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Dec 1 // Watch the Arcade…

I know I may be over-reacting, but stranger things have happened. 110 Westminster is breaking ground soon, and Granoff owns the land and air rights for it… but they also own the land, building, and air rights for the neighboring (and not so bustling) Arcade. Lets just say I would not be surprised if the basement of the Arcade got “damaged” while they were driving pilings for the 30 story tower next door. So damaged, lets say, that they could argue that they needed to tear it down and expand the tower at 110. With the fate of the oldest indoor mall in America hanging in the balance, lets hope I'm crazy.

Nov 9 // Deface to take back the Power

Yesterday, further infuriated by our government, I pulled out my wallet and defaced our national currency. That is, on all the $1 bills I found there, I neatly wrote “The honest George” and a little arrow pointing at a president famed for being unable to tell a lie. Then I spent them. Today I did it again. I'd like to report that I found it oddly satisfying, and I encourage you to try it. And if you know someone equally infuriated, feel free to suggest this same treatment. Or lots of someones.

Nov 2 // Nothing is Black and White

Just a reminder: we are all wrong and we are all right. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and there always has been a slight undercurrent of pressure for people to be “true” to the scene, or to the ideals of other people. Well, we cant always do that. Sometimes, we just have to “be”. I need to be, you need to be, and none of us need to be judged. We wouldn't have to be judged so much if everyone else assumed we were doing what was right, and consequently, we all did what was right. Just a rumination… we are all wrong, we are all right.

Oct 21 // This Just In

This from a guy named Matt: The Grove St. School is being wailed on right now by a couple of Tarro boys with sledgehammers. I can only assume that they’re trying to damage it to prove “structural problems” or some shit. I took pictures and asked if they have a permit, to which they replied that they were “gonna follow me to my house.” Please put the word out. People are welcome to hang out at the house next door (#111); that’s where our farm (RED PLANET) is but please do not get into direct conflicts with the Tarros. I don’t want retribution.

Sept 30 // Where have all the venues gone?

Another space for live music closed down this month, the much revered and sometimes loathed Safari Lounge. Say what you will, the Safari was a place to see music for free and drink cheap beer. It was also the last holdout in an ever more sterile downtown. Sadly, Jimmy finally succumbed to the mounting pressure (and lets not forget the lack of lease) and he, Cathy and Durango the python moved out.

But never fear, already there are rumors that the Safari will reopen in Olneyville Square. The Safari is dead... long live the Safari.

Our List of recent R.I.P. businesses

the Call, Chestnut Street
Brewed Awakenings, Union Station
Green Room, Richmond Street
Safari Lounge, Eddy Street
Custom House, Weybosset Street (new owners)
the Castle Cinema, Chalkstone
In Your Ear, Thayer Street
College Hill Bookstore, Thayer Street
Oop, Thayer Street 2006
Supercuts, Thayer Street
the Gap, Thayer Street
Payless Shoes, Weybosset Street
J Silvers, Weybosset Street

July 1 // Heritage Harbor taken over

Big news released today as the Heritage Harbor Museum project in the abandonded South Street Power Plant have grinded to a halt ever since their failed bond issue back in November 2003. Struever Brothers Eccles and Rouse have announced that they have partnered with Newport Collaborative Architects to redevelop the former power plant into commercial and residential space. RIHPHC holds $5 million in State bond funds for the Heritage Harbor Museum, and RIHPHC expects to review tax credit applications for the historic rehabilitation project, which is projected to cost the developers $50 million. The museum project will still be a part of the development, but it will be scaled back from its original goals.

June 26 // Eminent Domain power can be abused, legally

There was a very scary Supreme Court ruling recently that basically stated that cities and municipalities can use Eminent Domain to seize property for PRIVATE developments as well as public developments because the long-term reprecussions of a large-scale private development can benefit the greater community just as much as a new highway or park. This means simply that if a city wants your neighborhood because they can get more property taxes from a mall, they can pay you “fair market value” and knock down your home, and you have very little recourse. PBS ran a great special on this issue, and UrbanPlanet has a good discussion too. Frankly, it is a scary scary ruling that could have wide-ranging effects on how cities deal with their property and citizens.

May 4 // Lowest Common Denominator

The state and the city has a policy of sending jobs out to bid, getting some back, and by law, awarding the job to the lowest bidder. Any state agency has to abide by this for anything they may bid out, including design and promotional work. I've been through it, and it infuriates me. This may work for construction, demolition, or whatever, but design, it doesn't work. I submitted a bid for the state's new Film and TV office, and I was too high. I don't know who won the bid, but the site just launched, and it is horrible. I dont know how anyone in movies (an aesthetic medium) will get into this site and take the state seriously. It looks like it is from 1987, and it didn't even look good then. Sometimes the lowest is low for a reason.

Mar 3 // Cellular Tower rant

I feel like a disgruntled old man lately... sorry, but there are a lot of rants I need to get out into the open. This one is about cellular towers. Our little East Side neighborhood just went through a little tizzy. A local church signed a lease with Cellular One, and then invited the neighborhood to the zoning hearing AFTER the lease had already been signed. Neighbors were outraged.

Now, I would mention that there is copious amounts of fuzzy science around cell phone tower radiation, but I can't. Since Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it essentially put a gag order on any further studies into the effects of radiation from telecommunications towers, since in 1996, the FCC deemed it at "acceptable levels" (read more here). Since then, technology has changed, of course, and the companies who own the towers are not forced to monitor their towers to ensure that they are still at "acceptable levels"

All this melee was pointless, for many reasons, but mostly because in the meeting, we learned that another neighboring church has already had a cell phone tower on its steeple for the past nine years. Some neighbors become so upset they were visibly shaking. A few “For Sale” signs will be going up very soon, and its a real shame, because really, where can you move to to escape it? Cities are plagued with towers... and the countryside is dotted with even bigger towers with greater range, not to mention the fact that the suburbs are sprawling and all those environmental impact concerns.

So my new business will be creating lead lined underwear... lead paint industry, here is your chance to make a comeback. Maybe all the lead paint encapsulating our houses is actually keeping out some of the penetrating radiation. Which hazard would you rather live with?

Lead Paint Rant

I am a homeowner, and as a homeowner, I had to attend a Lead Paint safety class and learn the new laws that will be enacted in November 2005, with stricter rules governing the containment of lead paint in homes. Here are the problems as I see them:

  1. The state only knows if there is a problem when a child tests positive for high levels of lead, so by then, it is too late. Damage has been done.
  2. The people who are really cracking down are the insurance companies... when and if they start to offer the coverage the state wants them to offer. They dont want to insure someone who is not in compliance... but they dont want to offer lead liability either, since they think it will be too costly and there will be too much litigation.
  3. The Innocent Homeowner clause was removed by the Trail Lawyers lobby
  4. Single family homes are exempted... if the state was really concerned about the welfare of children, they would have not done this. But the idea is, I think, that there is no way to litigate this type of thing... no one can make money by suing because it is their own damn fault.
  5. They talked about exempting owner occupied properties, but again, this leaves a bunch of children at risk.
  6. It is still a “Lead Safe” policy, which means you dont have to gut your house, but you do have to keep on top of peeling paint and holes in the walls to keep lead dust from settling in an apartment. This makes sense. Unfortunately, the homeowner is guilty until proven innocent the way the tests and compliance issues are structured.
  7. The discrimination against famiies with children will still be present, as they are more likely to complain when an apartment is out of compliance. I heard a lot of people in the class complain that tenants know more about the laws then they do, just to get out of paying rent. A family with a small child and a healthy knowledge of lead paint laws could get some major concessions (for good reason, and for no good reason) and cost a homeowner thousands, so most will just not rent to them.

Providence Fruit Warehouse update

There has been a winning bidder for the right to redevelop the old Fruit Warehouse building. Carpionato Properties Inc of Johnston won the bid with 4.5 million for a property the state paid 16 million for. The building needs a lot of work and investment. Unfortunately, Carpionato does not impress us. They aren't visionaries; some of their other projects include the Holiday Inn Express & Suites near TF Green and the Crowne Plaza at the Crossings. The building gets very little sun, being in sort of a valley and surrounded by larger structures like the mall and the Foundry, and it is always colder than everything else (by design). Good luck making apartments out of it, and the owners of the mall will kill them if they try to go after the same sort of retail tenants. We'll keep an eye out as to what happens.

Phantom space turns over again

What is it about some retail/commercial spaces? Sometimes, they just can’t heep a tenant and anything that moves in is doomed. The former Empire restaurant, across from Trinity Rep, lasted for about a two years before leaving and becomming Kestral, which recently moved out after only a year. Some sort of new bistro is taking its place... good luck guys.

Why we love Paolino

I really don't like the way Paolino rushed to try to dismantle some buildings downtown after the DownCity Design Review Panel was dismantled. It figures... someone needs to keep a short leash on that man. I'll be posting pictures of the buildings he owns and threatens to take down just in case they happen to disappear overnight.

How many Dunks does it take to get to the Center?

Dunkin Donuts has gone before the Historic District Commission with plans to demolish an existing building on the West Side (Engle Tire) at the corner of Broadway and Service Road 7 to construct a drive thru (this is within a local historic district). There are many cons to this idea including increasing an already bad traffic scene, interrupting the Broadway streetscape by demolishing the exisiting building, eroding the fabric of the gateway to the historic Broadway/Westminster neighborhood, etc. Although the Dunkin Donuts development proposal was 'tabled' at the HDC meeting last Monday, neighbors and residents should be aware of the potential of this happening when DD comes back with a new design, etc. A related question may be, how many Dunkin Donuts can a city of 173,000 support?

Coolness indices

I heard something kind of funny on This American Life about how the governor of Michigan is trying to make the state and its cities “cool”, because hordes of young people are leaving the state. That started me thinking, what makes a city cool? Can government really affect its coolness factor? Similar conversations have been happening and THE POSTER INDEX came up. A riot of multicolored flyers and hand made posters seems to be the pulse of a thriving culture. So, then we thought why does “Keep Providence Beautiful” want to see fewer posters on the street? Is such barren sterility marketable? Is this control over “marketable information” falling into another trap of “mallification”, where the only message allowed is the message sanctioned by the people in charge? Then we thought of other similar indices: THE GRAFFITI INDEX (or Urban Art Index), THE CHOPPER (BIKE) INDEX, THE ART CAR INDEX, THE SMALL BUSINESS INDEX (otherwise known as the Mom & Pop index), and THE OPEN MIC INDEX (or the Cheap Entertainment Index). If these indices existed, what would Providence score?

An Arts District Without Arts

The whole idea of an arts and entertainment district is to have an area where art, music, theatre, public art, vendors, food and drink can thrive. You would think "DownCity" should try to lure those types of businesses towards downtown, yet developers and city planners don't seem to know a thing about arts and culture. They can only view the arts in terms of revenue and tourism. The city spends money on Waterfire yet lacks or misallocates funds for Convergance and First Night. When downtown was vacant, we had an artfestival curated by Gallery Agniel that was well attended, and it brought much needed interest to DownCity. Where are they now?

The former Lupos, where performers from around the world have played, was forced to close its doors and move to the Strand. There has been lots of public criticism about unfair handling of Lupos lease. Music venues have been pushed around and out of downtown – Lupos, the Met Cafe, the Living Room – to make way for "improvements", and have been replaced with martini bars and dance clubs. We are lucky to still have a place like AS220. Who wants to go to a place that has a dress code and pricey admission and $10 drinks? I am also insulted as a rock concert-goer that my shows will have curfew/cutoffs at 10:30 so the Strand can cater to its more beneficial clientele. Those types of clubs seem to attract the types that start fights and drive recklessly and require horse cop round-ups after last call. Is that art or entertainment? I guess at least watching the Strand's clientele is hilarious.

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Long after the mill spaces in Olneyville known as the Bakery, the Pink Rabbit and the Munch House have been cleared out, what has changed inthe city? What is our current policy towards affordable artist space? Not much, really.

Some things have changed... we have a state-funded position to look into these matters, and they have conducted a state-wide survey of artists to try to asses what their needs are. So, there is momentum, albeit slow movement.

The thing is, as it was in Fort Thunder, this group of artists/musicians have been moving into blighted areas, buildings that no one else wants to occupy, and they have started making culture. In fact, the buildings in Olneyville are resting on a practical brownfield. Lighting Bolt, the band that once again put Providence on the Indy rock map, started in Fort Thunder, and needed an industrial space of that size to practice and have underground shows. Without an underground, there is no way for new bands to incubate.

The collective, ForceField, got into the Whitney Biennial in 2002. Lighting Bolt has played all over the country and has performed with seminal art rockers Sonic Youth. Fort Thunder got into Nest magazine for their over-the-top interior design. Todd Oldman, of MTV fame, came to the studios and bought artwork and took photos of the spaces. These are the kinds of intangible things that put the Providence Arts scene on the map, and get the yuppie money into the “art” style loft spaces being built downtown (that artists cant afford).

Bands and artists were taking advantage of these large spaces to do some exciting things. Brian Chippendale and the like need these spaces for their large silkscreen set-ups. There was a glass shop in the Olneyville spaces (known as Oak Street), a collective wood shop, and a church. Some of them were able to support themselves living and working in these spaces.

Pretty soon, Providence won't be the “Renaissance City” that is has proclaimed itself to be. All these new residents with money will realize that there is no longer any funky, grimy charm to our city. Just the same Starbucks and high-scale restaurants that they have everywhere else.

Changing North Main Street?

The Ethan Allen and Sears Automotive sites are for sale, and the Sears Department Store/Anderson Little site is probably not far behind. The Summit Neighborhood Association is an active group who opposes much construction on North Main Street. They have opposed the relocation of Lupos to N Main (which we think would have been a boon to the street) and have tried to get the mayor to declare a moratorium on new construction.

Now, I don't want to see a Best Buy, WalMart, or Target on N Main either. But, we are a little leery when neighborhood groups (like College Hill and Summit) take the position that there should be a moratorium on new construction. Sure, I wish there were a moratorium on bad buildings, but NOT on good buildings. There is very little good architecture on N Main as it is, and we dont want to see new construction like what is going up where the Vartian Garage used to be (flat front cinderblock building that will be very mini-strip mall looking). People don't need to be afraid of development, modern architecture, new buildings, etc. We only need to afraid of irresponsible development that is not in the communities’ interest. These things, we know, are hard to achieve and hard to find a balance between.

Housing and Rising Rents

We wonder about the need for 1200/month and up housing. It seems like developers are working from some data that tells them there is a market. What about the market for affordable units? What is happening in Boston has something to do with it, the whole region is just getting smaller. As long as gas stays cheap, (and we have already shown we will go to war to keep it so) people will have no problem driving 50-60 miles each way to work.

Along those lines, it may not be so surprising to see Olneyville get commuter rail service. Olneyville square is on the Corridor and the plan is to extend T service to Warwick when they build the airport train station. That would be a good thing. Adding a stop for O-ville wouldn’t be so hard. There has been talk of extending service to Kingston too, but its hard to imagine the state funding that, although it would also be a good idea. But one should be careful of what one wishes for because a T-stop at Olneyville square would make that area very appealing to folks from Boston looking for what they lost in Fort Point or where ever.

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