Greater City Providence

Come for the parking, stay for the parking

No, really, you can park here. Isn’t it fabulous!?


Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Totally understand your “sigh”, Jeff. But, it is a real concern for surburban RIers, especially the middle-age and older set. I think the city needs to attract them back in to spend money. Not by building MORE parking, necessarily. But to mention that it’s available is a real draw for a lot of people. Why do you think so many RI commercials say “plenny ‘a free pahkin!”?

  • If the parking wasn’t free they could say ‘plenty of cheap (good) food’ instead. PVD has lots of good restaurant fair, but I find it expensive. A lot of that cost is swallowed parking costs, and lowered competition due to stiphled development.

  • Yup – they’re appealing to the suburbanite. Rather than cultivating a diverse sustainable audience (“Easy parking for cars and bicycles!”), they’re targeting one demographic.

    Given the relative proximity of downtown to the East Bay Bike Path, why not encourage visitors to bike in for lunch? Or a stop at the Providence Flea?

    (That said, one of the things we shock our visitors from that city just to the north with is the convenience of parking. “The restaurant is right here? And there’s no wait? Wow – Providence is nice!”)

    Great food, awesome architecture, a beautiful riverfront… none of that matters! Just those squares of asphalt…

  • Not sure who is in charge this marketing effort, but they need to be careful about unintended consequences of going hard after the demographics that Ethan cites. If Providence is to prosper, we need to attract younger people to the city, and they don’t drive like their parents did.

  • Chances are it was mentioned because some type of polling or focus group in the target demographic indicated that parking (or lack there of) in Providence is a negative. Since the campaign is clearly targeting people outside of Providence it makes perfect sense to address it. All advertising is focused and the add is clearly not focused toward those of us who follow this site.

  • Be careful what you wish for. Targeting suburban shoppers means more cars in Downcity, which means fewer available parking spaces, which means, “I tried to go downtown but there was nowhere to park!”, which then reinforces the perception. I understand the intent of the campaign, but it is shortsighted in my opinion if there is no muti-modal transportation investment.

  • Ethan, I do not disagree with you, I know that if we are targeting suburbanites, which is this campaign’s target, then parking is high up on the list of concerns for that demographic. The fallacy of a lack of parking in Downtown Providence is furthered by the Assembly stating we need to study the “problem” and the Mayor concurring that there is a “problem” and the 195 Commission and others highlighting the “problem” every chance they get.

    Sure, put in the commercial something like, “visit for transportation and parking information. Don’t start the commercial from the get go with, “HEY, YOU CAN PARK!”

    But there’s also the fact that we’re never going to win on parking over the suburbs (and we don’t want to), you can come to Siena on Federal Hill, but there’s a Siena in the suburbs with a huge parking lot for example. If you can’t bear to walk a block, you’re never coming to Federal Hill, why target those people to begin with? Highlight what Providence offers and the people who seek what we offer will make the effort to come.

    And then, I mean, it really isn’t that easy to park here, if your someone from the suburbs with parking spot finding skills maxed out at circling a parking lot off Route 2. Our garages are not intuitive, our on-street parking is poorly explained… I don’t know how often people on the street ask me if they can park at a given place.

  • I think this is a great opportunity to run with for Park(ing) Day, since Providence is on the path to having a big one this September. Check out the facebook page: Providence Parking Day. It would be fun even to have a competition over who can make the best parody of this abysmal promo.

  • Providence has been trying only to accomodate cars ever since I came here in 1966 when downtown had streetlife, 3 department stores, 3 movie thaters, 3 TV stations, a supermarket, many upscale clothing stores, specialty shops and more. That strategy has not worked and Providence declined. Almost everyone in my town, North Providence, once in a car to shop or to go to a restaurant and the like will go to where the parking will always be easier than downtown (except for some who go to Providence Place Mall who park in the garage but never leave that complex) Businesses seeking a location will generally reason the same way.

    I think central cities like Boston, New York can survive and even prosper with limited parking because they have a critical mass of transit users that make transit really work. Proidence has the worse of both worlds, not enough parking to compete with the suburbs, but so much parking our transit system cannot succeed.

    Perhaps for once Providence might try marketing its one transporation advantage over the suburbs, – it has good transit access form all directions, now including commuter rail form the south as well as the north. But those used to driving never even seem to think about such a strategy.

  • Totally agree with Barry’s second paragraph. The city’s size, and culture, is such that parking is a struggle/doesn’t make sense/is undesriable. Yet it’s not so large to have an adequate network of transit from the suburbs inward, as does Boston with the commuter rail system. Purgatory. A miniaturized version of the MBCR would be great – perhaps the beginnings of which could be had with this TIGER grant application. But it needs to run out to Warwick, Cranston, Johnston, NP, Pawtucket, and EP before its useful, and it needs to have a big parking garage at each terminus, IMO.

  • As af follow-on to the idea of light rail w/ parking garage at each terminus, I have some first-hand experience with the suburban/rural coming into a city via rail to visit/shop/dine. I grew up about an hour and a half northwest of Boston. My family wouldn’t drive in – that was scary to them, especially given the Big Dig in the late 90s. And they didn’t want to hop on the commuter rail, since that took longer than driving, had a limited parking area (on that particular line) and the cost to board with a whole family was fairly high versus driving. But what they would do was drive to a huge parking garage at the end of the Red Line at Alewife, and take that line in. So I could see a light rail system to nearby suburbs, with parking at each end, working well for Providence – moreso than “heavy” passgener rail like MBCR and Amtrak. It would also keep the undesirable parking out in the ‘burbs, where it belongs.

  • We also need a whole ton more people to live in the City to better support awesome culture, food, nightlife, retail, etc. without worrying about if the suburbanites come or not. If we make it cool enough, they will come.

  • I think Jef hits the nail on the head, although Ethans suggestion is also something I’d ideally rather see before more commuter rail stops. Providence needs to approach it’s future as a proper city first, and a part of Rhode Island second. Lots of people want to live in the center of the city largely because they want to avoid an auto-centric lifestyle. The video is right, we have plenty of parking, and Jef is right, we need more residents to support what we’re growing downtown, so the realistic way to move forward is (and I know I’ve said this a million times) to remove mandatory parking requirements. We need to look at a shortage of parking as a desired goal, not an impediment to growth.
    Let’s look at it from our current circumstances. There aren’t mandatory requirements for housing in relation to office or retail space, even though one could probably try to make the argument that without residents, these establishments will not be successful. So why do we approach the tie between housing and parking as a foregone conclusion? The incredible shortage of housing downtown has been the major source of construction over the past decade, and I see it as likely escalating over the foreseeable future. Why can’t we treat parking like we have treated housing? Don’t force developers into providing parking that they don’t feel the need to provide, then when there’s an actual shortage, developers will see empty lots with dollar signs in their eyes, and begin developing garages as the market sees fit.

  • Dave – Great points and questions. Regarding why no effort to disconnect parking from development is being made, maybe this has something to do with it. Some developers do attempt to minimize the parking footprint on their developments. The result? Abutters protest. Maybe the powers that be see that the political cost to eliminating parking minimums is too high and the driver of that mindset are residents, not developers.

  • This article was shared by Grow Smart RI and could not be more timely.

    Here & Now: As Americans Drive Less, What Does That Mean For Cities?

    “A lot of the story of transportation planning from almost 1950 onward has been to sort of remake cities in the image of the automobile,” Michael Manville, a professor of urban planning at Cornell University, said. “There was a fear that if cities weren’t more friendly to cars, they would lose population to the suburbs. It has resulted in very dramatic changes in the built environment of even old cities.”

    Manville cites city policies like parking mandates that subsidize the cost of driving a car. Zoning codes in most cities require a housing developer to build a certain ratio of parking spaces to housing units in their buildings. This costs developers as much as $50,000 per parking space. Manville says regulations like this have real social consequences.

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