Thursday
Jun122014

Legislature Must be Resilient on Climate Change

By CHRISTINE WEST

I recently had the privilege of standing alongside fellow Rhode Island business leaders on the steps of the Statehouse to promote some of the most important legislation that will come up for a vote this year. The two bills deal with climate change — an issue with massive implications for the local economy. (Both the House and Senate passed its version of the bill June 11.)

With sea-level rise threatening coastal communities, extreme heat days making energy costs skyrocket and the risk increasing for a repeat of superstorm Sandy, it’s clear that climate change isn’t just an environmental issue. It impacts local business, employment, infrastructure and families. In this case, choosing between environment and economy is a false choice. Waiting to tackle this issue will hurt both our coastline and our pocketbooks. However, a little foresight and willingness to invest in the future can transform one of our most dire environmental threats into one of our biggest economic opportunities.

At my business, KITE Architects, we focus on designing intelligent and efficient buildings that will stand the test of time. We understand that our buildings need to be resilient — that is, suitable for the next generation, even as the climate changes. A key part of our business is helping companies, institutions and individuals reduce their energy use, lower their carbon footprint, and to generally make more resilient buildings.

The comprehensive climate-change bill that will be voted on this month clears the way through smarter planning and putting a high priority on saving energy. This will create jobs, not only for architects and engineers, but also the construction trades. Ultimately, it will be an investment with tangible value for years to come.

When our architects renovate a building, we make it more efficient, which results in savings for its occupants. Climate-change legislation would help all Rhode Islanders achieve these same savings. Neighboring state economies are already seeing positive impacts from similar legislation. A recent study on the Massachusetts Green Community Act by Analysis Inc. found that, after the first six years of implementation, the state saw $1.2 billion in net economic benefits, along with 16,000 new jobs.

In other words, Massachusetts is already reaping the benefits of implementing a long-term climate plan. There’s a reason why some 60 Rhode Island small businesses including ours have signed a letter asking the General Assembly to approve a similar plan. What’s good for the Ocean State’s climate is also good for Rhode Island business.

Architects, engineers and builders already have the technology and the willingness to reduce energy use and lessen our infrastructural greenhouse gas emissions. What we need now is the political will and leadership to pave the way toward applying this knowledge, and scaling it up. We need smart planning tools and enforceable targets for carbon reductions. In short, we need policy that lives up to, and extends, our potential for making progress on climate change.

Please join me in contacting your state legislators today, and asking that they pass a comprehensive climate-change bill before the end of this session. For Rhode Island’s environment and economy, it’s the right thing to do.

Christine West is a principal at KITE Architects and is chair of the Providence City Plan Commission.

Friday
Jun062014

Use Power of Public Purse to Shrink Pay Gap

By Sen. CATHERINE COOL RUMSEY

Recently, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon told Business Insider that he’s an “associate,” just like the retail workers in Walmart stores. Mr. McMillon, however, makes nearly $10 million a year, while 30,000 of his “associates” make the minimum wage.

Many people recognize that the wide — and widening — wage gap in the United States is a detrimental economic trend that harms the vast majority of Americans. But as a country that has long revered the entrepreneurial spirit and the notion that those who build a successful enterprise deserve to reap its rewards, perhaps some feel there is little we can do to prevent wealth concentration among those at the top of private industry.

One element that contributes to the concentration of wealth in this country is the inordinately high compensation packages that many companies pay their executives. While the success of those firms often relies on paying disproportionately lower wages to the masses who create, sell or otherwise promote the corporation’s products or services, those at the top can pull down tens of millions in a single year, hundreds of times the salary of the vast majority of their employees.

According to a 2013 Economic Policy Institute study of the top 350 U.S. firms, CEO pay grew more than 876 percent between 1978 and 2011, more than twice the growth of the stock market and significantly faster than the growth of typical private sector workers. The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay widened accordingly. In 1978 it was 29 to 1; by 1995, it had grown to 122 to 1, and it peaked at an astonishing 383 to 1 in 2000.

Low wages are not just a business matter. This extreme wage inequality often comes at a cost to the taxpayer, too. Many workers at the bottom of the pay scale are forced to rely on numerous social services — food assistance, subsidized child care, rent and energy assistance, and health care — to make ends meet, despite being employed full time.

To put the taxpayer cost into perspective, a recent report estimates that low-wage earners at a single Walmart Supercenter in Wisconsin cost taxpayers $900,000 to $1.75 million in public assistance provided to their employees annually. The question we as taxpayers need to ask ourselves is, “Why should our tax dollars subsidize economic inequality?”

I have proposed one course of action in the form of legislation (2014-S 2796) that would give preference in state contracts to companies whose executives are paid salaries that don’t exceed 32 times the salary of their lowest-paid full-time employee. As an example, for a company to have a preference in contracting with our state, if the CEO made $1.6 million, its lowest earners would need to make at least $50,000.

This legislation doesn’t stop companies from paying their CEOs whatever salary they want, nor does it even prevent those companies from bidding on and winning state contracts. It simply gives a preference to companies that do their part in reducing their employees’ need for taxpayer subsidies. I believe it would also lead to more efficient and effective pricing and services from companies that are truly interested in serving the public interest instead of soaking the taxpayers.

Fairer wage ratios and bringing up wages of those struggling will also return to the middle class some of the buying power it had in the middle of the 20th century — a plus for those very companies that have products to sell.

Our state speaks with our money; saying we would prefer, when possible, to do business with companies that aren’t contributing to the proliferation of economic inequality is the right way to use taxpayer money.

The hidden cost to the taxpayer as a result of wage inequality has been growing for decades; it will take many actions to change course. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, which instituted a new level of transparency on executive pay. The Senate bill mplements a simple preference to help promote income security and economic justice for all Rhode Islanders.

Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey is a Democrat who represents District 34 in Exeter, Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton and West Greenwich. Her bill passed the Senate on June 5 and will now go to the House of Representatives.

Thursday
Jun052014

We Can't Afford to Create Next Fisheries Disaster


By PETER BAKER

Federal and state officials recently announced a plan for the distribution of millions of dollars in disaster assistance for New England fishermen who depend on cod and other groundfish. But some of these same regional officials are considering a proposal that threatens to make things worse by cutting back habitat protections for depleted groundfish species.

In 2012, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank declared a disaster after declines in the populations of groundfish forced sharp cuts in the allowable catch. A resulting framework agreement announced last month by regional officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) fisheries service would divide nearly $33 million in federal disaster assistance to six states.

Massachusetts — home to most of the region’s groundfish fleet — would take the lion’s share of the disaster money. Fishermen who qualify would be eligible for direct relief and various state programs would receive grants. A vessel “buy back” program is also in development.

As these taxpayer dollars are being distributed, it’s important that fisheries managers take a hard look at how this disaster came about, and how another one can be avoided — because New England has been in this situation before and could well be again.

Twenty years ago Commerce Secretary Ron Brown declared a disaster for groundfish after overfishing pushed cod and other populations to historic lows. Unfortunately, for most of the past two decades the New England Fishery Management Council, which works with NOAA to regulate fishing in federal waters in the region, didn’t do enough to correct the situation. The council failed to rein in overfishing, postponed the adoption of science-based catch limits and opted for weak rebuilding plans for overfished species. As a result, New England’s once-famous cod are still struggling to recover.

While some in the fishing industry say catch limits have caused their current problems, the data show that fishermen have often not been able to find enough cod to fill their quotas. New England also has the unfortunate distinction of having the most overfished populations of any fishery management region in the country.

Scientists say that one of the best ways to help cod and other depleted fish bounce back is to protect their habitat. Fish need places where they can find shelter and food, spawn, and grow. Habitat is where fish make more fish. And what New England needs is more fish.

The New England Fishery Management Council is working on a long-overdue revision to its plan for fish habitat protection and, unfortunately, it appears to be heading in the wrong direction. Industry-supported proposals before the council could slash the amount of marine habitat protected in New England by some 70 percent.

If this proposal prevails, we could be on a course to need continued disaster relief, even before this money is spent. Council members should instead stick to a strong, science-based approach to protect habitat for depleted New England fish populations. In the midst of one fishing disaster, New England officials shouldn't sow the seeds for another one.

Peter Baker directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. ocean conservation efforts in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Thursday
Jun052014

Garrahy Garage Idea Not Grounded in Reality

By ANDREW FARRELL

I have reviewed the "Garrahy Courthouse Parking Garage Conceptual Analysis" report published in February. The report, which is really four separate reports on related topics, reveals that 1) there is no need for the parking garage 2) the garage will provide parking primarily for courthouse employees and visitors 3) Rhode Island taxpayers will be subsidizing the parking of the current courthouse employees and 4) the proposed LINK parcels development projections are wildly out of proportion with historic development and future population trends for the city.

Current parking status
In the report’s executive summary the premise for garage construction is given. On Page 1 it states that, “the transformation of the current surface parking lot at the Garrahy Courthouse into a structured parking garage represents a unique opportunity to address current parking capacity deficiencies and provide a mechanism to promote economic development through highest and best use development of the nearby LINK parcels.”

However, later in the report, on Page 3 of the Nelson Nygaard Parking Analysis memo, the results of a 2010 downtown Providence parking study are reviewed. That report stated that, “although there are pockets of high parking demand throughout the downtown and within sub-boundaries on an average weekday, overall there is still an ample supply of parking available.”

Within the three downtown zones measured, there were a total of 16,777 spaces, and an average weekday utilization rate of only 66 percent, equaling about 5,700 spaces unused during peak demand. On Page 1 of the Desman Associates memo within the conceptual analysis report the observation is made that the downtown parking lots are “virtually deserted after 5:00 PM on weekdays and all days on weekends and holidays.”

With no subsequent parking studies referenced in the overall report, there is no evidence to support the statement that there are parking capacity deficiencies to be addressed.

Garage usage and revenue projections
The report also describes in some detail the financial projections for the hypothetical courthouse garage development. The structure is assumed to be seven stories and would provide 1,250 spaces. Section 7.2 of the Executive Summary breaks down by category the projected users:

The report further describes each of the user categories:

Garrahy employees are the existing 517 courthouse employees who park off-site and would continue to pay a total of $32,000 per month in parking fees, or $384,000 annually.

Early-bird parkers are described as existing courthouse visitors. The report relates that courthouse administrators estimate the building attracts roughly 2,500 visitors a day.

Evening transients are identified as being primarily attendees of the Providence Performing Arts Center for 30 performances a year. This category would be supplemented in the future by demand for new retail development in the area.

Day transients are identified as additional courthouse visitors, Brown University Medical School visitors, and in the long term new office development users.

Overnight monthly users are identified as coming from existing and new residential development in the area.

Limited and general monthly users are identified as existing and new office workers in the area.

In using the report's own figures and assumptions, only 165 parking spaces, or 13 percent of the total facility, are projected to be available for use by current or future office and retail users. At the same time, the 517 courthouse users will be subsidized by the state of Rhode Island and the other parking garage users since they will be providing only 13 percent of the facility’s gross revenue, even though they will be using 40 percent of the total spaces.

With these gross revenue assumptions and projected operating expenses, the garage is forecast to generate a net loss through the first three years of $640,000. This deficit would be funded by the state of Rhode Island or the city of Providence.

LINK parcel development assumptions
The report references that the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission is working with two development scenarios:

Scenario 1 envisions more than a million square feet of office and research space to be built and occupied within the district. According to MG Commercial Real Estate, based in Providence, the downtown Providence commercial real-estate market consists of 6.3 million square feet, and according the CB Richard Ellis had a vacancy rate of 16.2 percent.

Increasing the total built commercial real-estate environment by 16 percent would take a considerable amount of expansions and relocations to Providence by companies to meet this projection, which would be unprecedented given that the total labor force in the Providence MSA as increased by only 48,553 from March 1994 to March 2014.

Scenario 2 envisions 1,050 apartments to be built within the district. According to the Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program’s “Rhode Island 2010-2040 Populations Projections” report, published in April 2013, the population of Providence is forecasted to increase from the 2010 census figure of 178,042 to 180,583, an increase of about 2,500 people. A recent market study conducted on the feasibility of a large multifamily project in Providence, published in January, 2013, recommended a lease-up rate assumption of 10 units per month.

The market data and population projections don’t support the development assumptions that are being used to derive future downtown parking needs. Overall, the stated reasons for building the Garrahy garage don’t match the reality on the ground as currently exists today, nor the projected reality based on the commercial real-estate market and demographic trends.

Andrew Farrell works for a national organization dedicated to community redevelopment and historic preservation through the use of public/private partnerships. He is based in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday
May282014

Business Climate Think Tanks Offer Same Tired Lies

By GREG GERRITT

I have seen a steady stream of words claiming that if Rhode Island would just do what the rich folks want us to do, everything would be OK. Rather than calling it doing the bidding of the 1 percent, the think tanks give it a bit of a veneer and call it the business climate. Whatever you call it, the prescriptions called for by the propagandists for the ruling class are almost exactly the opposite of what Rhode Island needs to create prosperity.

According to Kansas Inc., the Kansas state agency tasked with economic development, there is no evidence that undoing environmental regulations does anything useful for the economy, and cutting taxes has an effect so small that you probably wouldn’t notice.

Ron Coan, editor for the Journal of Applied Research in Economic Development, is clear about how little value is generated by these business reports.

He writes, “We are reluctant to touch any state or city business climate studies — although we will. With very few exceptions, most should never be read. Period! Most rankings are little more than bullets fired at an enemy, and like all bullets, they should be dodged. Most indexes and rankings will decide for you what is valued in a business climate and toss out all the rest ... in the process the reader becomes cannon fodder in the polarization of America. If nobody read this stuff, it might eventually go away.”

There is, however, an abundance of evidence, beginning with Stephen Meyers’ classic 1991 study, that links strong regulatory climates with healthier economies. The innovation generated by the need to clean up, combined with efficiencies generated by not throwing things away, has had a huge positive effect on many bottom lines, even before we discuss the economics of the health and well-being benefits that strong regulations bring.

In fact, a number of studies have shown that the various sections of the federal Clean Air Act have fostered economic benefits well above the cost of implementation, as well as being a major spur to innovation and efficiency in a variety of industries.

Beyond bludgeoning us with the business climate, economic development efforts in Rhode Island are mostly misguided, because they seek goals that don’t match current conditions. There is pretty good evidence that places like Rhode Island, which saw their industrial development peak more than 100 years ago and have since sprawled away from urbanism and have few natural resources that can be mined or drilled, are unlikely to have rapid economic growth. The more Rhode Island thrashes around for growth by giving the rich the tax cuts and the loose wetlands regulations they want, the less likely we are to achieve community prosperity.

Understanding the slow growth environment we find ourselves in, and understanding that in order to achieve prosperity, Rhode Island will need to heal ecosystems, reduce economic inequality, reduce our use of fossil fuels, adapt to climate change and dramatically improve our food security. One has to wonder why so many in government and business continue to offer the same tired formula they have offered Rhode Island for 30 years, when all it has brought us are things like 38 Studios and nearly brought us a billion-dollar debt for a white elephant container port in Quonset that was only averted when the people rose up to stop the elite from acting stupid with our money.

Clearly following the business climate think tanks prescriptions will prevent us from reducing inequality and getting ready for the changing climate. The World Bank has recently discovered that in low-income communities making sure the fruits of development accrue to the community rather than get captured by outsiders, and practicing economic democracy, in which the community members have a voice and a vote in how money is invested in the community, is the only way to create the triple bottom line win-win-win our communities need.

Providence resident Greg Gerritt is a frequent contributor to ecoRI News and the founder of the think tank Prosperity for Rhode Island.

Tuesday
May272014

Bicycling Idea for a Better Boulevard

Video and text by RACHEL PLAYE and JAMES KENNEDY

Pawtucket resident Hugo Bruggeman explains his proposal for a slow zone on one side of Blackstone Boulevard in Providence. Some bicyclists still don’t feel safe biking on Blackstone Boulevard because of high speeds and quick turns made by cars. This proposal would cap the eastern side of the street’s speed limit at 15 mph and encourage only local traffic. This would create a slower, quieter and safer street for bicyclers and pedestrians. The western side speed limit would be 25 mph and would become a two-way road for cars. To learn more about Bruggeman's proposal, visit betterboulevard.com.

Providence resident Rachel Playe runs the blog Transport Providence with James Kennedy.

Thursday
May222014

A Balanced Environment, Economy and Helm

By ED CESARE

Skipper Ed Cesare of Pleid Racing as seen a lot sailing the world’s oceans. (Billy Black)Pleiad Racing, a professional short-handed sailboat race team, is competing in its second Atlantic Cup (which ended Memorial Day weekend in Newport). Between us, my co-skipper, Chad Corning, and I have competed in innumerable events across close to 100,000 miles of ocean. Sailors, particularly offshore sailors, enjoy a close connection with their environment. Weather and sea-state dictate success and failure, safety and peril. We experience climate change every day.

To us the Atlantic Cup, with its focus on environmental sustainability, is perhaps our most important event. Pleiad Racing’s mission is to blend commerce, education and sport into a wellness nexus that promotes personal and planetary wellness. The environmental theme of the regatta and, crucially, its racecourses along the western edge of the Atlantic Basin and next to the East Coast megalopolis highlight our damaged ecosystems and the hope and opportunity of an emerging wellness economy as we move into the 21st century.

Leg 1 of the event runs from Charleston, S.C., to the upper bay of New York Harbor, finishing at North Cove Marina in the heart of the Financial District. The juxtaposition of these two busy commercial seaports and the open ocean between touches us as sailors and citizens. The forecast for the leg was for easy and fast downwind sailing. Wind conditions for the start were to be in the moderate 10- to 12-knot range. As we prepared to get the mainsail up, the wind was 18 to 20 knots, gusting at 27.

A very warm, late-spring day in Charleston had pumped up the breeze. We as sailors have noticed in recent years that wind strength seems to be always significantly over the forecast. Although anecdotal, we believe this is related to climate change.

As the leg progressed, we moved into the Gulf Stream. This ocean current, driven by the sun and by salinity differences between equatorial and arctic waters, is responsible for the complex water movement clear around the Atlantic Basin. It’s humbling. It transports nearly 4 billion cubic feet of water per second and water as warm as 85 degrees Fahrenheit, enabling it to create its own weather. This trip we found a solid 4 to 5 knots of north flowing current. We also found a waterspout and 40-plus-knot squalls that knocked us on our ear for more than 5 minutes. Suffice it to say that the sailor acutely feels his connection to the environment in these conditions.

Although strong this trip, it’s our experience that the Gulf Stream, particularly as it turns east past Cape Hatteras, is far less defined than it used to be — again anecdotal but unmistakable.

The other significant juxtaposition of this leg were an unusually robust showing of schools of Atlantic white-beaked dolphin that came to socialize and the growing scourge of the coastal zones and even mid-ocean: Mylar birthday balloons.

The dolphin schools were unusually plentiful and unusually playful — treating us to eye contact while they swan around the boat, investigating our dolphin shaped bulb at the bottom of the keel and even offering a full tail fluke slapping salute on the surface of the ocean. No matter how many times you see these beautiful creatures the visits never get old.

On the other hand we’ve never seen so many of those damn balloons. It’s incredible how durable and destructive of the environment these confounded accouterments of the consumer economy are. The kitschy greetings emblazoned on them mock the grandeur of the environment they pollute.

In any event, we made it into New York and during the stopover were treated to an inspiring TedX-type talk by wellness entrepreneurs in the areas of hybrid marine propulsion, autonomous sailing vessels and green cleaning products. The passion of these business people and their elegant blend of profit and mission motivations give true hope for the future.

Leg 2, from New York to Newport, was of course shorter and less eventful.  We saw far fewer commercial fishermen than we did last year — don’t know if that was related to the state of the fisheries, probably. Our transit from Montauk to Point Judith was a real treat: a broad reach with our biggest spinnaker up in 17 to 21 knots of breeze. It’s this type of sailing that erases or at least dulls the memory of all the bad weather and discomfort we experience.

Although it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in May there were few pleasure boats out, and the relative isolation of our vessel in these familiar waters had a joyous and melancholy feel to it at the same time.

Newport, the homeport of Pleiad Racing, is always a welcome landfall and we finished off of Fort Adams just after sunset. We think it’s significant that all three of the ports of the Atlantic Cup are situated in estuaries. Their delicate environments and the juxtaposition of environment and commerce existing within perfectly illustrate the balance we as global citizens need to achieve between commerce, conservation and sustainability.

We as sailors don’t believe that those imperatives are mutually exclusive. At the end of the day we make our living or our lives from the sea and recognize that with responsibility comes opportunity.

Ed Cesare is the managing director and co-skipper of Pleiad Racing. For more information about the Atlantic Cup, presented by 11th Hour Racing, click here.

Wednesday
May212014

Commission’s Decision Saved 300 Million Menhaden

Atlantic menhaden play a vital role in marine ecosystems from Maine to Florida, serving as a critical food source for birds, mammals and valuable fish species. (Ned Drummond/The Pew Charitable Trusts)By PETER BAKER

In December 2012, I joined colleagues at The Pew Charitable Trusts and allies in the recreational fishing and conservation communities to watch a historic vote by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The commission was considering the first coast-wide cap on the catch of Atlantic menhaden. This filter-feeding fish is sometimes called “the most important fish in the sea,” because of its vital role as a source of prey for other marine species. The population of this fish had plummeted to roughly 10 percent of historic levels, and the commission had found that the species was experiencing overfishing.

The menhaden fishery is the largest on the Atlantic Coast, and some in the fishing industry warned that the catch limit would harm business and trigger potential cutbacks and layoffs. Despite this opposition, the commission followed the science and voted into place a cap that reduced the overall catch of Atlantic menhaden by 25 percent from the previous year.

The numbers now are in for the first year of fishing under the new catch cap and it’s clear that the commission’s action is achieving its ambitious conservation objectives. According to commission data, the total catch in 2013 was well under the coast-wide limit, leaving about 300 million more menhaden in the Atlantic, where they become food for other fish, seabirds and mammals. This in turn will support commercial fishing, recreational angling and ecotourism, such as whale watching tours along the Mid-Atlantic.

Also of note, the fishing industry’s dire predictions of economic losses didn’t come to pass. In fact, the company that catches the most Atlantic menhaden (Omega Protein) reported record profits in 2013 and expanded its fleet of fishing vessels.

The results show the wisdom of the commission’s regulations. All 15 Atlantic Coast states have successfully implemented the catch cap and the few states that went over their allotments were able to use a flexible trading system to comply with the rules.

The commissioners should be proud that they’ve established an effective management system for the largest fishery on the Atlantic Coast. They can now move ahead with confidence on a new stock assessment for menhaden and the development of tools that will ensure that enough of these critical prey fish are available for predators.

In time, we will see more evidence that these little fish are worth more when left in the water. And other fishery management bodies should take heed of this success story. Restoring healthy populations of critical forage species will make our coastal ecosystems and coastal economies stronger and healthier.

Peter Baker directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. ocean conservation efforts in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Wednesday
May212014

Proposed Garrahy Parking Garage a ‘Crazy’ Idea

By JAMES KENNEDY

Yukon Ho! The proposed Garrahy Judicial Complex parking garage in Providence is estimated to cost $43 million — enough money to build a protected bike lane to Alaska. (James Kennedy)PROVIDENCE — The proposed Garrahy Judicial Complex parking garage has recently garnered attention as state lawmakers confirmed its $43 million price tag. Now the proposed garage has a new critic — engineer Charles Marohn, whose urbanist podcast Strong Towns coined the term “Ponzi Scheme of Suburban Development,” called the garage proposal “crazy” in a recent phone conversation.

“Let me get this straight, you removed I-195, and your city’s plan to attract development is to build a parking ramp? That's exactly backwards,” he said.

Marohn, a self-described libertarian-leaning fiscal conservative, started his website from unexpected origins. Working in the engineering profession near his home in Brainerd, Minn., Marohn built many car-oriented projects, but the more he did the math, the more the projects had him scratching his head.

In a must-read essay entitled “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer,” Marohn explains that he came to the conclusion that growth around suburban sprawl and urban mega-projects was illusory, because the second- and third-generation costs of infrastructure could never be paid from the surplus growth of the initial investment. Marohn has now visited 46 of the lower 48 states, observing and speaking on this problem. His views have attracted an unusual cross-section of left, right and center.

Instead of expensive, top-down investment in mega-projects, like the Garrahy Judicial Complex parking garage, Marohn said Providence needs to work with smaller pilot projects, build success and move from there.

“You may have people thinking you’re going to build a Little Boston on twenty acres overnight,” he said, “but Boston wasn’t built with huge infusions of money around big centralized projects. It was developed a little at a time.”

Asked what he might do to spur growth, Marohn recommended cheaper, higher-yield projects such as protected bike lanes. “The very best investment is biking and walking,” he said. “It’s so cheap, and produces so much genuine growth. Parking is expensive.”

Marohn doesn't oppose parking garages, but said the I-195 Commission was “skipping about twenty steps.”

“In the beginning, if anything, you want parking problems. If people can’t find a parking spot, that’s a sign of success,” he said. “Are people going to get in their cars and visit a parking ramp? No. Build a place that people want to go, and the need for a garage may eventually come about naturally.”

Marohn was critical of expecting intense high rise-style density quickly, and wasn’t deterred by reports that some I-195 plots have faced an uphill battle to develop.

“Of course density is good, but if you have trouble developing high rises, go for smaller incremental pilots,” he said. Three-story buildings are great in an urban area if you can’t get 50-story towers, Marohn said. Density can also look like Rhode Island’s walkable villages and successful urban shopping districts. Providence is more desperate than it should be, he added.

While he doesn’t think government can be an exact replica of business for a lot of reasons, he said there are still similarities. He asked if a business would throw all its money into a huge project to start? “No. Build walkable, bikeable, small projects, and you'll not only have a better city, but you'll be able to afford the city you build.”

The cost of a protected bike lane using plastic flex posts is $15,000-$30,000 per mile. The garage money — at $43 million, plus interest — could build nearly 3,000 miles of these lanes. That's quite a lot of biking for Little Rhody, where longer swaths of suburban territory already have Dutch-style bike paths. The major unconnected areas remain Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket.

Providence resident James Kennedy runs the blog Transport Providence with Rachel Playe.

Saturday
May102014

Changing Climate Impacting Backyard Gardens

“What lies beyond our grasp remains unnamed.”

— Robin Wall Kimmerer

By KATHIE FLORSHEIM/ecoRI News contributor

Wrestling with myself, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m trying to understand how we are to see ourselves as sea levels rise and climate change alters our landscape, both externally and internally.

I look out my back window and I see my garden, the same garden I have been looking at for 24 years. I mark time by how often I have to cut my little patch of grass, or when the hedge requires a haircut. And I worry when some plants bloom at an odd time or earlier than they should. I wonder if, in 10 years, I will be growing more tropically inclined plants, or if my weeds will leap out of the ground, fueled by ever-increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Or if, in fact, there will be water for irrigation. So personal, one’s garden. A measuring stick of sorts, one that encapsulates a whole world. It’s a metaphor for the world outside of its gates. Understanding the new normal in and out of that sacred space is my challenge today.

As we approach spring and then summer, I think of the predictions from the Union of Concerned Scientists that say we will have more frequent and more intense heat waves. That brings to mind a more innocent time in life, before climate change was part of the vernacular, when visiting my family on the Cape meant a cool dip in Cape Cod Bay on a hot day and cool, breezy nights with a blanket at the foot of my bed.

The cool dip is still to be had, but now it’s tempered by the current bacterial count we monitor to be sure it’s indeed safe to swim. And those cool, breezy nights are in short supply, with many of the cottages now armed with air conditioners — even those along the shore.

I, who began saving housewares in the 1970s for what I hoped would one day be my own beach cottage, no longer yearn to own a place on the shore. Because the risk of owning a place on the water comes with the fright of worrying every time there is a coastal storm.

In daily life, I hear a constant drumbeat of life with climate change, that melting of the polar ice caps is speeding up, that there is ever-increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ... that we may have reached a tipping point.

May? That’s the most difficult part. We don’t know how fast these changes are coming, we can’t see them in the same way as we can observe other physical phenomena, like a flood or a heat wave. Whatever mitigation we propose as a means of adapting may be a good fix for, say 10 or 20 years, but could later create yet more problems. We must consequently learn to bend with necessity. We must recognize that today’s fix may need a fix, because the endgame continues to evolve.

Most of us do not accept change willingly or easily. Yet, flexibility even in the face of the most dire circumstances will be a demanding mistress. This kind of elasticity is critical if we are to survive what is rapidly becoming The New Normal.

Providence resident Kathie Florsheim is a frequent contributor to ecoRI News.