Greater City Providence

Presumed Parking Lot-ification

House Demolished at Cumberland and Wardlaw Streets

For the past week or so, there has been a string of caution tape between two cones in front of a house on Cumberland St. Next door: a vacant lot, and next to that, a house that has had the same tape and some chain link propped against it for about a year.

A few days ago, I noticed the property behind the cones had its electrical meter and wires disconnected.

Last night, while walking my dog, I happened to catch a Providence College security guard tidying up the caution tape. I asked if he had any news what’s happening with this property. He told me they were being torn down for parking.

“That’s unfortunate,” I said.

He shrugged.

House next to vacant lot awaiting its demolition

It is unfortunate though. Here are another two properties that, from the outside, looked like fine homes. On this side of campus, the northwest corner, the college is actually not a bad neighbor. It’s a quiet Elmhurst neighborhood of mostly single-family homes. My wife and I live just under two blocks away, and we rather like it.

For years, like everyone, we’ve been watching the value of homes in the neighborhood go down. The idea of another parking lot just down the street does not sit well, just as the real estate market starts to recover. Of course, neglected homes, or those wrapped in caution tape, aren’t a great asset either, but is this just another case of demolition via neglect?

Of course, this security guard could have been misinformed. I haven’t seen anything official from the college. After all, they’ve been doing some new construction projects. But we all know, this city sure does love its parking.

Matthew Coolidge

Matthew Coolidge is co-founder of Greater City Providence. In addition to the occasional blog post about cycling, sailing, or urban rant, he works as an Electrical Engineer, often traveling to major cities and ports around the globe, or simply Warwick.


  • I am a student at PC and in the recently released master plan the area that you mention did indeed have parking planned in place of the house. The lot on the corner was formerly for commuter students, but I believe the expanded lot will be for staff only.

  • If it was in the institutional master plan, then the cpc would have signed off on it…

  • I know that pretty soon after they announced the master plan, which includes the new academic building currently being built on campus, I saw on the news that all the plans had been approved by the city. This parking lot was definitely included in the plan I saw.

  • Yes, the college requesting and the City approving it is what is so odious about the whole thing. The City is bending over and welcoming the Colleges to park anywhere and everywhere they want. Privatize streets, tear down houses, fuck the community.

  • Hey Jef – Let me start off with saying that I REALLY enjoy the blog, and that I’ve continued reading it even after moving to Chicago about 9 months ago.

    That said, I’m not sure that PC is “f***ing” the community with the demo. I think we both agree that the homes aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing (or great asset) in Providence, and don’t carry any historical value. There are far more important buildings to be concerned about.

    Providence as a city certainly has a problem with forfeiting property to parking. However, that is more of a downtown issue…

    Also, PC isn’t “f***ing” the community by having a security guard “tidying up the caution tape”…


  • Tommy in Chicago:

    You’re right, Elmhurst would be much more “aesthetically pleasing” if it were one big fucking parking lot for PC.

  • I think Jef was referring to the city government rather than PC itself. Probably out of ignorance and fear on the part of politicians and officials, there has been a steady give away of streets and waiving of the city’s pathetic zoning regulations in favor of providing surface parking lots or anything else to do with automotive transportation at the expense of anything else. This practice has been ongoing for the the last five or six decades. It’s ravaging the city and it seems that there are only a few of us notice or care. It doesn’t matter if “the homes aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing (or great asset) in Providence,” what matters it that the city is being systematically torn down in favor of a dated bankrupt wasteful 20th-century transportation system.

  • Before we get out of hand here, I think a lot of the frustration around these types of things should be focused at the city rather than towards the college. I agree that in a lot of ways it is totally insensitive of PC to develop in this way, but all of this was done legally and approved by the city. I also think that the city does have an interest in keeping the colleges happy because of the support local universities give to local primary schools by way of extensive volunteering programs, or to the innumerable local businesses that depend, at least in part on the colleges. Go into Lasalle Bakery on any given day for instance, and the majority of the customers are students, faculty, staff, or visitors from PC. I completely understand the frustration towards all of the schools but you can’t deny that they are assets to the community, not just parasites bent on destroying it.

  • If the staff has to drive, why can’t they just park on the street? Has the city set a time limit so they can’t or is it just that they expect a private parking lot?

    It will probably take another fifty years to undo the damage to Providence caused by car culture, if it’s even possible.

  • The paved lot at the corner was originally built for commuter students and the dirt lot on the opposite side of the now demolished house was used predominantly by staff but I don’t think that was a hard and fast rule. In addition to both of these lots being full, there are consistently cars parked all over the place along the street. The new building is also being constructed on top of a lot, so this may in part be an initiative to maintain the same amount of paved spots, although PC did add a new lot on campus to deal with the loss of some spaces due to construction. I think instead of getting angry at the school for adding parking to accommodate a population used to driving, public transportation advocates like yourselves need to work to make public transport as convenient and comfortable as driving one’s own car is. I’m sure most people of college age would rather take public transport but find it easier just to drive their own car.

  • I cannot believe how far real estate prices for multi-family homes has fallen in Providence.

    I saw a 4 unit building for $47,000. I’m really thinking about jumping in now. Also looking at a property with friends – it’s 2 units for $30,000. We could pay it off in 2.3 years.

  • Jef – I wasn’t being sarcastic by saying I like the blog, nor did I say PC should/has the right to make Elmhurst one big parking lot…so I’m not sure that I appreciate your response.

    Tony P – I agree, it is insane to think that is the case in some neighborhoods. It bothers me to think that the cost of living in Providence doesn’t attract more business to the city.

    good quality of life + low cost of living + centrally located = more profitable working environment

  • What’s unfortunate is that when real estate prices get this low, neighbors whether commercial, institutional, or individuals will buy a building(s) to tear down for parking. One surface parking space usually costs $15,000. If you can buy a property for $30,000 and can fit six cars on the lot, not including the asphalt, the price comes down to $5,000 a space. A real bargain for place hopelessly trapped in car culture.

    This is not just a downtown problem as this PC example illustrates. This is not the first time this has happened in the city, though the current prices are probably the lowest they’ve ever been compared to relative value. Even in today’s depressed market the cost to construct one cheap small new apartment would be between $55,000 to $80,000.

    Besides demographic changes and postwar suburban migration, it should be no surprise that the city’s population peaked at around 250,000 just before 1950 and has only recently recovered to 178,000, or 70,000 fewer than the peak. That translates to a lot of housing lost, which can mostly be attributed to automotive infrastructure or accommodation.

  • View Larger Map

    PC has plenty of land where they could be building parking if parking is such an important need for the college. For some reason though, they are not paving over their quad to keep up with this insatiable demand for parking. Could it be because parking is not an attractive use for the land they have?

    Parking would be unattractive on the campus proper (where they have plenty of land) so instead they tear away further at the fabric of the neighborhood surrounding them. All the while chasing the people who live in that neighborhood off their campus when they try to walk through and enjoy what their neighborhood is being destroyed to protect.

    Also, as RISD and Brown make deals with the city to privatize public streets for their parking needs in exchange for a higher payment in lieu of taxes, PC has insisted they do not want anything from the City and will not be making an agreement like Brown and RISD have. Meanwhile, the school requested, and the City permitted, PC to tear down and pave parts of the surrounding neighborhood to do exactly what Brown and RISD are paying the City more for the right to do, park more cars.

  • As I said earlier I don’t disagree that this development was insensitive on PC’s part, but they are not really changing what the land was used for. There has been a parking lot on the corner for probably twenty years, and I’m sure the vacant lot on the other side of the house was being used for the same purpose for a similar length of time. They took one house and have a landscaped lot planned which will look much better than the former lots did. I can’t speak for Brown or RISD, but PC contributes plenty to the city. PC built and maintains the police station at the bottom of Eaton Street across from PC Mart for instance. Also, as I mentioned above PC did indeed expand parking on campus this summer. Also, when they built the turf field they installed parking below. These plans have been public for at least a year and to my knowledge no one in the neighborhood raised a complaint about it. In regards to people being “chased off” of PC’s campus I have never in my time at PC seen that happen, and if the school chose to do that they should be able to. The campus is private property, and PC has not infringed upon any parkland on their side of town. They have actually invested in parks with their orientation and urban action programs where students work to restore and improve local parks. The properties they are paving were also private. In regards to the Yale idea. That sounds wonderful, but I think we all know that PC doesn’t exactly have the same means as an Ivy League university.

  • Also, looking at your map, most of the land that seems vacant or open to you is actually already dedicated to sports facilities. In addition to adding a lot in front of St. Martin Hall next to the library over the Summer, I believe they added parking on the field at Wardlaw ave. PC is not exclusively adding parking off campus.

  • At least PC encourages public transit to its campus as they fund a RIPTA Upass whereby students can use their college ID to ride free. Not sure if this still applies to faculty/staff, but its better than public colleges such as URI-Providence which at great expense provides free parking for all while having no transit incentive despite good transit access from all directions. And though student government funds a 50% benefit for RIC students, the College which offers free parking for all fac/staff/students has been paving over green space and relocating the bus stop to a somewhat less convenient location (though finally building a good bus shelter)

  • Jef, the college used to have a home buyer program for Elmhurst. Since updating their website, I no longer see information on it. However, the program was pretty craptastic. It was only about a 3 or 4 block area in the southeast part of campus (which is mostly triple deckers and student rentals) and in order to qualify, the house had to be currently on the market and sold by an absentee landlord. So it really didn’t encourage people who didn’t want to be landlords to take advantage of it. Most of the houses in the program were pretty run down as well. It was (is?) a pretty useless program to encourage faculty and staff to live nearby. At any given time, there were maybe 4 houses available in the program, and you had to live there for 5 years to keep the grant, otherwise you had to pay it back. The Yale program includes pretty much the whole surrounding neighborhood near campus.

    Peter, the college had owned the houses that were torn down for years. I’m pretty sure they owned them prior to the current housing market collapse.

    M, the college pays RIPTA a fair amount to adjust the Admiral Street route to go down Huxley to Eaton to RIver and back to Admiral so that it can service the campus better. The problem is that the college does not pay for a faculty and staff UPass, only students. It needs to encourage EVERYONE to get out of their cars and walk, bike, or take public transportation to campus. The most cars on and around campus are not from students, but from faculty and staff who currently get free parking, but no free RIPTA. The lot currently on Wardlaw used to be a commuter lot, but that has changed. It’s now for faculty and staff. I know of several commuter students who live outside of the city and don’t have easy access to RIPTA who need to be able to drive to campus and no have to find street parking (which is often taken up by students who live in the neighborhood and are too lazy to walk 3/4 of a mile to campus).

    Tommy in Chicago, the problem of tearing down buildings and turning them into parking is NOT primarily an issue downtown. Look at Federal Hill with places on and around Atwells torn down for parking lots (the northwest corner of Atwells and Bond, the new lot behind the Sovereign Bank lot on DePasquale, Grove St School). It doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing or historic a house is. A surface parking lot does NOT belong in a residential neighborhood. If PC wants them, they need to put them within their campus. So yes, tearing down houses to build parking is saying “fuck the city” and “fuck the neighborhood”.

    PC needs to suck it up and start charging faculty and staff for parking. They currently give all faculty and staff parking passes at no charge, which means they give out WAY more parking passes than there are parking spaces on campus. There are currently only 2 types of parking passes… those that allow you to park near Harkins Hall and the Library and those that allow you to park anywhere else on campus. This encourages the faculty to be lazy and drive to their classes from their offices (it’s a really small campus). Heck, I know of at least one member of the staff who lives a few houses south of Eaton Street and drives to work everyday (of course she is quite elderly and just needs to retire). The college only encourages students to use public transportation. The college does not provide faculty and staff with free rides on RIPTA. Of course, if they charged for parking, they could afford to cover their faculty and staff (which number only about 800-1000). Instead, the free parking on campus, even though it’s not guaranteed, only encourages people to drive to work. If they started charging, it would mean they would have to take away passes from people who already have them, but the could do something like start with people who volunteer to give it up and then move to those who live within half a mile of campus and then those who live within a mile, etc. $100/year is not a whole lot to pay for parking. They could then close off roads inside of campus to service vehicles only (physical plant, security, IT, catering, etc) except during times when students are moving in and out of dorms.

    Providence College does not contribute nearly as much to the city as the posters above would like to think. The college exists in a bubble. The ONLY thing the college has done outside its campus is that police substation, and that was primarily to protect the students from any bad elements from the surrounding neighborhood (which isn’t necessarily the safest neighborhood in Providence) and nearby projects. Sure, it is good for the neighborhood, but it was done for selfish reasons. If the college was smart, it would look at Admiral Street from River Ave down to Eagle Park Square and work with the city to improve that space and turn it into PC’s smaller version of Thayer St. But that’s a discussion for another thread.

    What the college needs to do, if parking is truly a priority, is to build a parking garage on one of the huge lots off Huxley. They can easily build a garage in a summer, when parking isn’t an issue. They need to accommodate vehicles like scooters and motorcycles, perhaps dedicating a certain portion of a lot to them. They also need to install bike racks around campus. The number of people I have seen biking to campus has increased in the past couple years, yet there is no good place to store a bike on campus except in just a few locations.

    There was a plan to build a track and turf field on the big parking lot south of Schneider Arena with a HUGE parking garage below that would have more parking spaces than the lot currently has. That plan was scrapped due to cost as far as I know (though they still plan on building a track and taking away some of those parking spaces). Instead, they tore down some nice trees and green space to build a parking lot between Martin Hall and Eaton Street and took away field space on Hendricken Field to build more parking. That field is used by some of the sports teams, but also used by students to play their own sports. Students are losing out here in many of these plans (unless they’re athletes).

  • RJ, a couple corrections to some of your propositions: 1. Yes, the Wardlaw lot that is being reconfigured was for commuter and is now for staff, but commuters do indeed still have spots on campus. They do not have to park on the street and I know that for a fact. 2. At least half of the cars on campus are students, not faculty or staff. This is evidenced by the fact that the three largest lots (behind Ray Hall, in front of Dore Hall, and behind behind Fennel) are all for students. I would say at the very least 60% of the cars on campus are students. Students who don’t commute have to pay for spots which should discourage them from driving, but as I mentioned before many students would probably like to take the bus but don’t. I’m sure many staff would like to take the bus too. The problem is that for students the bus is not an attractive option due to the general inconvenience and the fact that PC students are constantly complaining about getting harassed on RIPTA. Due to the specialized nature of their jobs, many of the faculty and staff come from far outside of Providence either in RI, MA, CT, and even from New Hampshire or Vermont. So, for these individuals it makes no sense to take the bus or bike anyway. Whether the Police substation was self serving or not is irrelevant because it was also good for the neighborhood, and the fact that PC maintains it makes up (in a small way) for some of the taxes the city loses. One more interesting tidbit about the city’s complaints about losing revenues on these college properties. I am pretty sure that the upper half of PC’s campus has belonged to the Diocese of Providence for at least as long as PC has been there (since 1917), and the lower half of the campus was a state hospital for about 100 years before it was sold to PC in the 70’s. The same longstanding non-profit status can be attributed to all of the private schools in Providence. I find it interesting that no complaints are ever raised about URI’s use of the Shepard Building, Downtown. I am sure that if Brown or RISD owned that there would be a riot.

  • Let me rephrase that. The majority of traffic on campus is from faculty and staff. Students are no more harassed on RIPTA than anyone else (I’ve taken the bus enough to see this, I also know people who don’t own cars who get harassed on the bus). I don’t know if you mean it’s by the drivers or by other riders, but if it’s other riders, it’s an equal opportunity harassment.

    The students with cars do not “like” to take the bus as you say. They don’t have to, so they don’t. If they would like to take the bus as you say, they would do it.

    And how many faculty at PC come to work from Vermont and NH? I know there are a few that come from CT and Western MA, but the vast majority live in Providence, Cranston, Johnston, and Warwick. And they should ALL have to pay for parking. They do not do any more specialized work than the staff and faculty at Brown, who have to get on a waiting list to pay $400/year for a parking spot that can be anywhere from half a mile to a whole mile from their office. I’d say the faculty at Brown are far more specialized than the faculty at PC. There might be part time adjunct faculty who come from far away a couple times a week, but full time professors tend to move to where they will be teaching. I know of a handful of faculty and staff who live in the neighborhood surrounding PC who walk or bike to work. I know of a couple who live within very close walking distance (about a quarter mile) who drive to work.

    As for commuters, the space is far more limited now than it has ever been because the college keeps giving away their spaces to faculty and staff. Commuter students should, at the very least, be given spaces in the resident student lots and those spaces should be taken away from resident students who don’t need cars.

    I won’t get into how I feel about the catholic church being tax exempt, but needless to say, it should be pretty obvious that I think they should have to pay taxes on their property. I think PC should follow in the footsteps of the other academic institutions in the city and increase their PILOT payments. But this thread isn’t about taxes. It’s about parking. And the fact remains that tearing down perfectly good houses for surface parking in a residential neighborhood is ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE for the neighborhood. In this case PC is being a TERRIBLE neighbor. Again, if they want to make parking a priority, they need to put up a parking garage on one of the 2 lots on either side of Huxley.

  • RJ, I personally know plenty of people who would love to take the bus because they know it’s more responsible, but don’t because of the “equal opportunity harassment” you mention. I often would like to take the bus from campus to appointments Downtown, but don’t because it is inconvenient for me. Also, in regards to faculty and staff from far away, I have personally had at least three profs from PC who came from southern New Hampshire and Vermont. I know of several others too. I also know of a prof who was coming from Brooklyn (not sure if she still is to be honest). Commuter students do have dedicated spaces. I know this because I am a commuter and have never had to park on the street. Not sure if you read the earlier part of the thread in which I agreed that this development wasn’t a great choice. I’m not trying to make the point that PC has the right to do whatever it wants, just trying to provide a rarely voiced point of view in favor of all the private colleges who are constantly being villianized, in spite of the fact that they pay the city voluntarily via PILOT, and contribute in numerous other ways. The colleges are part of the Providence community and without RISD, Brown, PC, and JWU, the city wouldn’t be what it is today. I respect and agree with many of the points here, that’s why I read GCPVD, and love it! I just want this conversation to be fairer. I think a lot of the frustration should be directed at the city, who allowed to the house to be demoed in the first place. I also think that a more productive activity would be to reach out to your city and state leaders, as well as the colleges, about these issues, rather than griping about them to a college student on a blog.

  • M, You are in a unique position as a student at PC who pays money to the college to go to the administration and say “hey! I don’t like that you’re taking the money I give you and destroying (literally) a neighborhood in favor of parking”. No one villianizes the colleges unless the colleges deserve it. In this case, PC most certainly does. The city is also to blame here for giving the college the demo permits (though I will admit, the city does seem to give the colleges carte blanche with these things). But while the city has allowed it, the colleges need to be better neighbors and realize themselves that doing things like demolishing perfectly good houses to pave over the lots in a residential neighborhood is not good for the city, for the neighborhood, or for the environment. Someone mentioned that they would be well-landscaped lots. I laugh at that. The Warlaw Lot looks like a shithole. It’s not well landscaped. And with regards to the lot added near Martin Hall, those huge old trees were not replaced. That is the college being a bad neighbor. That is the college saying “fuck you” to the city and the people who do and pay their fair share here.

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