May 24 2012

Providence, Rhode Island Halts on Highway Redevelopment Area as Citizens Get Creative

Providence, Rhode Island demolished I-195

In 2011, Providence, Rhode Island (R.I.) demolished I-195, a section of interstate highway that had bisected the city for half a century. A new stretch called the Iway had already been built for $446 million, helping to reconnect the city’s Jewelry District to the rest of the downtown and open up 40 acres of land. Yet, as is often the case in large-scale urban planning projects, redevelopment takes time – and money. Today, the highway’s massive footprint remains open for new use.

As of April 2012, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission acknowledged that the infill process could take years. To begin, the group has purchased the land from R.I.’s Department of Transportation in order to complete environmental assessments and title searches.

In the meantime, Rhode Island residents, not just urban planners, are getting impatient, waiting to see when the 14.5 acres of mandated green space will pan out. Utilizing email campaigns and blogs, citizen groups have submitted unsolicited recommendations for the site, ranging from a raised bed community garden, to Little League athletic fields, to a city-owned nursery. Other forums, including, a website conceived by a local architect, allow citizens to submit sustainable, community-specific ideas for temporary occupation of the space. Some have proposed the site as the next X Games host while it waits for its next move.

But Providence’s green vision has shown signs of shifting as the city postponed its anchor redevelopment project, a pedestrian bridge and park, and transferred 1.7 acres of intended park space over to land designated for development. The commission’s priorities for this land, according to its March 2012 meeting, are to activate waterfront and add restaurants.

Providence, Rhode Island demolished I-195

In a difficult economic climate, it is hard to dictate what is best for a struggling city. Yet some might argue that rescinding on green space, especially in an area that is woefully lacking, is not the best way to go. In the meantime, people will continue their rogue occupation of the unused land with Wiffle Ball.

What kinds of uses would you propose for the land as it awaits its next steps? How can we avoid the waiting trap in other redevelopment projects?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Lillian Mathews

Lillian Mathews graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Environmental Studies (Honors) and a focus on Food Systems and Urban Sustainability. She has designed and implemented an arts-based gardening site at a neighborhood center in Providence, Rhode Island, and has completed work in ecological planning and design, sustainable agriculture, and urban planning. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more at

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 6:06 pm and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Engineering, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Infrastructure, Land Use, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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