The return to school in September was exciting for students at Vartan Gregorian Elementary at Fox Point, having not seen their teachers and peers in person in six months. But the first day back felt all the more welcoming when they noticed a brightly colored mural on the front door of a fox, the school mascot. “This is beyond awesome!” exclaimed one VG parent about the project. Other community members, students, teachers, and staff responded with similar enthusiasm on social media and in person. “It looks fantastic,” stated a member of the PTO. The mural was designed by Myles Dumas and implemented with the help of The Avenue Concept and City Councilor John Goncalves. According to Dumas and VG parent Jack Rusley, who spoke about the project at an FPNA meeting in July, the idea emerged as a way to increase the school’s identity in the community and improve morale for students and teachers. Additional sponsorship came from FPNA, Graphic Innovations, Adler’s Design Center & Hardware, and the Wickenden Area Merchants Association.
New trees and bioswales are the focus in Washington Park this fall. A neighborhood tree-planting event was held October 31, where more than 20 trees were planted by a group of volunteers under the guidance of the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program. The WPA is also installing three bioswales, at 963 Narragansett Avenue, 370 New York Avenue, and 92 Alabama Avenue, this fall with the help of Groundwork RI. Essentially catch-basins and filters for rainwater, the 12x4-foot bioswales are planted areas located in the right-of-way in front of homes or businesses. Five feet of soil is dug out and backfilled with stone and soil, and a curb cut allows stormwater from the street to enter. The bioswales absorb and filter the water to help keep pollution out of local water bodies, including the ponds at Roger Williams Park.
Through Providence Streets Coalition’s Creative and Safe Streets mini grants, local builder and designer Joe Berthiaume of BlueHive constructed a seasonal parklet outside of AS220 to convert the public street into an outdoor gathering space for pop-ups and performances. The mini grants’ request for proposals was devised in response to the way the pandemic has shifted public street use, to solicit projects that expand public spaces and encourage safe activities. When Berthiaume, who also built the city’s only other seasonal parklet on Thayer Street, applied for the grant, PSC organizer Liza Burkin explains, “We absolutely loved the idea because it gets at the heart of what we are trying to promote: public streets that serve people in a variety of ways, not only for private car travel and parking. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when small businesses and local nonprofits like AS220 need all the outdoor space they can get.” While PSC hopes to see the City develop a formal protocol for making these kinds of innovative changes more permanent, for now, small businesses interested in installing a parklet can email email@example.com, and local artists wanting to use the AS220 parklet can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
With many libraries forced to limit their operations during this past spring and summer due to COVID-19, The Read Island Project has filled the gap for some families looking for physical books. The community project collects and donates children’s books to stock up the Free Little Libraries found in city parks and partners with local nonprofits like Partnership for Providence Parks to help distribute books directly to families. Through their Facebook group, folks can request or fulfill donations of new or gently-used books, with a particular focus on ensuring the city’s diversity is reflected in their pages. Says founder Michael Dwyer, “I have been so pleased to see so many books donated promoting diversity and broad cultures and languages, especially Spanish-language books.” The organization’s current goal is to make sure the Free Little Libraries in South and West End parks are filled while also forging new partnerships with nonprofits and social service organizations to distribute more widely. To get involved, families and readers are encouraged to join the Read Island Project Facebook group.