Remaking College Hill

Providence, Rhode Island was unique in the twentieth century – first as an early adopter of an urban renewal campaign, and second in its synthesis of the more traditional demolish-and-rebuild strategy with the selective rehabilitation of historic structures in the city’s target areas. Encapsulating this dual purpose was the city’s College Hill: A Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal, released first in 1959 and again in 1967. Two components of this plan were the creation of what were then known as Roger Williams Spring Park and the Benefit Street Trail.[1]

Providence City Plan Commission, Condition of Residential Structures by Block, 1960, College Hill: A Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal.

Roger Williams Spring Park, first given to the city in 1930, originally consisted of a small courtyard and a symbolic well (Read more in “Designing the Memorial”). In 1959, the city proposed expanding this public space into a four-acre park, “for the edification and inspiration of all the people of the United States.” Creating this new open space would require tearing down structures strewn across eight narrow city blocks. [2]

The Benefit Street Trail would have undertaken an opposite approach – instead relying on the historic rehabilitation of the street’s eighteenth and nineteenth century structures. The demonstration study laid out simple interventions – plaques, landscaping, and new paint – that would guide tourists through Providence’s newly refurbished street. Along the way, the plan proposed the construction of several civic amenities, including an inn, a center for professional organizations, an antique center, an arts and crafts center, and a Rhode Island products hall.









Providence City Plan Commission, Benefit Street Houses Before and After Restoration, 1959-1961. College Hill: A Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal.

Photographs of a Benefit Street colonial before and after rehabilitation demonstrates the visual impact of renewal (above). However, like demolition programs, rehabilitation also pushed out low-income residents who could not afford their newly-beautified homes’ increased prices.[3]

Prevous: Industry & Slum   |   Next: Antoinette Downing & the Providence Preservation Society

[1] Providence City Plan Commission, College Hill: A Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal, by Frank H. Malley, 2nd ed. (Providence, Rhode Island: City of Providence, 1967).

[2] Providence City Plan Commission

[3] Judy Klemesrud, “Her Mission Is Preserving Providence,” The New York Times, May 2, 1985, , accessed May 8, 2017,

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