The City of Providence strong-arms business opportunities with new limitations to property demolitions and developments. Are our representatives acting in our best interest?
At 12:00 PM on January 30th, 2019 the “Economic Development Advisory Committee” met to discuss their most recent projects in the city of Providence. The meeting was held at 444 Westminster Street in downtown Providence in the building’s largest room, the Cafeteria. About a dozen members gathered around a circular table, chowing down on an assortment of sandwiches, to speak casually over today’s matters.
The group was comprised of mostly white middle-aged men, with the exception of three middle-aged white women and its newest member. No member was particularly dressed up for the gathering, but most wore a casual dress shirt. The meeting did not start particularly promptly either, as they were waiting on two members who ultimately did not show up. In the meantime, the group chatted amongst themselves, as if good friends. Eventually, Jenn Steinfeld called the meeting to order around 12:15 PM.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS:
Jenn Steinfeld was nominated as Providence’s Director of Strategic Partnerships and Economic Advancement in August of 2018. Appointed by Providence’s mayor, Jorge O. Elorza, Jenn’s position works to “spearhead [the] urban innovation efforts …both in Providence and outside of [the] city”.
She began the first part of the meeting by calling attendance. On this particular day, a new member was added to the committee, Luis Martinez. She called to the group “All in favor? Any opposed? Any extensions?” The entire group raised their hands in approval, and Luis Martinez was sworn into the committee.
Next on the agenda was to have the group was asked to nominate one member to the title of “Officers-Vice-Chairperson”. The group again collectively agreed that they wanted Michael Solomon, to be elected the chair representative. They nominated him as if they choice was obvious. Michael Solomon, former City Council president, smiled humbly and thanked the group.
INCREASING TEACHER AND NURSE PRACTITIONER DIVERSITY:
Jenn Steinfeld then handed the meeting over to Kathy Cosentino, Assistant Director of Business Development, and Bonnie Nickerson, Director of the Department of Planning.
Kathy explained her organization’s plan with Rhode Island College to diversify the teacher faculty in Providence. While they are seeking more variety, Kathy explained that they haven’t received an ample number of applications from those who are “English Learning Certified” to official mark any official progress.
Because of the lack of success, their new strategy encourages bicultural education through a system called “Dual Enrollment Teaching” where universities and schools are encouraged to hire their own graduates for available positions. This is currently in trial at Mount Pleasant High School and Providence College.
Likewise, Providence is in dire need of a greater diversity of nurse practitioners. As Providence houses a great variety of cultures and languages, healthcare centers are struggling to provide properly. By encouraging bicultural education, Kathy believes this will assist Healthcare Centers that are not adequately employed.
However I find this plan to be problematic. The positions that Providence is looking to fill (teachers and nurse practitioners) require a great deal of education. Education is expensive! In order to assist minorities to opt for these kinds of opportunities there should be some sort of scholarship to encourage and assist their education.
DEVELOPMENT IN THE CITY & PROHIBIT DEMOLITIONS:
Bonnie Nickerson and Kathy Consentino also discussed a few of nearly 70 development projects. The projects span across 25 different neighborhoods in the city. The Bonnie and Kathy also reviewed the strategy of analysis to determine the best interests of each neighborhood. With this information they determine what kind of businesses they think should go where and what kinds of projects should be approved. Can this really be done without interaction with the people? What do the people want to see in their neighborhoods? Do we really need more college housing?
Kathy reviewed the 6 redevelopment projects that plan to turn vacant lots into “opportunity zones”. The goal she stated was to to create “capital for our capital”.
The city is also working to tighten the grip on demolitions downtown. In all of Providence, only one demolition is currently approved. The location is at Olneyville Square. The group aims to mark most of downtown Providence as a “Historic District” and protect its older architecture.
It is also designed to stop Providence landlords from allowing their properties from falling into disrepair. The group chuckled over this. Could the lack of demolitions be hurting Providence citizens? Could some neighborhood property values benefit from the removal of eye sores? Why are vacant parking lots being prioritized over neighborhoods?
Providence is prioritizing new developments that have multiple uses over residential neighborhoods. Kathy says the most ideal development project is a multi-purposeful space. It should have a retail downstairs, with smaller units above. The town says there is a trend of those seeking smaller, single spaces. They plan to pursue more developments like these in order to attract graduating students to remain here. However, attracting students to stay here is a way more complicated problem than buildings and housing. It’s job opportunity and industry! Why prioritize people who don’t even live here yet before the ones that do?
Is it fair for the government to have so much power over what businesses and which developers can flourish? Do businesses and developers have equal opportunity in Providence?