|Where's a telephone booth when you need one?|
By JAMES KENNEDY
IT WON'T TAKE SUPERMAN to make Providence a functional city. It will take active people, pushing back against bad ideas coming from our elected leaders.
Stephen Miller, a Rhode Island native and journalist for the Streetsblog Network, recently highlighted on his own blog an amazing new hospital in Buffalo, New York. There will be no parking for employees at all. Because of the successful development of a metro rail system within Buffalo, it is now possible for 17,500 new jobs to be created in its downtown without the huge added expense of building parking garages to serve those jobs. In addition to the hospital itself, the rail-oriented development plan has also caused a boom in real estate and mixed-use development in the area, according to The Buffalo News. Miller's article points out that Providence could use the same techniques as Buffalo to make itself attractive to new growth, and outlines specific steps to be taken.
This success in Buffalo should be an added reason to view proposals to knock down The Superman Building as flat-out insane. Buffalo, even more so than Providence (video, see especially 3:32-4:05), is a city that in the mid-20th Century was torn apart by highway-oriented transportation at the behest of people like Robert Moses. Yet, clearly, Buffalo is learning its lesson and turning back on its mistakes. Will Providence?
Go Local Providence reports that Fmr. Mayor Joseph Paolino has already started work to try to save the building, but even his statements give a grim testimony to the way that Providence views its landscape. One of the major problems with the building, he reports, is that it has no parking. The question remains, why should a building that is across the street from the state's public transportation hub have parking at all? Especially when downtown looks like this already? There's a reason that Superman is regarded as being more powerful than a locomotive. Let's keep it that way.
There are two basic views that one can take towards Mayor Taveras' proposal, and I'm not fully committed to either. The first is that the mayor through some fault or error of judgment has actually convinced himself that it would be acceptable to demolish the Superman Building. He states this in a simpering, wishy-washy way, albeit, but it's on the table. Given the car-crazy comments of even people like Paolino who are lobbying to retain the building, it seems possible that Taveras too might be deluded into thinking a new building designed for car commuters would be better. That's flat unacceptable.
The second, and more favorable, view of the mayor is that the he is using the sheer shock of the proposal to make it clear what could happen if we don't act to save the building. I find the mayor's positions on a number of issues very admirable, and he seems like a nice person, so I have tendency towards wanting to believe this second option, if only to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, assuming the best of the mayor in no way means that we shouldn't get on his case and make his political life difficult for as long as is necessary to stop the demolition. I've related already the anecdote of A. Philip Randolph speaking to FDR in the 1930s, explaining the many problems of the Sleeping Car Porters to the president. FDR patiently listened, and said, "I agree, but make me do it". The point of the anecdote is that change doesn't come from good leaders without a fight, and even bad leaders will deliver good policies with a fight.
People should tweet the mayor to let him know that demolition is not an option (and please include us in the tweet with hashtag #AngelSaveSuperman). If you belong to a community group, or can even gather a handful of friends, go out and talk to people about why this is important. This is a transportation issue. Allowing the Superman Building to be demolished for more car-oriented development could be the straw that breaks Providence's back, while a successful push to save the building could be an opening hurrah for making our city more transit and bike oriented.
Usually I'd say, "Let's try not to become Buffalo". But perhaps that advice is out of date.