For some time, I’ve been asking myself the same question over and over: why must I, a Providence tax- paying property owner, squat on private land abutting my residence, erect fencing and install curb appeal plantings (at my own expense) to solve chronic illegal dumping? The answer: because a corporate property owner refuses to monitor and care for their property. And city regulatory departments pay lip service to neighborhood resident concerns, dole out inconsistent zoning and code enforcement and avoid real solutions to such pressing issues.
In normal times — pre-covid/pre-climate change — long time Providence residents such as myself knew the deal and overlooked such neighborhood inequities. After all, we love Providence! But my feelings toward Providence have changed. Like many non-native Rhode Islanders, I discovered Providence as a college student, first as an undergraduate, then, after leaving for work opportunities on the West Coast and the American South, returned for graduate studies at RISD. With a focused work career, I happily settled into Providence, espousing to all that the city’s geographical location, intellectual and artistic prowess, appreciation for historic preservation, compact size, affordability compared to neighboring cities, created opportunities for a wonderful quality of life. I discovered Providence was my home!
I have lived in the city since the late 1970’s. As many non-traditional entrepreneurs have discovered, I have at times commuted elsewhere to make a living but always considered Providence home.
As we know, Providence has experienced economic booms and busts, had its share of progressive and not so enlightened government administrations, been governed by high profile egotistical mayors, others out of the spotlight. Some administrations, with the help of state government, rightfully focused on downtown revitalization efforts (hey, we’re the city that moved rivers!) and increased the city’s profile as an important tourist destination. Some administrations improved neighborhood issues residents care about: street lighting and road surfacing, redevelopment of the park system, community policing. Others directed financial resources at pet project improvements in targeted neighborhoods. It’s obvious the city government views the socio-economic measure of one’s neighborhood as the yardstick for investment.
Lately Providence hardly feels like ‘the Renaissance city.’ A thirty-year resident of the Wanskuck neighborhood, the quality-of-life pales in comparison to other city neighborhoods I’ve lived in. Wanskuck, one of many working-class neighborhoods, lacks the amenities of favored neighborhoods (East Side, Elmhurst, West End, Downcity) such as well lit, safe paved streets and sidewalks, marked crosswalks, bike paths, street trees, and suffers from inconsistent city services — street sweeping, plowing, zoning and code enforcement to curb noise, litter, illegal dumping, illegal uses for property.
These problems are city-wide, not unique to my neighborhood, and have persisted for decades. From all indications current Mayor Smiley is an earnest and forward-thinking politician who boldly proclaimed he would make Providence America’s best run city and restore quality of life on a par with ‘safe suburban and rural communities.’ Though it’s early in his administration, he’s got his work cut out for him. I don’t see his administration trending favorably to solving these complex problems. The city’s antiquated regulations inconsistently enforced by entrenched city departments favor offending property owners over law abiding neighborhood residents.
The recent catastrophic flooding of the Branch Avenue shopping center is a direct result of past/present city administrations’ inability to enforce antiquated regulations, take climate change impacts seriously, and envision wholistic watershed green infrastructure improvement solutions.
Providence faces severe economic challenges so it’s unrealistic that government can solve all its quality-of-life ills. Smashing confiscated ATV’s, obsessing about the PVD fest, proclaiming Providence to be ‘America’s 1st Climate Jobs City’ makes for great headlines but doesn’t get to the fundamental problems that make Providence an unfavorable place to live.
Quality of life, what quality of life? Sadly, after much deliberation, it’s time to leave Providence. I’m done squatting on land I don’t own, paying out of pocket for someone else’s improvements.