When I was “Dr. Downtown” – my nom de plume at the Providence Journal – I was there at the creation of the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance, which met at the Regency under the presidency of my friend Maria Ruggieri, the famous jewelry designer. Tonight I attended a meeting of its successor, the Downtown Neighborhood Association, and made a very brief presentation about my book Lost Providence at the conclusion of the meeting. I even sold a book on the way out to a very nice couple also in attendance, Alan and Azure, who live in the Conrad Building.
The meeting focused on the Hope Point Tower proposal. Afterward I met I-195 commission director Peter McNally, who once told me that he didn’t know what traditional architecture had to do with economic development. Tonight, I described my book as an antidote to the ideas on which Jason Fane, the tower developer, bases his project, with which McNally’s I-195 commission is grappling. Well, I hope he reads the book!
But what interested me most was how the association’s president, Rich Pezzillo, grappled with the question of what is downtown Providence. He described its boundaries and how they differ from the city’s official definition of downtown. Sensibly, the DNA’s definition is not as extensive as the city’s official definition of downtown, which includes not only land on the East Side along parts of North and South Main streets but extends all the way south to include the Jewelry District, where the 195 corridor lies.
I’ve long argued that expanding the definition of downtown, as the city has, undercuts the city’s claim that Providence has a “walkable” downtown. Of course, walkability is in the feet of the beholder, but obviously the farther it is from one end of downtown to the other, the more unwalkable it is.
But actually, there is a greater reason that supports the loosest possible definition of downtown, and that is that downtown – the D-1 zone, to be specific – is protected under the city’s zoning code by Article 6, Section 606, whose intent is to “preserve the urban fabric of downtown Providence and ensure that new construction complements the historical character and architectural integrity of existing structures.”
Good! I think that protection should be extended to the whole city.
Thankfully, it does not need to be extended at all to put Jason Fane’s Hope Point Tower deep in legal shadows. It certainly does not complement the historical character of downtown.
Unfortunately, I forgot to ask Peter McNally about the Minion thingy going on about a third of the way up the slab of Hope Point Tower.