The Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy often points to Bryant Park in New York City as the model for a public-private partnership transforming a crime-ridden and desolate urban space into a vital civic center.
The grassy midtown rectangle next to the New York Public Library was known as a drug-infested adjunct to seedy 42nd Street before investments in both sent real estate values soaring and made Bryant Park office space some of the most expensive in the country.
Kennedy Plaza and its surrounding parks in Providence, the area the conservancy was founded to improve (when it was known as Greater Kennedy Plaza) has suffered through some of the same neglect, crime and perception problems as the more rarified space in the Big Apple.
Now this month a team led by the conservancy and featuring a New York nonprofit, local designers and stakeholders from the state, city and business community, is set to release a plan to take an already-improved Kennedy Plaza to the next level.
“We see [improving Kennedy Plaza] as significant as moving the highway and Westminster Street,” said Cliff Wood, executive director of the conservancy. “Ultimately this is an economic-development initiative. If our public spaces are well-managed and we invest in them, they stop being a problem and become an asset with greater property values and tax revenue to support public functions.”
Funded with a $200,000 federal National Endowment for the Arts grant, the conservancy has hired New York’s Project for Public Spaces to study what should go on inside Kennedy Plaza and Providence’s Union Studio and what kind of physical improvements could be made to accommodate them.
At the core of the conservancy plan for Kennedy Plaza and its environs – including Burnside Park, Biltmore Park and the Bank of America Skating Rink – is drawing as many people there as possible.