In many ways, the newly developed Innovation & Design District in Providence, Rhode Island, echoes the typical pattern of urban redevelopment: Sleek, angular buildings have sprung up on previously industrial land parcels, now home to hotels, shops, and academic centers. A waterfront park will provide seven new acres of green space amid the bustling new development. At the heart of the new district, a new bridge completed last year aims to physically link for the city while inviting pedestrians to cross the Providence River and explore the urban landscape.
Envisioned by Detroit-based architecture firm inFORM studio and structural engineer BuroHappold, the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge is the culmination of a decade’s work. The 394-foot walkway cuts across the river from east-to-west, set atop granite piers remaining from the narrow stretch of Interstate 195 that traversed the river before its relocation in 2013. Wood cladding by SITU Fabrication provides the bridge with warmth and references the historic nature of the Providence. While the bridge’s prominent location has made it a well-attended attraction since its summer completion, the bridge is expected to see an even greater surge in pedestrian activity as the Innovation & Design District continues development.
Providence has long been a city defined by academia; five universities call the city home, many of which have continued to expand into disconnected nodes bisected by the river. With the opening of the pedestrian bridge, Brown University’s main campus is now linked to its medical school, the New School of Professional Studies, the Peti Laboratory, and South Street Landing, a 432,000-square-foot residential development by the university. Johnson & Wales University and the Rhode Island School of Design have also been connected via the bridge.
BuroHappold’s Cities Team estimated that 14 percent of the city’s population lives within a one-mile range of the bridge, and approximately 60,000 people work within that range. The accessibility of the location is a draw in its own right, but a space designated for pedestrian use in this area has its own symbolic importance: in the transition from major highway to a public walkway, what was once a quick route from one city to another has become a destination that Providence residents can enjoy on their own terms.