Providence is a model because its political leadership was willing to take risks, embrace a revolutionary idea, and put it into action. Dubbed the Renaissance City, Providence has experienced major changes in its form and function over the past quarter-century, many of them focused on the city’s rivers.
In the nineteenth century, the city was built around the Cove Basin, which supported industry and recreation. As industrialization increased, the rivers became heavily polluted and were eventually filled in to make room for more development. They were decked over early in the twentieth century, creating the “World’s Widest Bridge.” Although the “nuisance” of the river was hidden, the decking caused more problems than it solved.
In the late 1970s, a revolutionary planning movement began which envisioned a new waterfront for Providence. It proposed moving the rivers and Interstate 1-95, recapturng the historic Jewelry District, and creating a promenade along the entire length of the waterfront. William Warner is credited as being the visionary of this plan.
After 30 years, the long and difficult process of revitalizing downtown Providence continues today. Cooperation between local, state, and federal government, as well as civic and business leadership has kept the plan on track. Warner has been instrumental in the continuity of the plan, ensuring design control over the bridges and waterfront parks, and creating a welcoming environment that echoed Providence’s historic character. The waterfront walkways have once again become a gathering place for residents and visitors. Because of the revitalized waterfront, Providence has experienced a boom in real estate development. An urban shopping and entertainment center, hotels, and office buildings have been built downtown, with more to come as I-195 is relocated. The waterfront offers restaurants, an amphitheater, and seating