Hope Point Tower should be called Hope Punt Tower. When it comes to hope for the livability of Providence, it punts.
The tower’s design goes for its second session before the Downtown Design Review Committee on Monday at 4:45 p.m., this time with a public hearing. Developer Jason Fane is expected to seek four waivers from the DDRC, most importantly exempting the project from zoning mandates that “building height and massing shall relate to adjacent structures.” The committee should deny that and the other three waivers.
Ted Sanderson, for 33 years the director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, has written a letter to DDRC members opposing the Fane proposal. He begins:
Downtown Design Review should ensure that the proposed Hope Point Tower is compatible with the existing historic building fabric and the historic character of downtown (Zoning section 600) and that this new construction complements the historic character and architectural integrity of existing structures (660).
The tower’s rejection of zoning’s protection of Providence’s historical character is the main reason to oppose it. Sanderson goes on to explain that the purpose of relocating Route 195 in the first place was to reknit the streets between downtown and the Jewelry District that were cut by the highway in the late 1950s. “[R]eplacing the highway with intrusive and incompatible new development,” writes Sanderson, “perpetuates the original highway damage in a new form and is no improvement for our city.”
That argument should be familiar to readers of this blog.
Broadly speaking, the quality of life here in Providence is high because the city retains so much of its historical character. Most of the city was built before architectural and planning practices in the 1950s shifted aesthetic priorities away from beauty and toward utility. These goals are not mutually exclusive but are treated as if they were. Unlike most other cities, Providence did not demolish most of its historic buildings to make way for “progress,” and that’s why it has so much character and heritage to protect.
The late architect and planner Bill Warner understood this. He was the visionary who led the design teams for the River Relocation Project of the 1990s and the more recent Route 195 Relocation Project, both of which used traditional design to encourage developers to embrace project designs that would strengthen Providence’s historical character. But most developers have resisted and, with high-fives from local design fashionistas, continue to foist unpleasant buildings on Providence. The result is that the city has been sacrificing its beautiful historic character for decades.
At some point the city will reach a point of no return, and will lose its beauty – one of its rare advantages in economic competition with other mid-sized cities. Most new buildings eat away at beauty little by little. Not the Fane tower. Tweaking it won’t help. Blocking it is our last opportunity to turn the tide and save Providence’s historical character, which is useful, beautiful, and vital to our quality of life.
[DDRC meeting begins at 4:45 on Monday, April 8, at 444 Westminster Street, in downtown Providence. Get there early to sign up to speak.]