A new advocacy organization was launched last week that aims to promote cutting-edge urban planning and development practices in Providence and surrounding communities.
Greater City: Providence will focus on transit, architecture, open space, zoning, and residential and commercial development issues in the capital city, said Jef Nickerson, the group’s president.
“We have an overall feeling that the city needs to be more dense, that people need to live closer to where they work, that more business needs to be brought into the city from the suburbs,” Nickerson said at a launch party last Tuesday at the Jewel Café & Lounge in the Jewelry District.
The nonprofit’s philosophy incorporates smart growth and New Urbanist principles but is not tied to a particular orthodoxy, Nickerson said. The group’s founders said Greater City: Providence’s laser focus on Providence would complement the work of Grow Smart Rhode Island, a statewide coalition that works to prevent suburban sprawl, among other things.
“From our anecdotal understanding, they’re more focused on the state outside the metro, and we’re kind of looking to fill the hole in that donut,” said Bret Ancowitz, the new group’s vice president.
Greater City: Providence’s founders said they would champion several initiatives, ranging from the reconfiguration of Dean Street to better connect downtown Providence with the western and northern parts of the city, to coordinating lighting of the downtown skyline for events and holidays, to the maintenance of the Providence railroad station.
Nickerson said he would work to bring streetcars to Providence and make the city more walkable.
“I live in Providence and I don’t own a car, so I rely on the buses and my feet to get around,” he said. “It’s very important that all levels of transit – from walking to biking to busing to rail to cars – work, and they all work together, and we’re not designing a city for cars at the expense of pedestrians, and we’re not spending money on buses at the expense of bike lanes.”
The new group has five board members and a loose membership of people who became friends while anonymously chatting online at Urban Planet, a national Web site with local forums for discussion of issues in different cities, including Providence.
Eventually, some of those forum participants decided to shed their anonymity and organize a group to advocate for the types of planning policy they were discussing, Ancowitz said.
“We wanted to take it beyond this virtual medium into the real world and try to effect some change,” he said.
The group has a Web site, www.gcpvd.org, and says it plans to hold public meetings on the second Tuesday of each month in various locations throughout the city.