CITY WALK is a network of connected urban landscape spaces enhancing the everyday life of the city. In 2014, a landscape architecture study for this 7.8 mile route culminated seven years of advocacy to incorporate CITY WALK into municipal and neighborhood planning, which it has successfully accomplished. Two principles guide the ambition of CITY WALK: connect eight Providence neighborhoods via a network of pedestrian spaces/bicycle routes and improve equitable access to urban assets.
Beginnings in 2008 through Adoption into the Providence Comprehensive Plan
The Landscape Architect, at the invitation of civic and neighborhood leaders, has been advocating the concept of a “ribbon of connectivity” through eight Providence neighborhood since 2008 when it was known as the “East-West Greenway.” Since its conceptual beginning, CITY WALK has grown into a tangible and widely accepted asset to Providence’s urban connectivity and spatial planning. These efforts have resulted in support for CITY WALK by state and municipal leaders, multiple neighborhood associations, and other stakeholders. Importantly, CITY WALK was incorporated into the Providence Comprehensive Plan, “Comprehensive Plan Providence Tomorrow” in 2010 which institutionalized this long and narrow urban landscape into municipal policy. Subsequently, CITY WALK was incorporated by the quasi-public 195 Redevelopment Commission in “The Link – Developer’s Toolkit” in 2013 which further institutionalized into planning policy the part of CITY WALK that travels within the former, relocated, route of Interstate Highway 195 .
Advocacy and a Call to Action
The 2014 CITY WALK STUDY was commissioned by the Providence Foundation and the Jewelry District Association with the goal to advance the concept to a clearly defined route that could then be supported, further developed, and serve to guide future development and infrastructure improvements along the route of CITY WALK. Defining the route of CITY WALK was a critical component of the Study. In public meetings and meetings with stakeholders, the route of CITY WALK was refined. The enthusiasm for the concept led the route to be extended from just under 4 miles to almost 8 miles during this process. The resulting Study is a call to action and strategic plan for community supporters to move further with realizing, advocating, and formalizing CITY WALK.
Long and Narrow
CITY WALK is 7.8 miles long and, on average, 80 feet wide. This long and narrow urban landscape stitches a pedestrian and bicycle system across the grain of the city to link underserved neighborhoods with new urban and development assets along the Providence River and in the 17 acres being developed in the area vacated by the relocation of Interstate Highway 195. This is a new landscape typology for Providence. Existing landscape typologies include a large Nineteenth Century park (H.W.S. Cleveland’s Roger Williams Park), scattered site mid-Twentieth Century neighborhood parks and recreation facilities, and the late-Twentieth Century riverfront. CITY WALK, like many contemporary urban projects around the world, seeks to link these isolated landscapes with linear landscape strategies that opportunistically weave through the fabric of the city.
Eight Neighborhoods and Seven Focus Areas
Community groups contributed greatly to the development of the CITY WALK route and many noted at the community meetings that neighborhood associations that regularly work in isolation gathered together, with the CITY WALK process, in support of a more broadly-scaled urban initiative that stretched beyond their individual neighborhood boundaries. The process of defining the route and priorities of CITY WALK united these advocates around a project that serves eight distinct neighborhoods and built a strong coalition of engaged citizens to advocate and support the project.
In meeting #1, public input defined and refined the route through neighborhoods, connection points, sites of interest or value, areas where connections were difficult, and possible focus areas. Conversations defined the shape and extent of the route, and determined if it was linear or branching. Linear was the consensus. In meeting #2, once the route was determined, the participants were tasked with identifying areas along the route that required prompt modifications, enhancements, or design as a way to prioritize efforts. They were also asked to make suggestions to energize and improve weak links in the route and enhance focus areas. Discussion about connections and enhancements extended broadly, including: localized culture, historic significance and recognition, digital media outreach, opportunities to support existing and new businesses, safety, public access, architecture, public art, transportation, signage, sight lines, and environmental concerns. Meeting #3 was a comprehensive overview of the findings and a presentation of the draft report which was then modified to incorporate the meeting discussions. Importantly, this process identified seven focus areas for more in-depth design and study to propel the planning of CITY WALK forward. Those seven areas include: 1) 195Parcels 22 and 25, 2) Friendship/Clifford Street Bridge over Interstate 95, 3) Trinity Square and Grace Cemetery, 4) Knight Memorial Library, 5) Columbus Square, 6) Connections across Interstate 95 to Roger Williams Park, and 7) Harborwalk / Wickenden Street Crossing. Subsequently, there have been successful grant proposals, student internships, and the establishment of social media outlets to advance CITY WALK.
Demographic Diversity and Connected Mobility
Environmental and social data were collected and analyzed to provide a foundation for the public engagement process and guide the urban design strategies. Existing conditions data for the study area was collected and composed in geographic layers to inform route definition and reinforce the value of the connections CITY WALK creates. Data included public transportation, bicycle routes, streets, blue routes, park and open space connections, activities and programs, landmarks, cultural significance and vibrancy, active commercial zones, schools and universities, topography, geography, flood zones, and historically significant districts. Census data was used to identify the widely varying socio-economic differences between neighborhoods which was then mapped to illustrate disparities in infrastructure investment and urban connections— particularly as they relate to the enduring effects of the construction of Interstate 95 in the 1960s.
Next steps for CITY WALK
The 2014 CITY WALK Study is one component of the ongoing public project that is CITY WALK which has become deeply connected to the communities it threads together. The initiative will continue to rely on support from these neighborhoods as well as the state and municipal agencies that have built
CITY WALK into Providence’s planning documents. As it develops into a physical, spatial, and visible line through the city, it will first be defined by work at the seven focus areas and followed by “connecting the dots” projects such as separated bike lines, signs and graphic identity, and new events/programs. The I-195 redevelopment area — presently nearly blank slate — has the greatest opportunities for immediate impact. At the same time, this focus area has the greatest risk as the linchpin of the entire route. It was imperative in the Study to illustrate this and include landscape architecture recommendations for how parcel development projects can integrate CITY WALK into planning and enhance connections to the east and west via CITY WALK — this being the original intent of the 2008 “East-West Greenway” idea that initiated CITYWALK. The I-195 redevelopment area’s close proximity to the river also compelled the landscape architect to include recommendations for parcel and streetscape development integrating landscape design solutions for green infrastructure and strategies for potential floods (this part of the city is only protected by the aging Hurricane Barrier from potential flooding).
For people who may have thought landscape architecture is limited to planting and construction, this study and the process by which it was achieved, has illustrated to a broad audience in Providence that landscape architects are best prepared to address a wide scale of planning for people, for neighborhoods, and for the creation of modest, but impactful, new landscape gestures in a city whose historic city pattern was seen as an obstacle to new ideas of Twenty- First Century urbanization.