Leaders kick off citywide charrette

Thursday, October 5, 2006

About 100 Providence residents attended an opening reception Wednesday night for a citywide charrette that will involve community members in planning the future of the city. The upcoming community workshops are part of “Providence Tomorrow: Our City, Our Neighborhood, Our Future,” an initiative announced in late May by Mayor David Cicilline ’83.

Cicilline, several City Council members, principal city planners and two independent planning consultants were present at the reception, which was held downtown at 150 Union St. in the atrium of the Peerless Building.

The Providence Tomorrow initiative was designed to “create a framework for how the city is going to change and grow in the coming years” as its comprehensive plan is updated, according to Thomas Deller, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development. Over the course of the next two years, city planners will work to update not only the overall plan for the city, but also individual plans for every neighborhood in Providence.

Under Rhode Island state law, the city must submit a comprehensive plan that complies with state planning regulations by May 7, 2007.

“We are in a city that is going to grow, and the question is how and where,” Cicilline told those in attendance, citing the importance of development that is “healthy, promotes sustainable neighborhoods and maintains the quality of life that makes people think Providence is so special.”

According to Cicilline, October is National Community Planning Month. “We’re going to really document (the planning process) because we don’t know if there’s another city that’s done it the way we’re doing it,” he said.

The charrette will take the form of public discussions held from Oct. 10 to Oct. 13. Most meetings will take place at the city’s Charrette Studio, located at 400 Westminster St., and a final wrap-up and open house is planned for Oct. 14. Discussion topics will include housing, sustainability and the environment, business and jobs, arts and culture, transportation and public spaces.

More than anything else, Cicilline and other city leaders at the reception emphasized the need to involve a diverse range of residents in the planning process. Child care, Spanish translation and parking validation will be provided throughout next week’s charrette to facilitate community involvement.

“The great amount of diversity (in Providence) is not necessarily represented here tonight,” Cicilline said.

Those in attendance were given disposable cameras with coupons for free film development. They were instructed to take pictures of the six landmarks in Providence that they hate and love the most.

“We’re going to talk, we’re going to discuss, we’re not always going to agree. … If you don’t (participate in the process), and you’re not happy with the outcome, it’s your fault,” Deller said.

East Side resident Margherita Pryor, who attended the reception, said she does not expect citywide involvement in the charrette. “But if we’re lucky, there will be representatives from some … advocacy groups there, though it’s not an acceptable substitution,” she said.

Pryor said she believes an improved public education system would encourage residents to stay in Providence and participate in discussions regarding future planning projects.

“You would see a whole new dynamic – people would be more interested in (the future of the city),” she said.

“What I would really value is transparency in all of this – it’s good that they got the message (that residents want a chance to participate),” she said.

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