Bringing Imagination and New Life to Downtown Providence

The Downtown Providence Park Conservancy (DPPC)

Every Thursday in the summer, at about 9am, the Downtown Providence Park Conservancy (DPPC) crew gathers and prepares for the long day ahead—nine non-stop hours of family programming in Burnside Park.

On one edge of the park, The O’Crepe food truck is already open for business as Jennifer Smith and her team of interns and volunteers unlock the doors of the Imagination Center and start moving colorful equipment out into the park. Folding tables, stools, and art supplies head to one area for Art in the Park, as jumbo beanbags, colorful benches, and a sound system head to another for Storytime. Book carts filled with the work of local authors and illustrators roll out onto the Imagination Center deck to create an outdoor reading room.placemaking

By 11am this small urban park has been transformed into a crowded and bustling place—families with children watch a local storyteller perform, while other kids build Lego towers or climb onto the park’s boat sculpture. As artists Phillipe Jejeune and Ricky Katowicz are busy setting up for Art in the Park, passersby simply take in the scene as they wait for the lunchtime food trucks to roll up.

“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper”

As further design work and fundraising for Greater Kennedy Plaza got underway, local partners were eager to apply PPS’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” approach right away in order to test and refine some of the ideas in the plan. Immediately, The Greater Kennedy Plaza Coalition (including representatives from the city, RIPTA, and Cornish Associates) launched an ambitious and diverse programming schedule, including a relocated farmer’s market, a new craft market, regular performances, and special events. The group also hired their first full-time staff person, program manager Deb Dormody.

“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” was “a matter of necessity” for this project, explains Cliff Wood, Executive Director of the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy (formerly the Greater Kennedy Plaza Coalition). “It’s smart to build a space by trying things,” he continues, “See what people want—because for something to be sustained it has to have a constituency. We did that, and lo and behold it worked.”

“Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper is about engaging multiple uses for a space, trying things out, seeing who you can attract, and who will invest in the space in various ways. People can invest financially,” Wood says, “but they can also invest their time in making the space better, or they may invest emotionally by embracing the space, using it, and making it part of their routine or lifestyle.”

The next step in DPPC’s “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” approach was launching a suite of family programs. Partnering with local parenting blog KIDOinfo, DPPC organized a weekly outdoor Storytime program for families in Burnside Park. The following year they added Art in the Park and a mobile playground. Although these might seem like programs that are suited only for children, DPPC’s Jennifer Smith was intent on creating activities that would appeal to a wide range of users: “We wanted to have high artistic quality and something that would work on a level that parents can appreciate and something that would be fun,” she explains. “There is always something that is engaging parents at a deeper level and that kids can have fun with. One of my favorite things is seeing the parents play. You see the parents start to play with their children and start to play with each other. Adults who don’t even have children start to play.”

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