Rhode Island Politics and Government

By Maureen Moakley; Elmer Cornwell | Go to book overview
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Local Government

It is the intention of this article to grant and confirm to the people of every city and town in this state the right of self government in all local matters.

Article XIII, Rhode Island Constitution

More than once in recent decades the phrase “city-state” has been applied to Rhode Island. The state's very small size, compactness, high population density, and high degree of urbanization around a core formed by Providence suggest that nothing but city-state organization makes sense. Why not one school district, one fire department, one police department, and so on? To Rhode Islanders, however, any such city-state would be unimaginable and violently opposed. Despite encouragement, off and on over many years only a handful of the smallest among the state's thirty-nine cities and towns have joined in combined school districts. In all other spheres local autonomy has been guarded fiercely.


There is, in other words, a kind of schizophrenia in Rhode Island about local government. In part it is a clash between sentiment (devotion to local autonomy) and reality: the state, by all appearances, is virtually a city-state. Rhode Island's size and compactness seem to belie the strength of Rhode Islanders'emotional parochialism. Part of the problem lies in the fact that in Rhode Island, unlike in Delaware or other small states, Providence is at one and the same time the state's metropolis, economic center, and capital. It is easy, therefore, to see the rest of the state as little more than a ring of suburbs around the core city. (Newport is a partial exception to this perception.)

Providence was not the only or even the preeminent original settlement.


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Rhode Island Politics and Government


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