Session Details

Creating Family-Friendly Downtowns

Presenters from Providence and San Francisco will share lessons from the transformation of downtown parks and civic centers into thriving family-friendly public spaces.

In 2010, the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy (DPPC) introduced children’s programming to activate an urban park that had fallen into neglect, using "Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper" strategies and the “Power of 10” championed by Project for Public Spaces. The transformation story of Burnside Park and Greater Kennedy Plaza is a testament to the power of play to transform space and build community. An emphasis on making downtown spaces family-friendly was paired with a commitment to developing accessible, high quality arts & cultural programming.  By starting small, experimenting, building strong partnerships, and incorporating community feedback, the DPPC doubled its family programming yearly. This momentum attracted multiple grants and led to the creation of a permanent destination playground.

In San Francisco, the civic center in front of City Hall has suffered as the financial district has thrived. In the last 25 years, three piecemeal redesigns have attempted to address growing occupation by homeless, drug-addicted, and mentally ill visitors engaged in unhealthy and prohibited activities. This session will describe the evolution of the Civic Center Commons Action Plan, a collaborative effort to breathe new life into the City’s central civic spaces.  Powered by a capital investment of $10 million for a playground renovation and a long-range design, the plan builds on four strategies that could guide other jurisdictions facing a similar challenge: 1) Create daily attractions, 2) Improve cleanliness and safety, 3) Create a cohesive identity, and 4) Build a strong team.