch, Figidini, and UMelt.

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