Thank you to Providence Business News for recently featuring the following interview with Roger Williams Park Conservancy board chair Jessica David.
- Roger Williams Park is referred to as the “People’s Park.” How did it get that name?
Roger Williams Park was dubbed “the people’s pleasure ground” by Horace Cleveland in his original park design. That evolved into the People’s Park. The name reflects the purpose of Roger Williams Park: to be a respite from modern life for use and enjoyment by everyone. That purpose is just as relevant today as it was in 1871 when Betsey Williams bequeathed 102 acres to the city. It feels particularly significant when we remember that this is land of the Narragansett people.
- The Roger Williams Park Conservancy was created just four years ago. What has been its focus?
The Conservancy was created as part of the Rhode Island Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for Roger Williams Park to be a long-term steward, working in partnership with the City of Providence to sustain and enhance the Park. We have focused on diverse programs that bring people into the Park. We’ve offered walking tours, movies, fitness classes, theater performances, and more. We have also built a strong and committed board, hired our first executive director, and completed a strategic plan. Joe Pari takes over as board chair in January, and I’m excited for the next chapter.
- What are some of the notable changes or improvements to the park since the Conservancy began?
Thanks to the generous donors who supported the Foundation’s Centennial Campaign and the talented, resourceful team at the Providence Parks Department, the Park has seen countless improvements! To name just a few: The Bandstand has been restored, directional and informational signage now exists throughout the Park, a water filtration system was installed in the Japanese Garden, there is beautiful lighting at the Temple to Music, and two new statues reside by the Seal House.
- What is or was the Seal House? How is it being used now?
Many years ago, residents of the Zoo lived throughout the Park. The sea lions (never seals, despite the name) resided by the Seal House. It now has a floor and windows, along with a new roof, and will soon be a central location for the Storm Water Innovation Center, a new collaborative to share learning and build capacity around green infrastructure. The Conservancy is helping the Parks Department consider other options for activating the building.
- How are you tracking visits to the park, and is it underused compared to its historical importance?
There are dozens of entrances, and people use the Park in different ways, so it’s challenging to track visits. We know from venues that are able to track attendance that at least 1.5 million people visit annually, and I suspect it is far more. I wish for every Rhode Islander to know the Park. In recent years, thousands have gathered for the Dominican, Guatemalan, and Juneteenth festivals, RWP Pops concerts, and 5Ks. With 435 acres of greenspace and waterways, Roger Williams Park is a place for relaxation, exploration, and community.