OP-ED: Memo to Our New “Quality of Life” Mayor

Mid-year reflections on Mayor Brett Smiley’s successes and challenges


Mayor Brett Smiley has just finished his first six months in office. He’s scored some nice initial successes on his pledge to be our new “quality of life” Mayor, but perhaps he should hold the victory laps until he gets through a full cycle. Two of his biggest challenges lie ahead.

Winter was a win! True, we only had 8.2 inches of snow, but the roads remained clear, the schools functioned, and there were no issues. Salt barely got used and from the looks of the mountain on Allens Avenue, the city will save costs next year.

The crushing of 63 street-illegal vehicles and 24 arrests will hopefully stem a long period of terror, highlighted by a lack of enforcement and quite frankly, a lack of concern for residents who were being intimidated and even assaulted by riders who were confident that they could get away with anything. They are still popping up, but they know there’s a new sheriff in town. Prime season for these vehicles is coming, so no true victory laps until November!

A great next step is to remove the South Water bike lane which is unused and unnecessary and is only increasing traffic and pollution as cars sit idling. Councilman John “Weathervane” Goncalves still supports the bike lane but acknowledges that it could be removed “if that’s what the Mayor wants to do.” Close the street every other Sunday, and you’ll accomplish more!

Same with the Empire Street, Fountain Street, and Jewelry District bike lanes, which are also rarely used. We don’t have a problem with bike lanes where they make sense and don’t radically and unnecessarily affect a neighborhood’s quality of life. The Hope Street and Eaton Street bike lane trials highlighted the absurdity of a coalition trying to force a concept where it didn’t belong – same with the speed bumps that impact residents of adjacent streets.

The City’s Comprehensive Plan, due in 2024, is designed to direct policy decisions for growth and development over the next decade. Input comes from many stakeholders, which it should. Leadership should recognize that certain proposals are pushed by small groups that believe that loud voices accurately speak for all residents – they don’t, as the Providence Great Streets Plan has demonstrated with its costly starts and stops. What seems missing to us is factoring in the lack of parking now required for residential development and the effect that street parking has on a neighborhood. Brent Runyon of Providence Preservation Society notes, “Over the years, countless studies have been done on the critical importance of adequate parking, and then are ignored.”

Runyon adds, “Development battles are over cost versus benefits. In many cases the ‘benefits’ provide exceptions and options for the developers, with most of the ‘costs’ borne by the neighborhoods.” Building height is a concern, but he believes that parking and good design are paramount thoughts that are echoed by the neighborhood associations.

Capital Center and the 195 District allow greater height because they are not in “neighborhoods,” except for the 195 parcels below Benefit Street. Parcels 2 and 5 with their scale and lack of parking will have a catastrophic effect on the adjoining neighborhood. Anything that blocks the views of important tourist attractions like Benefit Street would be short-sighted.

The Comprehensive Plan will need to have management of neighborhood commercialization and growth. Three entire blocks of single- and multi-family homes on Brook Street, a buffer between Thayer Street and the institutional zone, are now gone and this pattern will only increase if the institutions are not restrained. 

To make matters worse, city councilors, state senators, and representatives at developers’ behest are using “state legislative workarounds” to marginalize the liquor and zoning boards creating a new precedent for eroding neighborhoods with liquor licenses and increased commercialization. This is wrong on so many levels. Just look at the 195 District.

Finally, the PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) agreements are to be renegotiated. The city desperately needs fair payments from the non-profits. Brown has continuously treated this “negotiation” as a give-get situation and has been able to significantly reduce their “give” by what they “get” in all the past PILOTs. They have gotten absurd concessions and taken advantage of the city. This time it should not be an option.

Given Smiley’s commitment to quality of life in Providence, his mastery of the facts and figures and his straight-forward presentation skills, we look forward to his continued success.



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  • WillCornwall

    As someone born and raised in Providence with the majority of my working life ahead of me, I find the views expressed here on parking and bike lanes to be both preposterously shortsighted and ignorant of our city's history. At the peak population of 250k the vast majority did not own cars and could go about their daily lives on foot and by using public transit. In the midst of today's unprecedented housing crisis we already have car infrastructure (gas stations, car washes, surface lots, garages) chewing up space that could be more homes. The city and state's economy simply will not grow without places for people to live, but it can grow without places to park.

    The authors' generation has had their time and their say in the development of Providence. The new Comprehensive Plan needs to offer a practical vision for moving beyond the car centric era that has wrought the climate change that threatens South Water Street's very existence.

    There won't be any parking when the water rises.

    Thursday, July 13, 2023 Report this