As part of a nationwide “City Beautiful” movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Providence’s civic leaders envisioned the creation of numerous parks through the city as a means to provide refuge and beauty for its citizens as a counterweight to overcrowding conditions. The population of Providence had doubled between 1880 to 1910, and with the accompanying building boom came the construction of nearly 30,000 dwellings. The congestion of the city meant that parks were no longer considered “luxuries,” but instead were recognized by the 1906 Board of Trade Journal as “necessities for the health and wellbeing of every community.”
In its report presented to the City Council of Providence in 1906, the Metropolitan Park Commission urged the “building of a parkway from Promenade Street, running along the easterly side of Davis Park, then running in a westerly direction through Pleasant Valley, and extending to Academy Avenue.” This area, a natural valley amidst Providence’s hills, was named “Pleasant Valley Parkway.” The intent of the new boulevard was two-fold: first, it would provide a welcoming, green destination, especially for drivers as automobiles were recent luxuries for the wealthy; second, the park would also increase the real estate value of surrounding homes.
Pleasant Valley Parkway’s geographical layout -- running north from Promenade Street to Davis Park, then angularly veering west to run parallel with Chalkstone Avenue, until briefly heading north again to connect to Academy Avenue -- was a response to the area at the beginning of the twentieth century. The stretch from Promenade Street to Davis Park had, over time, become a communal dumping ground for the residents of Smith Hill. (Open dumping grounds were a common occurrence during this time period as this was the first time that city-dwellers outnumbered those in rural areas on average in the nation. Cities were filling faster with people than municipal demands could generally keep up with.) Pleasant Valley Parkway was planned to rehabilitate this unslighty dumping ground, turning it into a more sanitary, usable location. Added onto this section, the east-west turn of the Parkway continued, following the course of a natural brook, which was incorporated as the scenic center of the boulevard.
Apparently, after its completion in 1909, response to the new green thoroughfare was poor. The Metropolitan Park Commission noted that “the Pleasant Valley Parkway will in time prove to be a good public investment although it now begins dismally at Promenade Street, and ends unfortunately, before it gets much of anywhere.” Despite this negative response, the Commission was hopeful that the changing waterfronts of downtown Providence would lead to changes in the streetscapes, and thus in the appeal of Pleasant Valley Parkway.
Over that past century, some scenes along the Parkway have changed, like the building of the Roger Williams Medical Center or Nathanael Greene Middle School, but a good portion of Pleasant Valley Parkway is still residential and scenic -- either overlooking parks or the green space of the boulevard. One can get a sense of how the area looked and felt over a century ago when it was first created. Moving to the southernmost section, closest to Promenade Street and the Woonasquatucket River, is urban and industrialized, with a number of businesses and the Coca-Cola Bottling Company Plant.