Building Durable Wealth

Providence, Rhode Island

An extraordinary example of student work in a real-world context, Building Durable Wealth addresses two areas in Providence that were impacted by freeways: The 195 Redevelopment District, the site of a former in-city freeway, and the 6/10 Connector, the site of an existing freeway through Providence’s west side that borders multiple neighborhoods.

The 360-acre plan promotes walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with a range of housing types and price points at densities that will support better transit service. The plan also shows how new incremental development could provide parks and retail to serve existing residents and 1,500 to 2,000 new homes.

Building Durable Wealth Providence Redevelopment Area
Proposed Redevelopment Area. Source: The University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

Like many cities in the mid-20th Century, Providence built limited-access highways through its historic center. As these highways come to the end of their useful life, Providence must decide whether to rebuild them at great expense or tear them down and re-urbanize their rights-of-way to reconnect urban neighborhoods.

Nine years ago, the portion of I-195 freeway that separated Downtown Providence from The Jewelry District was demolished. Since then, the state-authorized I-195 Redevelopment District Commission has recovered 26 acres of prime urban land in 22 irregular blocks, for which they have arranged developer-friendly financing to attract big-ticket construction projects.

The commission has targeted institutions engaged in medical and scientific research and development, but the development programs involve block-sized buildings with large floor plates, lots of exterior glass, and “gizmo-green” technology. An out-of state developer recently made a break-all-the-rules proposal for three downtown residential high-rises on one of the parcels— including a tower more than twice the height of the tallest building in Providence.

Building Durable Wealth Providence Proposed Redevelopment Buildings
Proposed buildings in the redevelopment area. Source: The University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

The 6/10 Connector provides irregular opportunities for development. Due to topography, a boulevard is not feasible, the team found—so, instead, the plan recommends a 35 mph parkway that features better street and bridge connections, helping to link neighborhoods on both sides. The parkway would allow recreational amenities and mixed-use development to be built in strategic locations.

The artfully illustrated context-sensitive approach of Building Durable Wealth represents a return to the building and finance techniques that created the most beloved parts of historic Providence. This is achieved through subdividing the new blocks into smaller lots and encouraging updated versions of durable “background building” types that are based on the city’s best building traditions—adapted to modern institutional programs.

Top photo: A 3D representation of the redevelopment area. Source: The University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.

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