Those who are running Providence these days should realize that a beautiful city can become an ugly city. It will not happen at once, but it is likely to happen before most people notice it, and too late to be stopped.
Providence seems hell-bent on ugly. In “Developer proposes Providence riverfront hotel on former 195 land,” today’s Providence Journal reports a proposed “River View Hotel” on South Water Street, along the embank- ment of the Providence River. The drawing above tells the tale. It looks as if it belongs on Jefferson Boulevard, in Warwick. (Someday I will have to apologize when Providence itself looks like Jefferson Boulevard.)
The five-story hotel will put its thumb into view corridors toward downtown from 195 and toward the waterfront and new 195 bridge from downtown.
For that matter, look at the new garage built at South Street Landing, near the old power plant being renovated as two state nursing schools. (That’s not a typo. The two schools are apparently not going to merge.) The garage is tarted up with shiny screened panels. On the ground floor are huge black-and-white photos of old Providence. These are supposed to help us forgive and forget the garage’s assault on the neoclassical power station, views of which the garage also blocks for those driving south on Allens Avenue.
Jef Nickerson, who runs the indispensable Greater City Providence blog, recently stated, “‘Eddy Street is so vibrant!’ nobody will say, ever.” He is correct, though he was probably referring to the lack of ground-floor retail along the street edge of the garage, not how ugly it is. But why would any retailer want to lease space in such a dog? (How, wonders Nickerson, did its developer manage to get an exemption for that? By promising to put up historic shots of how beautiful Providence used to be?)
The residential buildings proposed for the other side of the power plant, in the parking lot for the old Davol Square, take their architectural bearings not from the power plant but from the garage!
Right next to the news of the proposed River View Hotel is news that state officials are still churning about the proposed bus subhub at Providence Station, just a couple of blocks from Kennedy Plaza. Voters approved a bond referendum to build this white elephant, but officials still don’t really know what to do, except they are sure they want a “skyline altering” tower to go with it. (Just as I am beginning to feel kindly toward the modernist design of Providence Station, newly restored, they want to wreck it.)
Now, according to “R.I. DOT hits ‘reset’ button on ‘skyline altering’ project,” there is talk of putting state employees into the proposed tower. That means the project has had problems luring potential tenants. But what the transit folks thought they needed – a better connection between Kennedy Plaza and the train station – could have been provided with a bus loop at several thou- sand bucks a year. Instead, the public will pay multi-millions for a new bus hub with a skyscraper attached. So far, its appearance has not been hinted at, let alone illustrated with a rendering. Good luck with that!
In the past year there have been more than enough news stories of bad architecture we’ll have to suffer soon. Some call this development, but it would be so easy for the governor to ask developers to propose projects that bolster the state brand instead of undermining it. And they would probably agree. They are much more interested in retaining the good will of the state (and taxpayers) than in upholding their “right” to build ugly. The point is that we are speeding toward Houston. Unless we get off this bus soon, we will be there before anyone notices. Having thrown away one of our chief competitive advantages – our reputation for beauty – our economic pros- pects might also turn out to be up a creek.