Lively Downtown Districts the Providence Way

Yesterday, my son and I went an another urban adventure, visiting the Providence Children's Museum, heading to College Hill for a lunch of Korean bibimbap and then descending to downtown to hunt for the life sized puppets at the Big Nazo Lab on Eddy Street.  Some people like to attribute a big revival of Providence's downtown to the Providence Place Mall and Waterfire.  I've not been to Waterfire yet but I can say this about the mall.  I have absolutely no interest in it.  Please explain what is special and revivifying about a mall where all the action is inside and you have to drive and park to get there?  You can see all the signs from the highway advertising the national chain tenants, making the mall into an Anytown, USA.  However, in trying to find the Nazo Lab, we stumbled upon Providence's cozy art district and I felt I had gone to urban heaven.  The whole area screamed out at us, "Get out of your car!  Come and explore!" 

Come and join us on our walk in downtown Providence's art district!

Come and join us on our walk in downtown Providence's art district!

Here's some reasons why we wanted to walk:  Check out the great brick lined sidewalks and streets!  The white circle of bricks in the center of the street mark off the center of a two main streets.  It's just pleasing for the eye.  Each building is architecturally unique, historical, fronts up to the sidewalk.  Notice the shady, mature street trees as well as the old fashioned light fixtures.  There were so many small retail stores, restaurants, cafes, specialty shops, we were not sure what we would find turning the corner.  Also, please note the short width of the streets that make room only for one traffic lane and one parking lane.  

Here's some reasons why we wanted to walk:  Check out the great brick lined sidewalks and streets!  The white circle of bricks in the center of the street mark off the center of a two main streets.  It's just pleasing for the eye.  Each building is architecturally unique, historical, fronts up to the sidewalk.  Notice the shady, mature street trees as well as the old fashioned light fixtures.  There were so many small retail stores, restaurants, cafes, specialty shops, we were not sure what we would find turning the corner.  Also, please note the short width of the streets that make room only for one traffic lane and one parking lane.  

See the bike parked outside of this clothing store.  Walkers and bikers were everywhere on the streets.  Cars did not speed past, drivers watching out for pedestrians and scanning what was happening outside on the streets.

See the bike parked outside of this clothing store.  Walkers and bikers were everywhere on the streets.  Cars did not speed past, drivers watching out for pedestrians and scanning what was happening outside on the streets.

If you look closely, you can see some interesting architectural details on the facade of this building.  This kind of handiwork is no longer apparent on many of the newer big box buildings.  We just wanted to stare and check it out.

If you look closely, you can see some interesting architectural details on the facade of this building.  This kind of handiwork is no longer apparent on many of the newer big box buildings.  We just wanted to stare and check it out.

Can you believe what we see?  It's a real bookstore, not just another Barnes and Noble.  There are tables of books out on the sidewalk to entice readers.  

Can you believe what we see?  It's a real bookstore, not just another Barnes and Noble.  There are tables of books out on the sidewalk to entice readers.  

And around the corner is another bookstore! Heaven!

And around the corner is another bookstore! Heaven!

It looks like a building was taken down here.  This was the only "empty lot" we saw on our walk.  It seems as if part of the base of the structure has been kept?  This area has become a pedestrian plaza and way station with many people sitting under the sun and eating lunch.

It looks like a building was taken down here.  This was the only "empty lot" we saw on our walk.  It seems as if part of the base of the structure has been kept?  This area has become a pedestrian plaza and way station with many people sitting under the sun and eating lunch.

Check out this cool, artistic clock structure on the sidewalk.  We passed by a building housing classrooms for the University of Rhode Island.

Check out this cool, artistic clock structure on the sidewalk.  We passed by a building housing classrooms for the University of Rhode Island.

a mural on the outer edge of the neighborhood frames a parking lot

a mural on the outer edge of the neighborhood frames a parking lot

A sign of a living neighborhood is the existence of churches!

A sign of a living neighborhood is the existence of churches!

A hint of active street life: A musician plays his accordion on the busy sidewalk.

A hint of active street life: A musician plays his accordion on the busy sidewalk.

Even some of the alleyways had enticing brick sidewalks and murals on the walls.

Even some of the alleyways had enticing brick sidewalks and murals on the walls.

Only walkable and bikeable cities can support the existence of a Zipcar!  Note the bike racks next to the Zipcar office.  Worcester is so autocentric that it is hard to imagine we could support a Zipcar fleet.

Only walkable and bikeable cities can support the existence of a Zipcar!  Note the bike racks next to the Zipcar office.  Worcester is so autocentric that it is hard to imagine we could support a Zipcar fleet.

Sure, there were plenty of "yuppified" cafes, restaurants and boutiques but there was also room for mom and pop stores, tailors, and laundromats.  The best news:  This neighborhood does not seem to be fully gentrified.

Sure, there were plenty of "yuppified" cafes, restaurants and boutiques but there was also room for mom and pop stores, tailors, and laundromats.  The best news:  This neighborhood does not seem to be fully gentrified.

Lessons for Worcester

  1. This downtown section has kept its historical infrastructure including its buildings and intact street layout.  It is rare to see a building demolished for a parking lot here.
  2. The emphasis for transportation is on biking and walking, not driving here.  There are bike symbols on the roads and plenty of bike racks scattered throughout the area.  The streets are narrow and cozy, slowing down traffic.
  3. The high density neighborhood hosts a variety of mixed uses: retail, cultural, educational, residential uses. 
  4. It is not clear if the area maintains such vitality after office hours.  We did see several coop residential buildings and small hotels. If there is enough critical mass of residents, then this neighborhood will sustain this level of activity.  Should we re-visit some evening?