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Cotuit

PROPOSED: Cathedral Sq./Westminster Crossing

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I attended the CNU Urban Lab Westminster Crossing and Reviving Cathedral Square this afternoon. We started with a presentation on the history and current conditions of the area, then did a walking tour of the area, and then retired to sit down and brainstorm ideas for the area. I took part in the pedestrian connectivity issues of the area. I'm going to outline some of what was discussed, mix in some thoughts I've had since the Lab, and open it up to discussion.

The map below outlines some of what was discussed and some of mine own thoughts since the Lab. The red lines are new/rebuilt streets. Westminster of course moves through east to west. One idea was to re-open Fenner Street which used to run west of the cathedral. Another idea was to shift the Service Road (Franklin Street) west so its at the edge of the highway, laying claim to a large area beside the highway for development. Re-opening Jackson Walk to traffic was also discussed, but I'm not terribly keen on that, so I left it off the map. Jen will be happy to know that my reasoning for not re-opening Jackson Walk is the trees and the potential harm that could come to them by re-opening the street. They are among the best trees in the Downcity area.

The yellow blocks are potential development areas. I've named the ones that have current proposals for them, the others I numbered so they can be easily referenced in discussion.

The blue box labelled "Diocese Offices" is a piece of the current building block Westminster that would need to remain. There's a large power generator/HVAC unit in that building that provides heat to all of the Diocese buildings including the cathedral itself.

The green spaces are potential open space, and yes, decking over a section of Route 95 came up, and it was postulated that it may not be as expensive as some seem to think.

The UrbanLabs website should be updated soon with things that came out of the discussion: UrbanLabs.org

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cathedralsquare-web.jpg

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i like the ideas... it'd be nice to see the numbered blocks along the highway (3-9 and metro lofts) built with some reasonable height to make 95 in sort of a valley, making it seem like you're actually in a real city. actually, if you left maybe 6, 7, 8 shorter than the 2 pillar/steeple things on teh cathedral, that'd be cool so you can see it from the highway (although you probably can't anyways, so i guess it doesn't really matter).

ideally, all those numbered blocks would be at least 150' (hopefully close to 200'), especially #4 to block the regency plaza (although i'm sure the tenants would beotch and moan).

i don't know why there hasn't been any building above the highway for a park space. that spot between washington and westminster would be ideal for that because the roads aren't that far apart, so it woudln't be huge, but it's still a good sized park. hartford did it to connect the city to the waterfront, why can't we to connect the city to... the city?

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Looks very good. I really hope Cathedral Aquare is opened up! That place always seems incredibly deserted unless a Mass is letting out of the Cathedral.

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I'm a big fan of the I95 deck... if only they'd just go ahead and do from Westminster to Atwells...

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Here's some of the things discussed from my notes. I'm terrible with names, so I'm not even going to try to attach names to the issues. If anyone who attended reads, feel free to chime in with a, "That was my idea!"

One of the ways that was proposed to bring people to the area was to make it a central parking location. It was proposed to put parking below the square like Post Office Square in Boston. Another area that was identified as a possible location for parking was the land that slopes down to Route 95 next to Franklin Street.

cathedral001.jpg

The Duany proposal for a Ponte Veccio style bridge was not discarded, far from it. However, it was discussed that the bridge might benefit from a smaller more affordable retrofit until the Duany proposal can be funded. The northernmost lane would be turned over to pedestrian use only. Extended the sidewalk across the entire lane, landscape it somehow. This ties into the rest of Westminster. The sidewalk on the north side of Westminster Downcity is wider. West of the highway, all of the interest, the retail is on the northside of the street. So encouraging people to be on the northside of the street with wider sidewalks makes sense.

duany.jpg

The texture of the sidewalk whether brick (which I would oppose, I hate brick sidewalks) or textred concrete or something else, should follow the pedestrian path across streets through crosswalks. Raised intersections at some areas would help calm traffic and give a more clear path to pedestrians.

cathedral002.jpg

A sculpture or fountain or some focus should be put in the center of the square to visually attract pedestrians from the west side of the city across the highway into the square and beyond to Downcity.

Remove the right turn lane at the Westside Service Road and Westminster Street, reduce the Service Roads from 3 lanes to 2 and put parking on the street. This will serve to change the character of the Service Roads from surface highways, to city streets. Reducing the width of the Service Roads and eliminating the right turn lane will also serve to shrink the gap that pedestrians need to cross.

cathedral003.jpg

Activate the high schools. They should be literally lit up, but also programmed so that community events and after school programs extend the hours during which the schools are used, turning them from buildings that are vacant a good deal of the time to buildings that are active. Also some of the surface lots on the school property should be looked at for some kind of development.

cathedral004.jpg

Program activity within the square itself. Farmer's Markets and Art Fairs were suggested. Also with Trinity Rep and AS220 nearby on Empire Street, encourage them to stage performances in the square. Also allow high school drama shows in the square.

cathedral005.jpg

Light the cathedral. The Archdiocese says it is too expensive to light the cathedral at night, so a way needs to be found to pay for a lighting scheme.

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I'm not understanding what the CNU actually does :( Are they giving us proposals for projects we are interested in?

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Bring in restaurants and cafes, perhaps get J&W (whose campus is not too far to the south) to open a restaurant in the square somewhere.

A playground. The playground could be used by daycare centers Downcity, as well as by nearby and West Side residents. To the best of everyone's knowledge, there is not a playground anywhere Downcity. The playground need not be right in the square itself, but can/should be in the immediately adjacent area.

Rebuild the road grid as seen in the map below. The idea of making Greene Street two-way was discussed. I pointed out that where it meets Atwells at Broadway it is a really bad connection, but that could be changed by re-aligning those streets through the Old Public Safety site and the old gas station site.

The idea of bringing a grocery store into the square was brought up. Certainly a good way to attrac people from both sides of the highway. It was also proposed that this grocery store open right onto the square, literally. The grocery store would bring their produce outside in effect creating a daily farmer's market like shopping atmosphere.

Streetcars were brought up, and they were also brought up at the Cranston Street Lab earlier in the day which I did not attend.

The cathedral itself needs to be reactivated. When the highway went through and the neighborhood was destroyed, the cathedral parish dissolved. Today it is underutlized and has an overly small number of regular parishoners. I'm not sure how a public process can rebuild the parish (I don't actually think it should), but anything done with the square needs to think about the possibility of an increased parish size.

Economically integrate the area. Residents in the immediate area are larger elderly and/or in public subsidized housing. Residential development should continue to look forward affordability, but market rate and luxury untis need to be added to the mix to make the neighborhood truly vibrant. I think it was stated that from Regency Plaza to Broad Street, there are currently 1,000 residents, and there are approximately 5,000 people who work in the immediate area.

cathedral006.jpg

There was pretty much no opposition (at least among the group assembled) to getting rid of this "park" at the corner of Empire and Westminster. This park wouldn't be terrible, except for the fact that it sits one story above street level. Making it underutilized and in a sense, dangerous. Building a smaller building here, with ground floor retail would bring activity to the west side of Empire Street (which is currently all office buildings with no ground floor activity) and draw people across Empire from Downcity.

I'm not understanding what the CNU actually does :( Are they giving us proposals for projects we are interested in?

Most of the Congress is on broader national and even international issues that effect cities and how to deal with them in a way that respects the character of cities. There were 4 labs that were specific to Providence, this being one of them. Most of the people at this lab were from Providence.

I'm sure Ari can explain better.

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I'm with Mikey.. I do not understand if this is an advocacy group or a group within the city government.

As for the idea of creating more two way streets, I must say I do not like the idea from a walkability standpoint. Weybosset and Westminster can be crossed by foot at any point if you are not an a-hole about it and just follow the traffic patterns.

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I'm with Mikey.. I do not understand if this is an advocacy group or a group within the city government.

Advocacy, though many people from the city were there. Thom Deller was at the Lab I was at before he had to head elsewhere, Alix Ogden from the Parks Department was there, someone from planning facilited the first part of the lab...

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Some more photos I took as I was walking home:

I'm sure someone will call me crazy, but I kind of like the weird often brutalist architecture in the area. Maybe I'm ahead of the curve, but I think mid-century dreck is starting to get a patina. The lens of time may in the end look more kindly on these styles. I wouldn't want a whole city of this though, and I'd be happy to see more styles mixed in.

cathedral007.jpg

The Downcity skyline beckoning you. If anyone could enter the square from the west they'd be compelled to move east to explore the city.

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Of course, the cathedral.

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The trees are just lovely, the sign... Seriously, for a city that prides itself on it's art and design community, the signage is a complete embarassment, it hurts my soul to see a wonky ass sign like this. It screams out, "I DON'T CARE!"

cathedral010.jpg

The current convuluted detour around the McVinney Auditorium to the West Side. This could be opened as a new cross street.

cathedral011.jpg

Looking south at what could be Fenner Street, running from Broad Street, west of the cathedral, to Washington Street.

cathedral012.jpg

A possible development parcel, this would be number 5 on the map looking north toward Washington Street, the minibus in the image is parked on what could be Fenner Street.

cathedral013.jpg

If you weren't turned off by the street ending at empire, or the pedestrian mall with absolutely no activity on it's edges, or the barren square with terrible signage, or the big ass Auditorium in your way and you somehow make it all the way to Franklin Street (the Service Road), the lack of crosswalks at Westminster Street should keep you from making it to the West Side. You'll never find White Electric Coffee or New Urban Arts, poor you.

cathedral014.jpg

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Surface parking behind the cathedral. Number 7 on the map.

cathedral015.jpg

Vacant land between the Highway and Franklin. Nice trees though, if/when this is developed we'll have Jen find new homes for them.

cathedral016.jpg

McVinney Auditorium. The Archdiocese basically doesn't use it and is ready to tear it down when some sort of compensation can be worked out.

cathedral017.jpg

Wider shot of the Auditoirum, as you can see the cathedral is very prominent from the west, unfortunately, no one can figure out how to get to it.

cathedral018.jpg

This mess is the school department, I enjoy its lines, but it's killing the street, I think it needs to go. The school department could build a new building on parcel 1 on the map, which is school property, then sell off this building to be demolished and replaced with something more in scale with the rest of the street.

cathedral019.jpg

Looking back at Cathedral Square from the Citizens Building at the intersection of Cranston and Westminser.

cathedral020.jpg

The cathedral from Washington Street. Taken from just west of the West Side Commons marked on the map. MetroLofts will block this view, but I'm not torn up about that.

cathedral021.jpg

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cathedral008.jpg

Great gateway to the city until you think of the office buildings on each side. Even if you reopen Westminster, you still have two fugly buildings on each side with no retail.

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Great gateway to the city until you think of the office buildings on each side. Even if you reopen Westminster, you still have two fugly buildings on each side with no retail.

The fugly building on either side were designed for gorund floor retail that never materialized (at least between Greene Street and the Square). Part of the plan would be to try to jump start that retail. Also, since the street (which still exists below the steps and other such) is below the current grade, the facades of those buildings will need to be fixed, while we're fixing them, we have a chance to improve them.

Between Greene and Empire you have Verizon and BCBS on either side, no retail spots, that's where developing that park becomes important, you can put retail there as a draw, then make sure the retail on the next block has lighting and signage that will draw people further.

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I like many of the proposals in the map - the reopening of Cathedral Sq. would really inject life and vibrancy into that section of the city. Creating a park over 95 is a great concept. I can envision this whole area a series of open spaces near downtown that would be ideal for church feasts, festivals, and the like.

If a park over 95 is indeed something the city would want, then it may be advisible to not develop Parcel#6 as shown on Coutit's map. Convert parcel 6 into a park, and then there would be parkspace from the 95 park runnig eastward to Jackson Walkway.

I would leave the service road in its' current alignment. Doing so would expand the I-95 park right to the existing sidewalk at the service road. Parcel 5 would be smaller, but reopening Fenner St. from Cathdedral Sq to Washington St would allow for an apartment building there, about the same size as the Grace Church apts. I'm unsure about opening up the rest of Fenner St, as from the map reopening the road will be a real squeeze between the Diocese offices and the cathedral. The remaining parcels look good for redevelopment.

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I like many of the proposals in the map - the reopening of Cathedral Sq. would really inject life and vibrancy into that section of the city. Creating a park over 95 is a great concept. I can envision this whole area a series of open spaces near downtown that would be ideal for church feasts, festivals, and the like.

If a park over 95 is indeed something the city would want, then it may be advisible to not develop Parcel#6 as shown on Coutit's map. Convert parcel 6 into a park, and then there would be parkspace from the 95 park runnig eastward to Jackson Walkway.

I would leave the service road in its' current alignment. Doing so would expand the I-95 park right to the existing sidewalk at the service road. Parcel 5 would be smaller, but reopening Fenner St. from Cathdedral Sq to Washington St would allow for an apartment building there, about the same size as the Grace Church apts. I'm unsure about opening up the rest of Fenner St, as from the map reopening the road will be a real squeeze between the Diocese offices and the cathedral. The remaining parcels look good for redevelopment.

That makes for a pretty large park downtown. I'm not sure the city would go for that. I think a small development with a nice pedestrian walkway from the I-95 park to jackson walkway would be good there.

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Man, reading through all this makes me want to take my tools down to the Auditorium and start taking it down RIGHT NOW.

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Man, reading through all this makes me want to take my tools down to the Auditorium and start taking it down RIGHT NOW.

i remember the first time i drove east down westminster and ended up there. i simply sat at the light thinking... WTF?? :blink:

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That makes for a pretty large park downtown.

Yes, I think that would be too large. Sometimes an oversized park becomes just as much a psychological barrier as something like a highway. Better to keep the open space as intimate as possible so it's a surprise that you find when you come around a block, rather than a vastness that feels difficult to cross. And remember, our winters are cold and windy, you'll be happy for smaller spaces in January. There's also a good deal of proposed open space in this area, West Side Commons, Cathedral Square itself, possbly the Route 95 deck, and Dexter Park is not too far away.

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i remember the first time i drove east down westminster and ended up there. i simply sat at the light thinking... WTF?? :blink:

Same here... I was completely confused.

I love nearly all of these proposals. I too wish I could go tear down the auditorium right now. The proposals Cotuit details are well thought through and, frankly, more achievable than the Duany ideas. I especially like the idea of the Postal Square like parking.

The only caution flags I'd bring up would be regarding decreasing the East side service road from 3 to 2 lanes and adding street parking there. While I like the concept of the idea, this is a major entrance to the city from 95 that already has significant traffic backup, so flow would have to be addressed here.

I'm surprised to see that lighting the Cathedral would be too expensive. The church has to be really hard up for money. It's a beautiful building and I would love to see it highlighted a bit more.

Regarding the "fugly" buildings flanking the future Westminster St, I don't think there's that big a problem with them. The street is narrow enough so that there would already be a canyon-like effect with them, and as Cotuit pointed out, the street is below the steps so some facade upgrade would be required anyway.

I'm glad to see the attention the CNU lavished on this. With the JD being reconnected to downcity with the 195 relocation, I think reconnecting the West End with the downtown will be even more important. Pretty soon, what feels like a small city core could feel, with better connections, much, much bigger.

- Garris

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Same here... I was completely confused.

I love nearly all of these proposals. I too wish I could go tear down the auditorium right now. The proposals Cotuit details are well thought through and, frankly, more achievable than the Duany ideas. I especially like the idea of the Postal Square like parking.

The only caution flags I'd bring up would be regarding decreasing the East side service road from 3 to 2 lanes and adding street parking there. While I like the concept of the idea, this is a major entrance to the city from 95 that already has significant traffic backup, so flow would have to be addressed here.

I'm surprised to see that lighting the Cathedral would be too expensive. The church has to be really hard up for money. It's a beautiful building and I would love to see it highlighted a bit more.

Regarding the "fugly" buildings flanking the future Westminster St, I don't think there's that big a problem with them. The street is narrow enough so that there would already be a canyon-like effect with them, and as Cotuit pointed out, the street is below the steps so some facade upgrade would be required anyway.

I'm glad to see the attention the CNU lavished on this. With the JD being reconnected to downcity with the 195 relocation, I think reconnecting the West End with the downtown will be even more important. Pretty soon, what feels like a small city core could feel, with better connections, much, much bigger.

- Garris

the city core would feel huge if the west end were better connected. i think simply adding a park over the highway and allowing westminster to continue straight through can do that.

but i do agree on the servide road. if you've ever travelled on it during rush hour, you know how backed up it gets. the one on the other side of the highway isn't nearly as bad though, surprisingly. is that one also 3 lanes (i rarely use that one, i use the east service road more often).

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I know the Service Road on the east side gets backed up at Atwells and Broadway, but the times I walk through Cathedral Square around 5:00pm, it's never terribly congested there. All the photos in this thread were taken at 5:00pm. Traffic patterns will change quite a bit with the relocation of 195 and a study of future traffic flow would need to be done before any changes are made.

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Yes, I think that would be too large. Sometimes an oversized park becomes just as much a psychological barrier as something like a highway. Better to keep the open space as intimate as possible so it's a surprise that you find when you come around a block, rather than a vastness that feels difficult to cross. And remember, our winters are cold and windy, you'll be happy for smaller spaces in January. There's also a good deal of proposed open space in this area, West Side Commons, Cathedral Square itself, possbly the Route 95 deck, and Dexter Park is not too far away.

I agree the park would be large - but is is better to have one that big in the center of the city. Boston Common is large, too, but what a park it is! I was thinking aloing the line of one continual green space as opposed to several smaller ones there - I think it would lend itself to more public gatherings, kite flying expos, fairs, and the like.

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I agree the park would be large - but is is better to have one that big in the center of the city. Boston Common is large, too, but what a park it is! I was thinking aloing the line of one continual green space as opposed to several smaller ones there - I think it would lend itself to more public gatherings, kite flying expos, fairs, and the like.

the problem is that the space would be large over 95, then a small corridor between the buildings and then large again at jackson walkway. it wouldn't add much to the park unless you tear down current buildings and not develop #5 as well.

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I liked the trolley/streetcar idea, and with further thought (since I don't like the Andres farmers market walling off the bridge thing) the thought of a seeing trolleys cross over the bridge on top of 95, with hundreds of thousands of eyes passing under it each day, would do more for Providence's image than a million dollar ad campaign, no matter how basic or sophisticated the route.

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