Providence Director of Planning Ruben Flores-Marzan arrived in Providence from his native Puerto Rico days before a February storm dumped 2 feet of snow on the city. Determined to test the city’s “walkability,” Flores-Marzan sprained his knee negotiating a sidewalk snow bank.
Flores-Marzan’s arrival comes as city leaders look to harness underutilized land for badly needed economic growth and businesses complaining that permitting can be as difficult to navigate as a snowstorm. Now in his fourth month on the job after taking over for longtime planning director Thomas Deller, Flores-Marzan discusses his vision for making Providence a more vital, walkable city.
PBN: What is the biggest difference, from a planning perspective, between Providence and Puerto Rico?
FLORES-MARZAN: Providence is much more walkable, so planning concerns are more design-oriented versus San Juan and Puerto Rico, which is much more concerned with regional development, agriculture, renewable energy, regional and transportation options. The original settlements in San Juan were near the coastline, which is similar to Providence, but obviously Puerto Rico is an entire country versus just a city. The trends in Puerto Rico are governed by the preponderance of private automobiles, people choosing to buy a car and live wherever they are qualified to live.
PBN: What are your priorities as planning director?
FLORES-MARZAN: We are very concerned with the economic-development plan from the mayor and economic-development director. If you take a look at that document, there are a number of places where the planning department can be very useful in providing information and recommendations. One is the streetcar project. That is a very important priority if we can get funding. Another area is design and physical-planning elements, such as the rewrite of the zoning ordinance. In prior years they’ve taken a look at separate pieces and we want to have a comprehensive look and comprehensive rewrite so the development that occurs in Providence is more consistent with the planning techniques of the 21st century, in terms of sustainability, walkability and ensuring that buildings are energy efficient.