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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Providence is a classic example of a post-industrial city. At the close of the 19th century, Providence was a dense center of manufacturing: the leading city in the US for wool and jewelry production, and third in machinery equipment (1). As with many other urban centers crafted by the industrial revolution, however, the city’s structure was eventually hollowed out by forces contributing to the decline of industry (not the least of which included globalized manufacturing processes in the latter half of the 20th century). Over the course of the 20th century jobs were lost, industrial pollution became prevalent (especially in Providence’s waterways, including the canal through the downtown area that was actually closed off for many years), much of the city’s tax base followed the nation-wide migration to suburbia, and the ills of crime, poverty, and homelessness took hold on the downtown and southside districts. Furthermore, the political charge of civil rights activism in the 60's and 70's was particularly strong in Providence, fueling unrest among the younger populations of the city.

External Image

Take a look at some old industrial sites in the south side (Make sure you set the graphics to the satellite setting)

Crime statistics tables from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports show a parabolic crime rate between the years 1960 and 2008, with larceny, burglary, robbery, property, murder, and violent crimes all peaking within two or three years of 1980 (2). There are still housing projects, littered and abandoned lots, graffiti, and broken down industrial sites around the city (especially south side), indicating that these problems are still present in many ways. Despite this fact, however, city hall did initiate a massive effort to revitalize Providence starting in the 1970’s, including uncovering the canal downtown and developing new condominiums in that area, developing a 1.4 million square foot shopping mall, and investing in cultural revitalization like the Waterfire festival (3). Due to these development projects, combined with a street clean-up campaign reminiscent of Giuliani’s work in New York City, Providence has been on an optimistic upward swing for the past several decades.

The undertaking of the Iway project, and especially the branded network arch bridge, should be viewed within this context as a part of RI government’s attempts to revitalize Providence. Indeed, the Final Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to flesh out the economic, social, and environmental effects of the Iway project, is laden with goals and objectives regarding the establishment of a new, cosmopolitan Providence. Throughout the ~500 page document, there are several references to the goal of “[increasing] the stature of Providence as a ‘world class’ city," and many parallels drawn between Providence and cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia with regards to urban planning, tourism, investment, tax revenue, and recreational spaces (4). Saul Kaplan, director of the RI Economic Development Corporation, stated that development of properties that were freed up due to the Iway project could be used to attract "industries Rhode Island and Providence want: health and life sciences, financial services, information technology, and digital media" (5). Additionally, an Iway commemorative brochure published by the Department of Transportation discusses prospects for a new waterfront park and a new pedestrian pathway at India Point Park, both of which reflect an effort to make those areas safer for public use. It is clear, then, that the Iway project was not only a logistical solution to an outdated transportation infrastructure, but also bore the weight of ushering in a new image and cityscape for Providence.

External Image

Back to The Network Arch Bridge by Ariel Schecter

(1) "Providence: Three and One-Half Centuries at a Glance." May 2002. State of Rhode Island. 18 Feb. 2009 <>.

(2) "Rhode Island Crime Rates 1960-2007." Dec. 2008. Disaster Center. 18 Feb. 2009 <>.

(3) "Providence: Three and One-Half Centuries at a Glance." May 2002. State of Rhode Island. 18 Feb. 2009 <>.

(4) Rhode Island. Department of Transportation. Final Environmental Impact Statement and Final Section 4(f)/6(f) Evaluation for Improvements to I-195 in Providence RI. 1996. Section 4 p 312.

(5) Barbarisi, Daniel. "Moving Rte. 195 Might Reshape City's Skyline." 2 Apr. 2008. Providence Journal. 18 Feb. 2009 <>.