Frank LaTorre, director of public space for the Providence Downtown Improvement District – an advocacy and management organization representing the interests of property owners in downtown Providence – has described the DID’s large-scale downtown landscaping program as “a community building tool representing the spirit of the renaissance underway in downtown Providence.”
In October, the International Downtown Association agreed. The Washington, D.C.-based champion for vital and livable urban centers awarded the DID with its 2013 Downtown Merit Award for planting and beautification.
Previously, LaTorre served as executive director of the Public Assembly Facilities Division of Portland, Maine. He holds a B.A. in political science with a minor in economics from Boston College.
PBN: How would you describe the difference between urban design and place making?
LATORRE: Urban planning sets a tone and vision for a city. It speaks to what scale people want for their city and even more so, what values are embodied in that vision. Place making, on the other hand, is the fine art of creating a sense of excitement within pockets of the urban landscape, conducive for people gathering together. Fred Kent, the president of the world-renowned Project of Public Spaces said, “When you think of good place making it is quite simple – they should be places that promote sociability, offer lots of things to do, be comfortable clean and attractive and most importantly be built from the grassroots up, with community involvement.” These are certainly our goals for place making in downtown Providence.
PBN: What has been the most notable success from the DID’s economic-development strategies?
LATORRE: The Downtown Improvement District’s clean and safety ambassadors are acknowledged as a key part of the renaissance in the downtown, a downtown growing in pride, vitality and increased economic activity. From the creation of the clean, safe, welcoming and green environment downtown, a foundation has been formed on which economic activity is continuing to be built. This is the heart and soul of our operation and the bedrock economic development strategy.
PBN: What kind of value does art have in place making?
LATORRE: Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” Art is a key component of place making. The visual arts, the performing arts and even lighting itself as an art form add to the vitality and nourishment of the soul of a downtown. It is a magnet that draws people together. A worldwide trend in public spaces is interactive art such as the ship that is in Burnside Park, with which people can admire and have fun. •