Roses and raspberries, 2015

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If the objective were to build beauty, the past year has served Providence poorly. Since the fault is mainly in the office of the new governor, Gina Raimondo, Providence’s mayor, Jorge Elorza, can be absolved of some of the blame, though what remains speaks poorly of his leadership. I tried to push things along myself, and my belly flop must garner me a raspberry, which I will share with the appropriate parties.

[I have illustrated this post by linking to previous posts featuring images of the subjects of these roses and raspberries.]

  • So, a raspberry to Governor Raimondo for her failure – or that of her office – to grasp that while proposing a $60 million investment chest to promote development along the I-195 corridor in Providence is all well and good, such subsidies might at best match what other states already do. Left undone was an easy way to do what most other states do not do well, or at all. Raimondo failed to embrace a proposal made by your intrepid correspondent for her to phone developers to urge them to design proposed development projects traditionally to strengthen one of our state’s few competitive advantages (our beauty) instead of modernist designs that fly in the face of Rhode Island’s brand. The proposal, which relied on the idea that support from government is more important to developers than architectural styles, required no new state spending to generate public support for projects, which today is largely nonexistent.
  • No, make that a dozen raspberries for the governor (or her office).
  • But, as noted above, I deserve a raspberry for failing to marshal the local backing that might have persuaded the governor (or her office) to take my proposal seriously. Even a good idea – perhaps especially a good idea – must be accompanied by a bodyguard of back-slappers and hail-fellow-well-mets if entrée into a governor’s office is to be seriously attempted.
  • Will there be any roses this year? Yes, I bestow roses on two members of TradArch, Michael Rouchell and Dan Morales, for sending traditional design alternatives to help the governor visualize better designs for I-195 projects. And another rose to Andrés Duany, who volunteered to sit in on any meeting with the governor to further explain my proposal.
  • A raspberry to the new I-195 Redevelopment District Commission for continuing to encourage the worst sort of development designs for the corridor, apparently bringing absolutely zero new thinking to the process after Raimondo replaced almost the entire board.
  • A raspberry to the late Jim Skeffington for making such a totally unrealistic and even insulting proposal for a new PawSox stadium in Providence. Thus a potentially valid proposal (and good-looking, too) never got off the ground. The opposition’s extraordinarily weak case against the stadium seemed to snuff the idea without breaking a sweat. That the team’s owners – worth upward of $5 billion – proposed to pay for the stadium then demand even more money back was an insult to Rhode Islanders. That is what killed the stadium.
  • A rose to the state Department of Transportation for completing the George Redman Linear Park across the George Washington Bridge. It replaces the bike and pedestrian “lane” across the bridge to the East Bay Bike Path with a mighty pleasing classical design on the preserved south face of the old bridge. An old friend, Richard Ventrone, was project architect. Beauty often takes time but it is time well spent.
  • A raspberry for Providence Place. This goes out on general principles after reading that Joe’s American Grill – which graced the sidewalk of Francis Street at the mall since it opened in 1999 – will be closing on Jan. 16. I eat there a lot with my good friend Bill Patenaude – and the food is always great. But the mall has made many mistakes in recent years. In the mid ‘aughts it was making over $400/square foot, or among the top earners of U.S. malls. I doubt it’s doing that today. It refuses to fix its lighting system – especially on the Macy’s façade – and so it grows shabbier and shabbier. When Border’s Books went out of business (the chain, not just the mall location), the mall management apparently failed even to try to get a Barnes & Noble to replace it. Instead we got the umpteenth shoe store. In a few years, the entire mall will be stuffed with shoe stores, and nobody will want to go there, if it still exists.
  • A pair of roses to, believe it or not, the Procaccianti Group and First Bristol Corp. for, in the first case, recasting its proposed Fountain Street extended-stay hotel from mod to trad, and in the second case for recasting an initial bad-trad design on Parcel 12 into one that, while still far from perfect, made great strides (under architect Eric Zuena) to something much more pleasant. (Please redo that cornice, Eric!)
  • A rose to the Blackstone Boulevard community for shouting down a proposed extended series of speed bumps for the main thoroughfare from Pawtucket to College Hill. Another rose to the same community for blocking an ominous subdivision of the Granoff estate.
  • A raspberry for the owner of the Industrial Trust (“Superman”) Bank Building. Its exterior lighting remains shut off, crying “Dying City!” to anyone driving through on Route 95.
  • A raspberry to Mayor Elorza for lacking the intestinal fortitude to tell the owner of the Superman building to turn it back on.
  • A mushroom cloud of raspberries to all those – primarily the mayor and RIPTA (will the public ever learn why dynamic former RIPTA director Charles Odimgbe was ousted in early 2013? “Cold case,” anyone? Now there’s a scandal waiting to be uncovered by our watchdogs of the press!) – who brought us the new, ugly Kennedy Plaza and its cheesy plastic shelters. It opened on Jan. 20, 2015.
  • A rose of two directions for DOT’s latest round of street reform, in which a slew of one-way streets have been turned into two-way streets, making it much easier to get around downtown. Good work! Can’t those brain cells be transferred over to the heads of those in charge of wrecking Kennedy Plaza and RIPTA? Increasing fares and decreasing service is no way to dig out of RIPTA’s hole. And for that matter, why millions for a new bus hub at Providence Station when a single trolley loop (wheel not rail) could do the job for a sliver of a fraction of the cost?

Well, one can go on and on online. I seem to have forgotten to do roses and raspberries for 2014 – or did I? Oh yes, I did it last year during my six-month gig at GoLocalProv.com. Anyhow, anyone who thinks I’ve left something out for 2015, please let me know and I will consider adding to this long post of praise and (alas, mostly) perfidy.

The widely beloved illustration atop this post harks back to the era of “Dr. Downtown.” Remember him? The doctor is still trying to figure out whether there is still a demand for his smart-alecky take on local affairs. The doctor, if he were behind this column, would apologize for the lack of illustrations for each rose & raspberry. Maybe they will be added, but the evening is growing long and, well, so is this post. [I just added links to posts with illustrations of the recipients of roses and raspberries.]

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Roses and raspberries, 2015

  1. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Stephen, $5 mil is a drop in the bucket. Think of the billions spent on automobile access annually. Please. They can suspend a bike paths from the Newport and Mt Hope Bridges as far as we should be concerned.
    David, yes, that appeal to Gov. Raimondo needed back-up, but also a strategy that wouldn’t box her in. ICA&A’s advocacy arm needed to come through.. Duany could have helped -sure, but appeals to J&W, RISD and Brown beforehand by ICA&A stalwarts could have made all the difference (IMO). Kudos for trying though (and its not too late to try again). Providence should feel lucky to have you minding the quality of our urban landscape. So thank you!…

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    • Of course, backup was needed. I’m afraid I’ve never been the sort of person to bring that kind of thing about. And yet I thought that putting the case to her and her people, a case she is probably completely unaware of because people are so turned off by the built environment that they refuse to think about it or get involved with its issues – I thought she might be able to grasp the value and the extraordinary cost-free nature of the idea of just calling up developers and asking them to be on the people’s side (and the state’s side) rather than on the elitist design apparatchiks’ side, who nobody among voters really likes or cares about. An easy slam dunk for the state, its beauty, its brand. But nah, it would have meant lifting a finger, if only to dial a phone.

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  2. Ha ha! I think it was actually more than that – above $21 million, I’ve read. But consider what they might otherwise have spent the money on. At least this was harmless.

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  3. A raspberry to my good friend for giving a rose to the “linear park” across the Seekonk. While the design IS great, the cost was outrageous…$5.0 million+!

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