Dan Lawlor: What Next for Providence?
Monday, January 07, 2013
Providence is 377 years old. A New England port city, our history is ragged, jagged, and full of surprises, good and bad.
We begin 2013 with a lot of questions. For me, a big question is: What's next?
In Boston, there are numerous construction projects and skyscrapers being built in the financial district. In Providence, there are a several solid and exciting projects ongoing and in the works downtown - and there are numerous half empty parking lots, empty storefronts, and a decaying former State Office for Human Services. Our uneven development, in the financial heart of the capital city, speaks to half-way developments across the state. Have you been to Phenix Village in West Warwick? Times Square in Pawtucket? Woonsocket?
We have so much potential! Beautiful buildings, rich history, tasty foods, engaging people - what is going wrong?
Not one major elected leader in the state lost an election this past fall - despite over four years of 10% jobless, imploding insider deals, and fewer opportunities for most people.
Religious and community groups throughout the state are in a unique position to build gathering spaces, chances for people to connect, network, brainstorm, and produce some new ideas, projects, businesses, and proposals.
In the last few years, Rhode Island has been hurt by a double attack - a decline in traditional media and a decline in religious organizations and community groups.
The Providence Journal has laid off dozens of reporters and staff in the last ten years. According to Ted Nesi, the Journal had 709 employees in 2008. Now, following a years of cutbacks, the workforce is "an estimated 468."What do we not know about because of those cuts? Would more reporting worked to prevent 38 Studios? For not the tenacity of Dan McGowan, the loan scandals of the city under Cicilline would not have been exposed. We're suffering because fewer news outlets are able to fund the long term, investigative work of journalism.
Numerous churches are closing shop, or declining in number. Religious organizations have been incubators for schools, health centers, arts programs and the like. What community groups haven't been formed, how many more people are lonely, and what neighborhoods have declined because of those closures? This year, there was no Christmas Eve service at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John- built between 1810-1811. It's closed.
Our community will not become stronger without dedicated, active community groups, with broad membership, representing a diverse group of people. We don't simply need people to become more active in the Democratic Party. We need more groups (with unique membership bases) for the Democratic Party to have to interact with. The powers that be can't hold themselves accountable, and they won't be able to fix everything.
The same thinking, and the same actions, that have allowed so much frustration, pain and struggle won't fix Rhode Island -or the nation for that matter.
I'm hopeful. Over the years, small groups of women and men have created some of the most dynamic experiences in New England. Consider just a few: from Waterfire to the Worcester Homeless Action Committee, from 826 Boston to City Seed in New Haven, from Barakat in Cambridge to Street Sights Newspaper, a voice of the homeless in RI.
Street Sights Newspaper is suspending publication for the month of January to focus on fundraising. Begin 2013 right - consider making a donation or volunteering some time with the paper. As year 377 begins, more engagement will produce more opportunities for accountability and community.