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April | May 2013

UNION STUDIO Greater Kennedy Plaza! It’s time: Providence’s civic plaza and transit hub is re-imagined as a vibrant urban gathering place



Kennedy Plaza Reborn THE TEAM

Client: The City of Providence, RI Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy Participating Stakeholders: RI Public Transit Authority The Providence Foundation Cornish Associates The Biltmore Hotel Design Team: Union Studio Architecture & Community Design Project for Public Spaces Birchwood Design Group Vanasse Hangen Brustlin


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Providence is no stranger to bold urban design initiatives, and the planned transformation of Greater Kennedy Plaza is next in line. With initial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, a team of public and private leaders, visionaries, designers, artists and engineers is setting out to make Kennedy Plaza the #1 destination in Downtown Providence... and the best public square in New England.


E x i s ti n g Is s u e s :

Once a stately civic plaza bookended by Providence City Hall and the Federal Building / US Courthouse, Kennedy Plaza has suffered as a public space over the past two decades. Around 2000, the plaza became a central hub for the RI Public Transit Authority’s passenger terminal, a move that brought thousands of people through the center of Downtown Providence per day -- providing vital access to public transit -- but doing little to create a place where visitors wanted to spend time.

Area of the park southwest of the skating center is cut off from the rest of the plaza, creating the effect of a “no man’s land.” Skating center feels like a “fortress” from the outside. Few clear visible pedestrian connections to the surrounding area. Burnside Park is fenced in, with access through five gates. Interior of park does not have adequate lighting or seating options.

Greater Kennedy Plaza, as it exists today, offers three somewhat disjointed “purposes”: the skating center, the bus passenger terminal, and greenspace (Burnside Park). These areas are divided by roads with vehicular traffic, which interrupts the flow of the park and detracts from the pedestrian experience.

Site of a large monument, and directly in front of City Hall, this area is highly visible yet has no plantings or seating.

In recent years, the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy has successfully activated the space through public events, demonstrating the potential of Kennedy Plaza as an urban gathering place and setting the stage for investment in its bright future.

The RIPTA bus transfer station, with berths, bus stop canopies, bollards, fences and traffic, is the sole use of the intermodal island, rendering the southeastern side of the plaza congested and unattractive. The large adjacent buildings have positioned their front entrances on the parallel street because the plaza is not considered an asset. Two main “gateways” to Burnside Park lack identity

Multiple lanes of traffic and bus lanes are confusing and unfriendly to pedestrians. U N ION ST U D IO | www. uni o nstud i oa rc h .co m



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Photos of existing great public spaces courtesy of Project for Public Spaces, placemaking consultants on the design team (


The team’s work over the past eight months has focused on ways that this public space can: •

Draw diverse communities together as a functional and vibrant urban gathering place

Continue to serve riders of public transit efficiently and safely

Become a sustained cultural destination with events that draw people to the City’s core

Create short and long-term plans for the plaza: a shortterm plan implementing “faster, quicker, cheaper” solutions, and a long-term plan to create the best public plaza in New England.


Decentralizing the Buses There are several bold moves incorporated into the overall design solution, the most significant of which is decentralizing the bus berths so that the heart of the plaza can be opened to other uses with increased emphasis on pedestrians. Unifying the Plaza as a Whole Reducing the number of vehicular through-ways and altering the traffic pattern will maximize the park’s cohesion as public open space. Strategic grade changes, such as raising Washington Street so that it is level with adjacent grading, will improve visual and physical connections within the plaza. Establishing clear lines of sight through landscaping and architectural design will create visual linkages through the park to surrounding landmark buildings and public art. Creating Nine Distinct “Destinations” within the Plaza Greater Kennedy Plaza, in its best long-term execution, can serve multiple public needs. The team of stakeholders and designers envision nine ideal “destinations” within the plaza: 1) Central Square - A central meeting place with unobstructed flexible space that can be used for entertainment and events, day and night. It will be active, with food trucks, seating, signage, art, and performance. 2) Civic Plaza / City Hall - This will be the “front porch” of City Hall, used as a venue for political events and speeches. The area will be improved with added seating and plantings. 3) Market Square - Envisioned as the economic engine of the U N ION ST U D IO | www. uni o nstud i oa rc h .co m


revitalized plaza, with an active market featuring indoor and outdoor cafe seating and entertainment. 4) Judicial Square / Formal Gardens - Located in front of the Federal Building, this area will feature more formally structured botanical gardens with moveable seating. 5) Bank of America City Center - The area will retain its function as a skating rink, and new recreational uses will also be explored. The surrounding area/buildings will be designed to make the space more welcoming and amenable to alternate event usage. New retail buildings will be added to support diverse activity. 6) Burnside Park - Physical improvements will make this park a destination for families or individuals looking for daily relaxation and recreational activities. Additional programming options being considered include a wading fountain, bocce courts, expanded children’s play area, exercise circuit and public art. 7) Biltmore Plaza and Gardens - Landscaping and programming improvements in this section of the plaza will transform it to a quiet, lush garden with a gazebo that can be used by the adjacent hotels, businesses and individuals for special events (like wedding receptions) or simply as a quiet reading area. 8) Terrace - A series of at terraces will be created as a means to host retail, such as a beer garden or other opportunities for


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restaurants at Exchange Terrace to have presence on the park, while the terraces will also provide a setting that overlooks events at the Bank of America Center. 9) Gateway - This area serves as the visual connection facing the Providence train station, and should be better utilized as a gateway to the park through signage, wayfinding, and interactive sculptures. IMPLEMENTATION

“We will change the way people think about the plaza by transforming it into a beautiful, usable space cherished by Rhode Islanders and visitors from near and far.” - Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy

These illustrations show the long-range (5+) year vision for Greater Kennedy Plaza. This effort, fully realized, would require infrastructure, transportation, design and programming efforts which could be funded by a combination of public and private investments. Current fundraising initiatives led by the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy support the programming for plaza activities. Public funding options, such as grants, will continue to be pursued for infrastructure initiatives. The estimated overall cost for the project is $20 million. Our team explored different options for implementing proposed suggestions based on short-term (6 months), mid-term (1-2 years) and long-term (5+ years) time frames. Project for Public Spaces, our team’s placemaking consultant, has experienced success identifying “lighter, quicker, cheaper” alternatives that can jump-start the transformation of Kennedy Plaza in the short term using minimal resources. Initial infrastructure improvements, such as relocating the bus berths and raising the grading of Washington Street, could also be implemented in the short-term, setting the stage for future improvements. Stay tuned for project updates at or through the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy at U N ION ST U D IO | www. uni o nstud i oa rc h .co m


Providence’s Kennedy Plaza: April 2013 (above) and as envisioned after revitalization (below)

Illustration: 8

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Union Studio News: Greater Kennedy Plaza  

Providence is no stranger to bold urban design initiatives, and the planned transformation of Greater Kennedy Plaza is next in line. With in...

Union Studio News: Greater Kennedy Plaza  

Providence is no stranger to bold urban design initiatives, and the planned transformation of Greater Kennedy Plaza is next in line. With in...