THE PROBLEM WITH OBSTRUCTIONIST
Just suppose after architect William Warner doodled his vision of moving the Providence River and taking down the Crawford Street Bridge while he was in a restaurant in March of 1981 he had handed the napkin with the crude drawing to his waiter for comment and the server had said “Whatya’ nuts? This’ll never work!” and the waiter had crumpled the design into a ball before pocketing it.
No new Providence. No Waterfire. No WaterPark basin.
Instead Warner’s vision, which he shared that night with his wife, Peggy, fellow architect Friedrich St. Florian and RISD Professor of Architecture Irving Haynes, became a wonderful reality, a huge impetus towards the Providence Renaissance.
I dwell on this accomplishment as I follow the rancor concerning a new baseball stadium in the capitol city, although this column is only peripherally about that issue. The financial gulf between what the new PawSox owners want and what the state should do may be too wide to breach.
But, I do worry about the rampant knee-jerk obstructionism I hear in far too many discussions these days.
Imagine Providence without the Dunkin Donuts Center or the Convention Center. While one can, and should, argue over the management and stewardship of these facilities, no one can deny that they bring life and activity into the city. When the Dunkin Donut Center (then the Providence Civic Center) opened in 1971 it gave us a 14,000 seat venue which greatly expanded entertainment opportunities, helped the Providence College basketball program become a force in the Big East Conference and afforded a perfect location for the Providence Bruins in 1992. Yet many people were opposed to this project howling that the Rhode Island Auditorium, built in 1926 having a capacity of 5,300 and generously referred to as the “Old Barn” was good enough. Waxing nostalgic about Zellio Toppazzini playing for the Providence Reds or Bill Russell of the Celtics punching out Jim Krebs of the Lakers is all well and good, but the place was an inadequate dump.
Likewise many nay sayers wanted no part of the construction of the Providence Place Mall. Some even brayed, “It’ll finally kill downtown.” Truth is that by the mid 1980’s suburban malls had already turned downtown into a concrete wasteland. The opening of the Providence Place Mall, with its 1.4 million square feet of retail space, in 1991 brought shoppers back to the city. And a slow, but continuing, spill over effect has generated more opportunities for independent restaurants and shops in the “downcity” area.
Certainly factors such as the long recession starting in 2008 and malfeasance by local politicians slowed the renaissance , but my fear is that every proposed project will now be met with raucous disdain. And, yes, priority should be given to key issues such as education and infrastructure, but let us not entirely lose the type of creativity and vision Mr. Warner drew on that napkin 34 years ago.
Let us prudently study new ideas based on their merits. Not every idea is a bad idea. If obstructionist had their way and none of the above projects existed the only activity in downtown Providence would be wind blown litter tumbling over broken bottles of Jack Daniels and used hypodermic needles.
The problem with obstructionist is they obstruct.
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Jim Raftus is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland.