Brief interlude at the DNA

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Hope Point Tower, down from three proposed slabs to one, in Providence. (Fane Organization)

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.

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The gray part of this Providence zoning map is the downtown (D-1) district.

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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3 Responses to Brief interlude at the DNA

  1. The minion thingy looks like a leftover from the screens on the buildings in “Blade Runner”.

    Like

  2. “Minion thingy” – well-put, my articulate colleague.

    Like

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