ProJo OpEd: Cicchitelli and Runyon: Brown’s building plans harming beauty of East Side

Published in Press & Media.

Source: Providence Journal

Nick Cicchitelli is president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association. Brent Runyon is executive director of the Providence Preservation Society.

In early September, Brown University President Christina Paxson met with leaders of four neighborhood organizations (the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, the College Hill Neighborhood Association, the Mile of History Association, and the Providence Preservation Society) to discuss our concerns about the university’s plans to build two massive dormitories on Brook Street at the edge of campus and to discuss Brown’s commitment to historic preservation over the long term.

In recent months, Brown has largely refused to downsize its designs to align with the scale of nearby College Hill and Fox Point despite the objections of more than 1,100 residents who signed a letter and petition. In September, we asked the university to save several nearby historic homes in order to retain some of the charm and livability of our neighborhood. Again, Paxson refused.

By pressing ahead with the dorms and related demolitions, Brown will not only destroy the character of nearby College Hill and Fox Point, but violate its own agreement with the City of Providence. In its 2017 Institutional Master Plan, the university promised to expand its existing campus “while ensuring compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.” The project may meet the letter of a vaguely worded law, but it violates its spirit. 

In public statements about preservation, leaders at Brown claim to respect old buildings. Yet in the last 25 years, the university has demolished 35 historic structures on the East Side. This past spring, Paxson largely refused to join the Historic District Overlay, a new district designed to protect historic buildings. The university offered to include one of its parcels in this district, but declined on 24 other counts, presumably in order to retain the freedom to demolish them. Is this a commitment to preservation? We think not.

Brown students and faculty are fortunate to live in a well-cared for and safe historic neighborhood. We have been good neighbors. University leaders need to demonstrate that they value the community in which they exist.

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