Rhode Islanders have a reputation as folks who don’t like change but that’s partly because the changes we’ve seen haven’t rocked our boats. McMansion-houses on ecologically fragile coves. Garish skyscrapers blotting out the sun and creating wind tunnels in Providence. Ocean-hugging condos restricting the average Rhode Islander’s constitutional right to public access of the shoreline. Strip malls and big-box stores turning old horse farms into the homogenous asphalt-and-concrete wasteland of Anywhere, USA.
As I wrote in the magazine:
At the forefront of any conversation about preservation is the threat posed by rampant development and the perils of sprawl, especially in South County, which has experienced the most dramatic population growth in the state in recent years. Preservationists, like environmentalists, are seen by some as obstructionists to growth and economic development. Occasionally they can stop a project in its tracks.
For their part, developers have begun co-opting the language of preservationists. On Old North Road in Kingston, on the outskirts of the URI campus and conference site, a swath of trees has been cleared to make room for a development called Kingston Preserve. A couple of miles away, off Slocum Road, there is a new development called The Preserve at the Oaks, a neighborhood created by chopping down most of the oaks, with an asphalt road leading through the development called Preservation Drive.
The good news is that few states have a better record than Rhode Island when it comes to preserving its architecture and cultural landscapes. Of course, new development is essential to every community, but let’s put an end to the cookie-cutter quick-buck approach to building and insist on projects that embody creativity and sensitivity to the surrounding environment. So stores and apartments in Westerly pay homage to the town’s granite-carved legacy and complement the natural features of the Pawcatuck River. Construction in North Kingstown should acknowledge the vitality of a region once dominated by mill villages. The casual beach community of Narragansett benefits when projects are built on a small scale and don't try to replicate Florida’s Gold Coast.
Because building without vision and foresight isn’t construction. It’s destruction in disguise.
What special places would you like to see preserved in Rhode Island?