Making or breaking Providence, Rhode Island's revival

Can you take the rustiness out of a rust belt city? With two downtown highway removal projects at an end and new inner city real-estate glistening for investment, developers face make or break questions.

RustWire's Nicholas Cataldo takes a look at Providence, Rhode Island's history of revamps, and he starts way back. When you look at the gusto in the city's almost decade-by-decade makeovers, it makes you wonder; what works?

Once the "Beehive of Industry", following World War II the city offered few jobs, the New England Mafia was pulling government strings, the tax base was pathetic, and like other American cities, a major highway was plopped right through downtown. Providence was a city divided.

Since then, rebranding efforts have spanned the gauntlet. The 1970s and 1980s saw over half a billion dollars go toward rebranding Providence as the "Renaissance City". New parks, new ice-rinks, new (uncovered) rivers - the city was being beautified. But of course, the money didn't last. The current financial crisis saw this steady re-development come to a halt. So, amidst the revoked investments and empty highrise lots, can Providence swing a revival?

Cataldo says, "In lieu of innovation, the city has taken principles that have worked for other places in similar predicaments…" So, what are the principles being used to rebrand as the "Creative Capitol"?

  • Public transportation: When the city's pockets fill up a bit, the abandoned street car line developments will bring down the amount of cars and buses on the road.
  • Biotech industry: Like it's close neighbor and commuter city Boston, Providence will harness its impressive higher education base to develop the "Knowledge District".
  • Highway removal: Wait, that already happened. So with miles of prime real-estate glistening downtown it's in the hands of a cash strapped city council not to accept bids from companies that would render the Knowledge District a long lost dream (for example, Walmart).

In true ironic American fashion, Providence was founded on the Narragansett Indian's land by religious dissident Roger Williams in the name of religious freedom and free thought. Williams was the first to be noted for promoting the separation of religion and government. Dissidents and persecuted groups flocked to the area. This early identity still runs through the heart of the city today - in fact the whole state still celebrates the flavor of "Rogue's Island".

While the straight trajectory of this ideological fervor doesn't mirror the economic history of this Rust Belt city, hopefully we'll have some nails left by the time Providence's newest rebranding battle ends… at least, for the next ten or so years.

Image: Creative Commons

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