In early September, ten decorative benches appeared at tree wells spanning Wickenden Street in Fox Point, from the NAVA store at the west (near the Coffee Exchange) to The Shop at the east, across from Vartan Gregorian School. The benches represent the culmination of a joint project spearheaded by Vin Scorziello, president of the Wickenden Area Merchants Association (and owner of Campus Fine Wines) and Jonathan Harris, design professor at Johnson & Wales University. In early 2016, Scorziello and Harris developed the idea of “conversation trees” for the neighborhood. “We thought that by putting benches at the tree wells,” Scorziello explained, “we could protect the trees and at the same time provide spaces to stop, meet, talk, and build community.”
Harris engaged his JWU Industrial Design students in a class-based design competition. The winning bench design, though modified slightly by the City prior to installation in September, was deemed the most attractive and functional of the submissions. Sam Duket, of the Providence-based design-build firm Transom, fabricated the benches of white oak this past summer and Ward 1 City Councilman Seth Yurdin helped secure Federal grant funding for the project.
So far, neighbors seem excited about the addition. “What a great feature to add to the street to build community,” commented one resident. “I have received a lot of positive feedback from people,” added Scorziello. “People have said, “Wow, these benches are cool!”