Even though at the crossroads of important axis and next to significant educational and cultural clusters (Brown University, RISD, Johnson & Wales) Downcity suffers from sparse urbanization with its neighborhoods poorly connected and segmented by vast parking areas and underdeveloped land. Most representative is the case of the un-built area where the highway used to cross between Financial District and Jewelry District splitting the whole city.
Given the inevitable fact of the population growth that our cities will experience the next 25 years, and Providence will not be any exception to that rule, this project aimed at finding solutions towards a more dense urban fabric through means that will revitalize its structure and strengthen its identity.
Downcity Providence could be interpreted as one island. Defined by the riverfront and a highway, the Financial and Jewelry district are clearly detached from the surrounding areas; College Hill, Smith Hill, Federal Hill, South Providence and Fox Point. And while the riverfront consists an advantageous capital for the city, with its famous Waterplace Park, the highway wraps around the city undermining its continuity and connectivity with the rest of the neighborhoods.
This proposal attempts to identify those venues that will bring about Downcity’s urban rebirth and develop ideas about the tools that will bring this vision into life. The study examines a spectrum of scales, from the overall strategies to the neighborhood and block units. However, the main focus area is the highway seen as adding value factor and essential part of the civic structure.
The main landmarks of the city together with some areas of interest with potentials for development outline a strategy map that could be summarized in specific development gestures shaping what I like to call “urban patches”.
Those “patches” vary in importance and range but connect places hierarchically equal bringing balance to the edges of Downcity, thus encouraging a homogeneous growth for the in-between areas.
Running from east to west, this urban gesture connects Brown University, RISD and Johnson & Wales while leading across the highway towards an unexploited piece of land that could trigger a new Campus development bringing together the major educational resources of Providence
The second “patch” tends to bring City Hall and the Industrial Zone into Downcity’s urban realm turning them into the major endpoints of the North - South axis. The Industrial Zone will counter-balance the magnitude of City Hall by turning the whole area into the city’s Museum District.
In terms of civic structure, the City Hall and the the Providence Place Mall together with the vast public space they share are matched in scale by the new Waterplaza which is located at the very south edge of the city where the industrial zone lays today. The Waterplaza purpose is to offer Downcity Providence an urban space that will properly conclude its civic structure, nowadays disrupted by the highway crossing the river depriving access to the city’s rightful southern edge. The Waterplaza features a monumental linear building marking the edge of the city while framing a rectangular public space overlooking Providence River and Fox Point. Waterplaza is the most important element of the proposal thereby, meeting point of two major strategies.
The linear building, is actually a small part of a greater urban structure that constitute the second strategy of this study; The Wall.
The Wall is an answer to the question of how a city deals with its limits and edges. Specific boundaries are not always factor of segregation, but also a decisive factor of urbanity. As mentioned before, Downcity is surrounded by highway I-95. This piece of infrastructure shaped a powerful boundary for the city having an impact to both its connectivity and integrity along this edge. The solution proposed is a linear zoning along this edge that will accommodate big programs, preferably requiring access to the highway. Thus, and given the fact that the densification of the city will result in limited vehicular access and parking, most of the circulation will be absorbed right at the edge of the city allowing the inner street network to function properly. This zoning features characteristics such as big height and an interconnected linear network of commercial arcades at the ground floor. Thus, this zoning will generate a homogenous and rigid urban element that will be read as the city’s new identity from the outside and a continuous urban façade from the inside, restructuring the dismantled urban scape while protecting Downcity from the noise and aesthetics of the highway. The Wall is interrupted on the intersection with major streets and the “patches” mentioned before, shaping gateways for the city. This way the Wall does not segregate the city from its surroundings, but formalize and mark its welcoming points
Status: School Project
Location: Providence, RI, US
My Role: Author