Cheap stuff shows age; put out the wood fires

Providence has lovely  walkways  and bridges along and over downtown rivers -- if you don't look too closely. Much of the infrastructure, whose essentials were designed by the late, great landscape architect Bill Warner, is showing its age because when the work was done, back in the '90's, they used concrete instead of real stone. The concrete is starting  to flake, crumble and fade.  As an alert reader reminds me, the best word for this deterioration is ''spalling.'' Very quaint. Almost Chaucerian.

He also suggests that substandard concrete might have been intentionally used.  I would add: Maybe it wasn't corruption but incompetence and too-low construction budgets. In any case, stone would not have had these problems.

Such public infrastructure would once have included mostly real stone, and not cheap concrete.  Consider the wonderfully sturdy and beautiful projects put up by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930's; many of them are still around.

The idea was that such public places deserved the dignity of natural materials that would last a long, long time -- that  such projects would not only be be beautiful but  be very long-term public investments ,  especially considering our rigorous four-season climate.  Picking good building materials and merging them with good design was an expression of pride in our civic life together, to be enjoyed by rich and poor alike.

But now, rampant short-termism permeates all that we do and say ib the public square.  And only our rich are deemed worthy of using the highest-quality materials -- with military spending the exception, where anything goes.  (And Russian gangster/KGB operative/dictator Vlad Putin is working hard to force us to increase  our military spending.)


These same  downtown Providence rivers are also the venue for the city's WaterFire project,  that  clever sound, light, smell  and sales show that's put on from time to time except in the winter.

If I were czar, I would stop the wasteful and polluting burning of  aromatic wood that's the heart of it. There are now enough people living in, and visiting, downtown that burning wood should no longer be necessary to lure tourists and others. Music,  ornamental electric lighting, performance artists, food and other vendors, and making more boats available to take visitors up and down the rivers at night are enough. Maybe  (controlled!) natural-gas fires could be considered.

Let's stop fouling the air and killing more trees.


--- Robert Whitcomb