C’mon baby build our brand!

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Artist’s view of a jarring 1959 plan to plunk modern architecture into the middle of a stretch of historic homes on Providence’s Benefit Street. (Journal caption on College Hill Study image)

In 2015, seeking to demonstrate the depth of my naivete about politics in Rhode Island, I, in my role as citizen, wrote a letter to Governor Raimondo to suggest “a way to help improve the Rhode Island economy that is easy, fast and free.” Naturally that letter, which was delivered without the usual phalanx of interested people and organizations to back it up, aroused almost no interest in the governor’s office.

Today, that letter ran on the oped page of the Providence Journal as an open letter to the governor, under the headline “Improve Providence through design.”

As the state enters the early stages of development along the I-195 innovation corridor and gears up to propose that Amazon locate its second headquarters in Rhode Island, the idea that beauty is part and parcel of successful development is one that the governor and her economic team must not ignore.

GoLocalProv.com today published the thoughts of 17 local personages about how to structure its offer to Amazon. All of their suggestions are laudable, but none of them are much different from how all our rivals will structure their bids. My suggestion would be very different, and much bolder. The governor should say that Amazon is welcome here only if it agrees to build a campus that strengthens rather than weakens the Rhode Island brand, and that it must design a campus in one or more traditional styles that fit into the historical character of the city and state.

That would get Amazon’s attention! Or not. If not, if Amazon is going to go about deciding where to locate its second headquarters using conventional parameters, then Rhode Island is unlikely to win anyway. As I argued in “More on R.I. and Amazon,” a follow-up on “How R.I. can get Amazon,” this state does have virtues that would put it in the game – except for its poor business climate. It is possible that a bold and innovative proposal might counterbalance that glaring drawback.

As for the various proposals for inclusion in the I-195 innovation corridor, the same principles of beauty as a boon to development should be applied. Projects that are not already under way can refine their design to look traditional and hence fit into their setting in the Jewelry District. That will help all of these projects succeed, and is more likely to get a skeptical public behind development here.

All this may seem unlikely, but Rhode Island has thought big before – as when it moved its rivers and moved Route 195. It’s time to try thinking big again.

By the way, the image above is from my book Lost Providence, which tells the story of how, back in the 1960s, the city and state failed to – I would say refused to – embrace development projects that rejected the state’s legacy of beautiful architecture.


About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, 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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2 Responses to C’mon baby build our brand!

  1. barry says:

    Congratulations on getting your timely op-ed published in the ProJo today, please let us know what kind of response, if any, you get from establishment figures.
    Nothing I really disagree with, but if I were writing it I would give more attention to the potential of a beautiful waterfront along the Providence River, our position on the Northeast rail corridor (everybody has an airport, but not every place has high speed rail between Boston and New York without the costly rents of those cities) and how Rhode Island’s small size means Amazon employees will have, if interested, access to the people who run the state, whether in education, health, transportation, finance etc. That is a unique appeal!


    • I agree with your list of things that should be mentioned, and most of them have indeed been mentioned in other similar commentaries. They are good things, Barry, but my goal was to mention things that have not been mentioned by others. Still, it is useful to have you bring them to the attention of readers, some of whom are far away and don’t have access to outlets that are well known to people here. So many thanks for that, and for your kind thoughts as well.


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