Category: Urbanism

Have you seen those house flipping shows on HGTV and TLC? The ones where idiots who don’t know a saw from a hammer but have $500,000 burning a hole in their pocket go buy a house, renovate, then sell it for a hefty profit?

Have you heard of Hurrican Katrina, and the city formerly known as New Orleans?

Have you ever wished there was some sort of “web log” combining the aforementioned two subjects? Well your friend Ultra Laser has come through for you, chronicling his adventures in babysitting real estate. Or, as he puts it, “An intimate look at a post-Katrina house flipping startup in New Orleans“.

I’m really excited about this, and if I had anything close to the ability to get a mortgage (which I don’t, no thanks to all the people who refuse to visit and click on my ads…), I’d be right there with him. Go check it out.

This Mold House

The last couple weeks have brought amazing news to those of us who love the city of Providence: five huge projects that will dramatically change downtown (and the skyline!). The Westin is getting a new tower. The Big Three of the skyline will be joined by the OneTen Westminster condominium tower (you can tell they’ll be expensive because the address is “OneTen”). The Holiday Inn is going from ugly duckling to (Hilton) swan, with more hotel rooms and a new 27-story tower. A block away a 25-story residential tower is going up. And nearby in LaSalle square will be another tall building full of lofts! That’s some sweet developin’.

Westin Providence New Tower
(click for larger image)

The above rendering of the new Westin tower almost took my breath away. I was starting to think that I’d never like another building built in Providence (the GTECH building is awful, and the new OneTen Westminster tower looks like a glass box with a decent building trying to grow up its side). What a great addition to the skyline. Classic, powerful, and respectful of the city. Big thanks to David Brussat for getting the image to me when I couldn’t find it anywhere else. His column from last week does a great job, as usual, of covering the exciting goings on of the last couple weeks.

This is the sort of thing that would be perfect for the URBlog, but there’s been no time at all. (I could use an intern, I think. Applicants welcome). If you’re looking for blog-like commentary, Cotuit’s gang at Urban Planet is doing a bang-up job.

Exciting times. Hopefully we’ll have lots more to come!

Boomtown Providence

Remember the RI+URBlog? Haha, me either! I finally got around to posting on it, though, so go check it out. There’s pictures and everything.

The Wrecking Ball Comes to (Down)Town

URBlog Update: Wrecking Downtown

I just spent the past couple hours (ok, all day) working on the design of my Urban planning blog, the RI+URBlog. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, especially since not everyone who reads A Cry for Help is as into that kind of stuff as I am. I also wanted to make a “specialty” blog, without interspersing transit and architecture posts with Red Sox worship and “Bush is destroying the planet”-type stuff.

So now that it’s pretty much as far as I am going to take it, can you guys head over and tell me if there’s anything you’d add (links, features, etc.) or any design/usage/readability changes you’d make? I’m not promising I’ll do what you want, but I am very flexible, and I appreciate getting a new set of eyes looking at it. Thanks!

Request for Comments

Yesterday’s ProJo had an article about the first building to go up in downtown Providence in a decade. To be built on the first dirt lot you see when entering downtown from Rt 95, the GTECH building will occupy an amazingly important spot in Capital Center, as both a gateway to the city and one of the buildings that will urbanistically define Waterplace Park.

The article includes these two sketches, which are fine teasers, but we want more!

Francis St ViewWaterplace Park View

I’d go to these Design Review Committee meetings if I wasn’t 1,500 miles away, so I can’t tell you more about the design. David Brussat’s not happy, though. I share his disdain for anything modernist, so I’m a bit concerned. There will be, I think, three separate terraces at different levels, which is not something I’d like to see on a building in this urban setting. Terraces tend to mess with cornice lines and can give a building an uneven feel.

The desired setbacks, to allow sidewalks up to three times wider than normal, seems like an excellent idea. At 11 stories, the extra width between building edge and the mall won’t be a problem. I really like the parking garage bridge from Francis Street which marks the pedestrian entrance to Waterplace (you can see it in the first sketch).

In the second sketch you can get a better idea of what the outside walls will look like. Note the lack of adornment on the windows, which I hate. That will mean the GTECH building will look more like One Citizens than the new Marriott.

The Design committee “raved” about the design, so it looks like this building will get built close to as is. Em says she’s heard this story before and won’t believe it until they cut the ribbon. I’m getting to the point where you could put almost anything there and I’d be happy. This spot has been undeveloped for far too long. The original plan for Capital Center called for all the land to be filled in by now, and we’re not even halfway there. We even lost the Gravity Games because of a plan to develop this site that ended up falling through (here’s what we would have gotten had it been built).

The guys at Art in Ruins have more, though they want something even more modern! NO!

Here’s a couple shots I took last September of the building site.

Jim Kunstler, one of my favorite authors and famous or his cranky social commentary, has a feature on his website called Eyesore of the Month. Once a month, there’s a new picture to illiustrate just exactly how screwed up our built environment is. There’s been some great ones, which you can see by looking through the past months, but April’s hit home (home being Providence, of course).

That picture was taken in California, but you can find something very similar on Allens Ave in PVD. I wish I was home to take some shots to illustrate this, but you’ll have to wait two more months. There’s a “bike lane” on Allens Ave, and once it hits the 95 on-ramp, it becomes a sand and broken glass strewn lane of asphalt in the shoulder/breakdown lane of the 4 lane street. When they painted those biker symbols on there I wanted to grab the personified DOT and shake it: “white paint does not a bike lane make!”

In Montreal I saw the way bike lanes should be made if you really want people to use them as transit alternatives. If you’re serious about promoting biking over driving, which makes a lot of sense in urban areas, you need to do more than waste a couple thousand dollars on paint. You need to do something like this. That little concrete curb means everything in making bikers of all ages and skill levels comfortable, especially given the near homicidal mania that overtakes some people when they get behind the wheel. And you need to make people comfortable if you want to get them out of their cars and “light trucks.”

Someone put me in charge of the Department of Transportation. And while you’re at it, I’ll take an unlimited budget. Then we’ll get somewhere…

Bike at Your Own Risk

Living in South County, I am subjected to the usually boring “South County” section of the Projo. This past week though, with the threat of a big box development, there has been a really interesting series of articles about the citizens of Hopkinton standing up to their town planners and town council about the idea of rezoning their town to ban these big box stores.

From the Projo:

Main Street in Hope Valley is lined with buildings that are typical of small-town New England.

There’s a country store, a one-bay service station, an antiques shop, a First Baptist Church. Sprinkled among them are homes — ranches, capes, and larger styles, most dating back at least 50 years.

These days, in Hope Valley and other parts of town, there are also little white signs. Their message, often just three words, is emphatic: “No Big Boxes”

On Monday, a group called Hopkinton First was getting ready to attend the Town Planning Board meeting and recommend that they “approve smaller, village style commercial zoning that would ban big-box stores at Exit 1 and preserve the rural character described in the town’s Comprehensive Plan”. That night, they and more than 350 “fired-up” residents attended the meeting.

The Board listened to the residents, and voted 5-0 to approve “a mixed-use commercial zone that would limit structures to 30,000 square feet”. Excellent.

However, all of that was useless, because last night, with a vote of 4-1, the Town Council voted to leave Hopkinton’s zoning unchanged, allowing the big box development idea to move forward.

“It’s just disappointing,” added Mary Meher. “It’s pretty clear that this just doesn’t reflect the people’s wishes.”

Yeah, I’d say that pretty much sums it up. Walmart coming soon!

Sad Day for Hopkinton

I was (digitally) sifting through a couple hundred pictures I’ve taken in Providence and came across this one, which I thought was pretty interesting:


These benches are facing the Woonasquatucket River across the street from the Foundry and just upriver from the Mall/Rt. 95. You’d never know there was a river there, as you can see the banks are pretty overgrown. Do you think anyone ever sits there?!

I’m going to assume that these benches are early investments in what will hopefully become a beautiful, thriving area. It wasn’t so long ago that this spot was among a wasteland of decaying buildings and empty lots situated between train tracks and empty mill buildings, with a trash strewn river running through it. Today there are new roads and sidewalks (and a “bike path,” or more specifically striping which mall exiting maniacs speeding down the road aren’t supposed to cross…) A new upscale apartment complex went up, with plans to refurbish other underutilized buildings are on the drawing board. Eventually the river will be better landscaped as development upriver restores the Woonasquatucket the jewel it is.

There’s good times ahead, and you’ve got a perfect place to sit and watch.

Sit and Wait