PROVIDENCE envisions a renaissance that plans for the future but
remembers its past. It's a selective memory, though: There's
another past that people would rather forget, one that is tainted
with political and financial scandal, scandal that has fueled the
fires of reform.
Rhode Island is the smallest in the union and the second-most
densely populated (New Jersey is first). Sixteen percent of its
people live in Providence, population 160,700 - about the size of
Salt Lake City or San Bernadino, Calif. Rhode Island would fit into
Kansas 63 times, Texas 200 times.
The thing that most distinguishes Providence from other cities
is historic preservation. Rhode Island has some 20,000 historic
places, (12,000 are nationally registered). "Considering we're the
size of a California county," says Al Klyberg, director of the
Rhode Island Historical Society, "that's an incredible number."
Historic homes abound
Walking down Benefit Street through the surrounding area of
College Hill in Providence, one sees scores of homes displaying
plaques with the names of original owners and the year they were
built: "William G. Angell House, Alpheus Morse, Arch., 1869";
"Built by John Jenckes, 1774." Architectural styles range from
late Colonial and Federal to Greek Revival and Colonial Revival.
North Main Street has the oldest Baptist church in America.
Further downtown, the Arcade is the country's oldest indoor
shopping center, built in 1828. The list goes on.
Another very visible aspect of the city is its concentration of
colleges and universities, including Brown University (seventh
oldest in the country), the world-renowned Rhode Island School of
Design (RISD), Providence College, Johnson & Wales University
(known for its culinary arts), Rhode Island College, and others. An
estimated 6,000 students graduate each year from colleges and
universities in greater Providence. On a warm fall day, Brown and
RISD students study outside or walk to class toting books and water
bottles or insulated travel mugs, today's college accessories.
Down the hill, behind Kennedy Plaza, the feeling is quite
different. At a sign that marks the future juncture of Memorial
Boulevard and Steeple Street, cranes are visible in all directions.
Bulldozers plow; construction workers mill about. Among the many
projects in the works: the Rhode Island Convention Center,
scheduled to open next month; the ongoing Capital Center project
involving the redirection of the Moshassuck and Woonasquatucket
Rivers, and a pending Providence Place retail mall. Riverfront and
city planners say people will be able to travel through the city by
water taxi in the future.
Historian Klyberg calls the waterway dig "a great turnaround,"
noting Providence's history. Intersected by several rivers and
situated on Naragansett Bay, Providence has always been a
transportation hub, he says. "This re-beautification just
To Vincent Cianci Jr., the mayor of Providence, things just
couldn't be better. "We've got over a billion dollars of
construction going on, all within a several-block area," he
boasts. Mayor Cianci, affectionately known as "Buddy," is
certainly one of the city's more colorful characters. He was
elected mayor in 1974, convicted of assault (he believed the man
was his estranged wife's lover) and forced to resign in 1984. …