The identity to recover an energetic obsolete landscape | Arnau Tiñena

The identity to recover an energetic obsolete landscape.

The birth of a plan to stir into action the Blackstone River Valley.

1. A colonized valley.

Spinning of cotton working rhythmically, the sound of the water turning the wheels of the mills, the smoke of the chimneys of the first factories in Pawtucket, the whistle of the railroad loaded with kind coming to Providence’s port, thousands of immigrant newcomers with the hope to the life be gained …

New England’s map and the river mouth of the river Blackstone for Providence

The fluvial basin of the river Blackstone, of 1400m² of extension and placed on the east coast of the United States, spreads along 46 miles between Worcester (Massachusetts), where it is born, and Providence (Rhode Island) where it ends, and possesses a population of 1.000.000 of inhabitants. This fluvial axis of great natural wealth experienced a transformation without precedents with the arrival of English entrepreneurs ready to exploit the natural resources of the American rivers at the end of the 18th century, as they had started doing in England some years before.

The calm valley of the river Blackstone, lived by native Indians seminomads dedicated to the plantation of cereal, to the hunt and to the fishing, and for an incipient English settling that was living in dispersed farms from half of the 17th century, experienced structural changes in the landscape and in the life of his inhabitants with the arrival of the industrial age, inaugurated with the putting in functioning of the Slater Mill in Pawtucket Rhode Island, in 1790, considered the first textile factory of New England and of the American continent.

To the spectacular natural heritage of the valley there was superposed a rich and varied system of industrial pieces strategically distributed along the river, an industrial heritage formed by textile colonies lived by immigrants proceeding from England, Ireland, Canada, Poland, Sweden or Portugal, dams, sluices, channels, a railroad line inaugurated in 1835 and the development of an important port in Providence, which in a few years changed deeply the physiognomy of the valley and did of this territory a productive landscape of the first order, the heart and the cradle of the industrial textile American revolution, which worked to full performance up to half of the 19th century.

Spring of the river Blackstone, Worcester. Massachussets. | River mouth of the Blackstone, Port of Providence, Rhode Island, 1858

With the cessation of the industrial activity the colonies gave up, the valley had become depopulated and it entered a period of oblivion and stagnation. Years later there arose the need to reconsider the paper of this former productive obsolete axis from a different well perspective: to reschedule the industrial infrastructure with educational and social ends to recover the sense and the memory of the valley, combined with the protection and the promotion of his natural heritage to attract new investments and to re-stir the territory into action again.

2. The industrial heritage like value. The identity like engine.

They were the local authorities fullly identified with the territory, about 1970, who stimulated from small initiatives the programs of conservation, restoration and reutilization of all this cultural legacy that later would become institutionalized in the shape of plan, by means of the will to interpret and elaborate a narrative coherent speech of the history of the region to try to explain in an unitary way a phenomenon that had developed in a fragmented way.

The participation of the local population was decisive for the production of these programs, acting in the shape of groups and associations of voluntary neighbors who collaborated disinterestedly in the cleanliness of the ways, accesses, or of the forests.

The identification and the appreciation for a territory that they were feeling since his was his principal factor of motivation from which it was started thinking about the possibility of elaborating a plan of conservation for the whole valley, with two conditions and twenty implied municipalities.

To speak about a plan to recover and to revitalize the Blackstone River Valley was to understand this natural corridor as an entity, as a complex and diverse but unitary story, which he was speaking simultaneously about nature and industrial heritage, about past and about future, about history and about an alive and dynamic landscape, a united story that was giving sense to the whole system.

The Whitin Machine Works. Textile factory that gave origin to Whitinsville. Worcester. MA

The first step for the creation of the plan was to create a feeling identity of the inhabitants of the valley and to put in value and to announce the importance of the industrial buildings of the territory and his important contribution to the progress of the country and of the impressive natural heritage of the valley by means of educational programs and of cooperation destined especially to the children.

The heritage in game was very relevant, the industrial colonies not only were formed by factories, but they were developing up to be constituting as independent communities formed by the housings of the workers, shops, schools or churches that were working as microcities, small ecosystems with multitude of opportunities. In every community there was everything necessary to live and was covering from the most basic needs up to the most complex as the education, the culture, the entertainment. Not only it was a question of preserving and reschedule architecture, also it was forming a part of the plan to change the way of living the territory: In the colonies the social relations were promoted by holidays and varied events in order that the workers who were living in each of the colonies were feeling participants of the same aim, the different factories were competing between them and the people were identifying with his project, an idea of entail did not exist with the territory, only with his factory.

Simultaneously, it was necessary to leave the idea of that the Blackstone was an industrial dirty and contaminated river, to change the negative image of the factories left to re-stimulate the economic, social and cultural activity of the territory.

Industrial heritage. Slater Mill, Pawtucket and Ashton Mill, Cumberland

3. A coherent speech. National Heritage Corridor.

The first institutional initiatives of conservation came from the different governments of the region, which were working separately without still a global vision of the fluvial corridor. At the end of the seventies, the government of Rhode Island and that of Massachusetts they were projecting patrimonial independent parks.

Due to the need to receive financing to be able to carry out the plans of conservation, the different local and state authorities organized a movement to obtain national recognition.

The year 1983, fruit of the efforts of the governments of Rhode Island and Massachusetts and of the different communities of the valley, obtained that the Congress was asking the National Park Service I rest to develop a system of patrimonial parks along the river Blackstone.

The NPS did not consider the designation of the valley to be opportune as National Park, but it supported the recognition of the corridor as National Heritage Corridor in 1986, recognizing his high patrimonial value, which was happening to be managed by local and state representatives of both conditions by the collaboration of the National Park Service.

With this designation there was beginning the process of understanding the valley as an unitary axis with which to be able to be identified, where you change entities of different conditions and municipalities they were starting working sinérgicamente with an only aim jointly: to be able to explain his history of a coherent and homogeneous way.

Natural heritage. Sutton. Massachussets

Thus, the valley of the river Blackstone could be narrated in a more effective and attractive way with a view to the tourism and in the educational and recreative foreseen programs. It was necessary to reinforce the sense of community to achieve a deeper conscience of the cultural own heritage that was making open the eyes the inhabitants of the valley on the importance of the corridor in the history of the nation, promoting the pride and the enthusiasm of the whole world that he lives in this territory.

4. Strategy of Planning. To narrate the history, to stir the territory into action

 The strategy of planning of the valley of the river Blackstone on the part of the commission of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor in collaboration with the experience of the National Park Service based on two basic props, which are fundamentally those that the latter institution had followed in previous experiences.

On the one hand it was a question of preserving and announce the natural and cultural heritage of the valley and, secondly, trying to stir into action and of stimulating the territory transforming the economic concept of the region: of a productive industrial economy, to an economy of the education, of the leisure and of the tourism.

Peeling the aims, the plan identifies six priorities: education and interpretation, development of the recreative activities, ethnic and cultural conservation of the inhabitants, preservation of the history of the valley and economic development of the corridor and organization and management of the soil.

Sectors of planning of the Blackstone River Valley

It is a question so of a strategy that it tries to explain the history of the territory where there was born the industrial American revolution by means of the restructuring of the industrial heritage in educational centers or visitors’ centers and the production of a story to continue of the history of the industrial revolution along the valley, but especially, and this is what might differentiate the European plans of the Americans, take advantage of the force of this patrimonial platform to do of this fluvial axis an attractive and active space for the tourism, with more or less careful initiatives, extracting the maximum benefit of the diversity and biological generosity of the region to attract working places and visitors to the territory.

The aim was, and it is also nowadays, to transmit the idea of that the valley of the river Blackstone is an alive landscape that has could interpret his past to be projected to the future, not only a glorious frozen past, a static museum.

5- A collective ambitious plan with limited resources.

The plan of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was a plan at which different municipalities, associations and state governments were employed together with a common very ambitious aim, but, simultaneously, with few resources and a very limited budget. These limitations have revealed the difficulty of starting and coordinating a project of such a big extension and with so many different involved agents. It was a question of a very designed and very complete plan, with ambitious aims of education, preservation and economic dynamization of the territory. The difficulties appeared at the moment of putting into practice the kindness of the planning.

Nowadays the territory still has not been understood not physically not conceptual, in the practice, as a unit. The link between the zones of major importance identified along the river is weak, there does not exist a physical continuity that allows to understand the Corridor of the river Blackstone as a unit. The infrastructures that should connect the different nodes are insufficient, at the moment, and a sense of identity is not created, a homogeneous image as Heritage Corridor.

Lucky, it is a question of a problem solucionable. The bases for the development are very based, the plan is extensive and attentive retail.

Thanks to the efforts of individuals, anonymous associations and, later, to the collaboration of the authorities the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor has convinced to the local communities and has generated a fort felt of identity. This renaissance of the appreciation for the territory will help to carry out the initiatives of conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the valley.

Natural heritage. Sutton. Massachussets

This feeling is the one that really contains the seed of the success of the Plan, which will be completed slow as the necessary resources are injected, following the strategies of priorización and focusing specified.

The plan of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor is an example of community work of civil participation, involving the inhabitants of the valley in the management of his resources, prioritizing the collective interests over the individuals, a successful plan that develops little by little with the aim to improve the life of the persons and the conservation of the territory, a territory that, if it continues with this plan of development, soon will be recognized as National Park.

Arnau Tiñena Ramos · Author of the blog

Barcelona, march 2013


– Cultural Heritage and Land Management Plan for the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Comission. Woonsocket, Rhode Island 1989.

– The Next Ten Years. An Amendment to the Cultural Heritage and Land Management Plan. Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Comission. Woonsocket, Rhode Island, 1998.

– Designing the Llobregat Corridor. Cultural Landscape and Regional Development. Proyectando el eje del Llobregat. Paisaje cultural y desarrollo regional. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya y Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Barcelona, 2001.

– Making Things Work. Vídeo editado por el Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Comission.

– Building the National Parks. Historic Landscape Design and Construction. Versión ampliada y actualizada del libro Presenting nature: The Historic Landscape Design of the National Park Service, 1916 to 1942. Linda Flint McClelland. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland, 1998.

Arnau Tiñena Ramos

Arquitecto por la ETSAB-UPC, Escola Tècnica Superior d’arquitectura de Barcelona, licenciado con Matrícula de Honor el 2010. Master de Investigación y doctorado en urbanismo, ETSAB-UPC, 2010-actualidad. Profesor ayudante urbanismo ETSAB, 2013. Estudios de arquitectura y urbanismo en Fakulteta za arhitekturo, Ljubljana, 2009. Premio en categoría de vivienda VIII Mostra d’Arquitectura del Camp de Tarragona.

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