by Elena M. Pascarella, ASLA, PLA
Many historic preservation organizations are founded to preserve a specific building or landscape. The Providence Preservation Society (PPS) was established in 1956 by leading citizens of College Hill in response to the threatened demolition of a number of early eighteenth and nineteenth century houses in Providence’s historic East Side/College Hill neighborhood. Had this demolition occurred, the entire character of this historic neighborhood would have changed and Providence would have lost a significant historic urban landscape.
The society’s mission is clearly stated on their website:
Our mission is to improve Providence by advocating for historic preservation and the enhancement of the city’s unique character through thoughtful design and planning.
The Providence Preservation Society was then and continues to be an advocate for the revitalization of neighborhoods. And within the past seven years, under the leadership of their current executive director, Brent Runyon, the PPS has led the charge for the preservation and revitalization of a number of threatened neighborhoods and significant landscapes within the City of Providence.
As the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) liaison for Rhode Island, I follow the advocacy work of PPS very closely, particularly with regard to threatened landscapes. The PPS was a strong partner with the Rhode Island Chapter of ASLA in 2017 when the RIASLA nominated the Rhode Island State House and its surrounding landscape for The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s annual Landslide program. This nomination was spurred by a plan for the placement of a transit hub on the east side of the state house landscape. The continued advocacy efforts of the PPS, along with other partners and the national recognition from TCLF’s Landslide feature, helped to stop the transit hub plan and preserve the context for Providence’s state capitol building, designed by McKim, Mead & White.
Providence’s riverfront is currently under threat from a number of development proposals. I contacted Brent Runyon by phone to inquire further about the PPS’ advocacy program and what he considers to be the key areas of focus for their organization.