Keep Kennedy Plaza central

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David Brussat wonders out loud - "Are they kidding?"

Keep Kennedy Plaza central

By David Brussat, Architecture Here and There

The master planners of Providence and Rhode Island have figured out how to screw up Kennedy Plaza again. In 2015 they removed its four elegant, Art Nouveau-inspired waiting kiosks, replacing them with sterile plasticky kiosks. Now they want to dig a trench between the plaza and Burnside Park, even as they propose to knit the two halves together into a sort of mini-Central Park from which the city’s central transit hub would be evicted.

I described a similar idea in a 1992 Providence Journal column, “Postcard from Providence 1997” written in the guise of a convention-goer raving about developments in the city five years hence:

The fellow at the next table said Kennedy Park used to be a bus plaza but was re-landscaped as a park after two pedestrians in one week were killed by hurtling buses. Now, he said, the bus routes terminate in a station under the park.

A letter writer informed me that the water table was too high to permit an underground bus station. That means that even a less-ambitious feature such as an underpass may be much more expensive to build than the planners expect. The Journal reports on a plan to reconfigure Kennedy Plaza and build four new bus hubs in or near downtown for riders kicked out of the plaza. All this would be financed with money from the $35 million bond issue voters approved in 2014 to pay for about half of what is now proposed. And the planners say it could be done sometime next year.

Are they kidding? As the Journal’s editorial pointed out, this is the same crew whose recently completed pedestrian bridge cost seven times its original budget while blowing through a succession of moving goal posts in an endless construction schedule.

Worse, however, is that Kennedy Plaza is the most rational site for a bus terminal in Providence. A new shuttle between Kennedy Plaza and Providence Station would provide for at least that aspect of the transit system’s genuine needs, which were inflated in order to justify the 2014 bond issue. A new bus hub at the train station makes no sense, and adding three more bus hubs makes even less sense.

Those three are to be built at the Garrahy Judicial Complex near the I-195 corridor, the Victory Plating site near Rhode Island Hospital, and what the Journal describes as “between Washington Street and Exchange Terrace.” Huh? That’s Burnside Park! Is the Journal’s description wrong? Possibly. Or is the plan merely to hop the buses from one side of Washington Street to the other? Impossible. Even from these incompetents, that’s taking implausibility way too far.

It sounds like they plan to redistribute buses, bus riders and idlers who are not waiting for a bus (the real target of this plan) from one central place to three or four decentralized places. It would make more sense (and cost far less) to have buses pick up and let off riders at bus stops on routes extending in all directions from Kennedy Plaza. This is how buses operate in most cities. But maybe that’s not “creative” enough for the “Creative Capital.”

I think people like former mayor Joe Paolino, long a downtown property czar, exaggerate the anxiety caused by those who while away their idle hours in the plaza. He proposed the ban on smoking to shoo them off and that apparently has not worked. Now he – and others, too, of course – want taxpayers to finance a reworking of downtown’s familiar patterns in order to get insufficiently chic citizens out of their corporate hair.

Isn’t that what the police, God bless ’em!, are for?

But then the city would have to fill its hundred or so unfilled police slots. Well then, fill them! That, along with keeping Kennedy Plaza as a central bus hub (and returning the old Art Nouveau waiting kiosks) would cost a whole lot less and be far more efficient.

And far more beautiful. But then, beauty and creativity are considered mutually exclusive nowadays by young creatives – and their corporate artist wannabe followers. Do they have a right to exercise their will to ugly at the expense of the rest of us? No. Do they have the power to do so anyway? We shall see.

David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.