Stacking the waterfront?

December 17th, 2007

Today’s Providence JournalStacking the waterfront?” editorial questions the openness of the city’s planning process for the future of our waterfront. While RISD students did an excellent job at a recent waterfronts symposium, the ports they chose to highlight were not apt comparisons to the Port of Providence:

Mayor Cicilline wants to rezone the waterfront between the new Route 195 bridge and the Port of Providence from industrial to mixed use. Some businesses along the Providence River understandably view that possibility with alarm, fearing that condos, restaurants and other businesses paying low wages and that don’t make or ship much stuff will eventually push out grittier (and higher-paying) industrial uses.

At a recent meeting held at Save the Bay’s Fields Point headquarters, nine architecture students from the Rhode Island School of Design described waterfronts from Vancouver to Charleston, S.C., to Buenos Aires, Stockholm, Hamburg and beyond, each compared with the industrial part of Providence’s waterfront. The students, who did not select the cities, were urged not to take sides in the zoning debate. They did not, and presented their findings with commendable objectivity.

However, every last one of the waterfronts featured a mixture of uses.

“I think they presented it in a fair way,” says Joel Cohen, part owner of Promet shipyard on Allens Avenue. He added, “I personally don’t think they made apt comparisons.” He quibbled with the selection of waterfronts.

City officials must try harder, as they ask neighborhoods to help put the finishing touches on the Providence Comprehensive Plan, and seek state approval of the plan, to generate public trust in the process. If the deck was stacked at Fields Point, that does not help.

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