Making Place

The City of Providence has high hopes for Kennedy Plaza, and is launching a lot of initiatives intended to scrub out the generally scary reputation clinging to it. We asked Cliff Wood, City Builder with the Providence Foundation, for his thoughts on the future of the space.
“Our mission is to create a socially and economically viable set of public spaces – it’s a long-term goal that has gathered a lot of support the last couple of years. The mayor made it one of his top 5 goals for economic impact, and many partner organizations – public and private – have been contributing to the effort.”
“If we don’t fill these places with positive activities, they fill themselves with activities that become a drag on the neighborhood,” says Wood. So one tactic for revitalization is programming. You’ll see more music series like the WBRU music series, projects with Trinity Brew House, and more children’s programming like programs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in the park. “Events that would gather maybe 20 people a couple of years ago now draw over 100,” he explains. “Three years ago, we couldn’t convince any food trucks to come to Kennedy Plaza. Now there’s a waiting list.”
Wood agrees that increased law enforcement is also happening as part of the process. “Placemaking, which is really the term for what we’re doing, touches on many disciplines – social services, historic preservation, parks, recreation, urban planning, economic development, public transit and many more.”
Within the next year, we’ll see the impact of capital improvements on the Plaza, and we’ll see the dominance of RIPTA buses toning down. For the first time in at least 20 years, RIPTA has commissioned a study of usage patterns that’s leading to rerouting. The new routes will change the tight nest of transfers that only happen at the Plaza, using more “throughrouting.”
“It gets pretty nerdy,” says Woods, “but basically there will be less need of dedicated lanes there. Rather than being dominated by transit, there will be a balance of many activities.”
Kennedy Plaza is looking for experiments – like some of the skate activities being pioneered in the rink in the summer and live music that uses portable, low-impact staging. New ideas are welcome to try to prove their concepts.
Will it work? There was a time no one wanted to go anywhere near the Providence River, either.