Planning & Development

Fixing Rolfe Square: The Corner

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by Josh Wood Tuesday May 5, 2009

Rolfe Square 2021So I took a feeble shot at redesigning the corner of Park and Pontiac as part of a contest for Good Magazine. That site has an animation of the before and after of the design.

The first thing that needed work was the removal of the overhead wires. There’s something antiquated and funky about wires that makes them great subjects for photos, but generally they add to the clutter of an already messy streetscape. It’s not cheap to bury them, so realistically this goes on the way back burner.

Next I sketched a building to fill in the little corner now dominated by billboards and the small car lot. The billboard question opens up a lot for debate. Personally, I don’t think billboards belong on a city street – especially billboards on a scale this massive, and Cranston has lots of them. Somehow ads in bus shelters seem OK, but this probably deserves its own topic. Anyway, the proposed building could be a community center of some sort. Maybe it’s a multi-use building serving different purposes. Maybe it’s a community art center. Maybe it has supplemental space for schools. Maybe it’s an art and music center – a place for volunteer-run classes should those get dropped from the curriculum as the budget shrinks (please don’t drop art and music from the curriculum). Maybe a corporate sponsor could be found to help finance and later lease second floor office space. Ultimately this corner deserves far better than what it has.

The streetcar on the left is actually not as far-fetched as it might seem. There’s been a push by the Obama Administration and Congress to back public transportation projects, and locally there’s interest in pursuing light rail. In fact, some infrastructure for light rail already exists. But the chances of a light rail line coming down an already narrow Park Avenue, are in the words of Monty Python, not bloody likely. Still, don’t be surprised if line rail is part of the long-term plan for the proposed Cranston Commuter Rail Station.

Generous Curb RadiusOne of the more subtle enhancements to the corner is a major street diet. The curves around Rolfe Square make it easy, too easy, for cars. The little park on the square should extend into Pontiac Avenue and allow for more space for pedestrians. This will become even more essential as the Park Cinema comes back to life and people begin to try to navigate this 5 way intersection on foot. I’d also suggest a redesign of the park itself into more of a usable plaza, and less of an island. Or is isthmus the word I’m looking for?

And of course, the addition of trees.

These are just some of the ideas. To be continued.

Fixing Rolfe Square: Intro

[where: Cranston, RI 02910]

[where: 02910]


  1. I love this. If I can put my own cranky two cents in, I’d like to see the businesses that have given up on their front windows (2 Paws Up, for instance) given some incentive to bring the joy of window shopping back to the Square (even if they’re not selling something, they can still bring life and color to the street). Perhaps a contest: Make Rolfe Square Beautiful. But if not the carrot, then the stick: I suggest an ordinance to prohibit the wholesale blockage of the store front windows on Rolfe Square. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch all those dogs sit up and roll over?

    — marie · May 5, 08:01 PM · #

  2. Feeble?

    I love this. I mean, like as a work of art I love it. I always go for photorealism when working in Photoshop (and don’t always achieve my goal). The painterly style you used for this is awesome.

    And of course, the Toronto streetcar rocks!

    Jef Nickerson · May 6, 10:38 AM · #

  3. Dearest Josh:

    You’re a wicked rockstar.

    All the best,

    Elisa DelBonis · May 6, 02:39 PM · #

  4. Marie – I think the lower Square is the next stop for the Rolfe Square makeover train. Who can resist dogs sitting up and rolling over?

    Jef – thanks for the kind note!

    Elisa – you’re too wicked kind!

    Josh · May 7, 05:16 PM · #

  5. I think the ideas are great but everyone is missing the BIG point here WHERES THE MONEY TO DO ANY OF THIS?!?!?!?

    — josh · Nov 25, 04:04 PM · #

  6. Hey Josh, regarding comment #5. You raise a valid concern.

    But the ideas are the big picture. How the ideas get funded is secondary.

    By no means are these the best or only ideas for Rolfe Square. And all of these should be prioritized based on their potential impact and feasibility/practicality. Some ideas can be executed immediately with little or no overhead. Other ideas will see a lot of shelf time.

    No, the city and the state aren’t rolling in cash at the moment, but some of these ideas can be realized using existing budgets. Other plans might be eligible for federal funding. There are also numerous private sources that can be tapped. Cooperative and volunteer efforts can be arranged for ideas such as planters and general maintenance of the streetscape. An example of such an effort is the Providence’s Downtown Improvement District, which has done some great things. A version of that group, on a smaller scale, would transform the Square.

    This is the big picture. The process of getting there is just that – a process.

    Josh · Nov 30, 10:18 PM · #

  7. Awesome. This corner bothers me every day and I always try to imagine a building there. I wonder if the zoning regs allow a new commercial building with no on-site parking.

    Another possible redevelopment area is the big Seabra supermarket site. I wish them well but if competition with the larger chains knocks them out of business its future will have a big impact on the Eden Park area.

    — KB · May 3, 10:32 AM · #

  8. In regard to the groomers…
    If they moved their grooming room to the front Window it would attract people, and new customers.

    — Frank · Jul 29, 07:03 AM · #


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