Page D2.1 . 09 July 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Providence Reclaims Rivers

by Becky McWilliams

During the past decade, Providence, Rhode Island has worked to incorporate its past into its future. Concentrated efforts to restore historic buildings, unearth "buried" rivers, and redesign the public realm have revitalized the downtown area. Central to this rebirth is Waterplace Park, a walkable and attractive urban landscape.

By the middle of the 20th century the city's two rivers, the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck, had become stagnant, and city planners covered them over with highways and parking lots, creating what local residents called "the world's widest bridge."

Yet architect William Warner believed that opening the rivers could create a cityscape as friendly to pedestrians as it had been to cars. His vision was to jackhammer the asphalt that split the city and restore the waterfront. Fortunately for the city of Providence, Warner persevered with his plan for restoring the city's core.

Undaunted by developers and construction projects threatening to build on the very sites he wanted to uncover, Warner took action. He formed a group of civic leaders and wowed city officials with a slide show of what the downtown riverfront could look like if the rivers were exposed.

After a tough battle against city bureaucracy for funds and authorization, Warner finally received the approval of the people. With the support of a growing number of citizens eager to improve their own quality of life, the Waterplace restoration project began. As progress continued through the end of the century, the downtown area slowly came to life.   >>>

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ArchWeek Image

The Waterplace Basin amphitheater, designed by William Warner, looks out onto the business district skyline in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.
Photo: Becky McWilliams

ArchWeek Image

The river basin blazes with light and activity during the summer festival, WaterFire.
Photo: Ed Robbins

 

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