Climate Crisis

Preservation Society Puts Entire City of Providence on Its Annual Most Endangered Properties List

The whole of Providence was included on the 2021 list because of the many climate-change challenges the city faces. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — Every year, the Providence Preservation Society takes nominations from the public to help build its Most Endangered Properties list.

“The endangered properties list is a tool we use annually to call attention to places throughout the city that are special to citizens of Providence and are threatened or endangered,” said Rachel Robinson, director of preservation at the Providence Preservation Society (PPS).

But in addition to the usual suspects — the Superman Building, the Crook Point Bascule Bridge, and old buildings in disrepair or disuse — one submission this year surprised Robinson.

“I received this nomination for the city of Providence, and I thought, ‘What are you talking about?’” she said.

Doug Victor, a local resident, submitted this untraditional nomination because of the threat that climate crisis presents to Rhode Island’s riverine and bay-buffered capital.

“I think it’s the time for being bold in how we address … the potential for sea-level rise and climate change to impact so many aspects of our lives,” Victor said. “I suspect that this will widen the conversation and deepen the commitment, not just from PPS, but from a wider base.”

While Robinson was perplexed by this at first, she soon realized that Victor was on to something.

“He made the case that climate change is happening and that it affects our city, inevitably, in minor and major ways,” she said. “We’ve been talking behind the scenes about how to infuse our preservation work with this mindset, and of course preservation is an inherently green practice, particularly with adaptive reuse of old buildings. So, this really gave us a great way to marry preservation and sustainability. It just gave us a great jumping-off point.”

So, the PPS added the city of Providence to its recently updated Most Endangered Properties list.

“The city of Providence might be the most surprising inclusion this year; however, it is clear that climate change and sea level rise will affect historic and cultural resources across the city in the coming decades,” according to the PPS. “PPS advocates that the greenest building is one that is already built. Reduce, reuse, recycle can be applied to buildings as easily as soda cans. Preservation is a sustainable practice, and the preservation community can intervene. Once heritage is lost, though, it is gone forever. With the impacts of climate change, we stand to lose more than just buildings; culture and community are also threatened.”

The Coastal Resources Management Council’s STORMTOOLS maps viscerally shows how fragile some of the most historic parts of Providence are to storm surge and sea-level rise. A 100-year storm, which has a 1 percent annual chance of occurring, could inundate the Jewelry District and much of downtown, and 5 feet of sea-level rise could flood up to Dyer and Clifford streets.

“I think we have to move beyond rhetoric and get engaged, work with our elected officials and whoever else we can to create a wider coalition,” Victor said. “We can hold hands across different organizations and different political entities and move forward, you know, step forward together.”

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