Providence is developing a reputation. After decades of depression and a certain ignominy, the city is once again finding its feet. In spite of a struggling national economy, overall this up-and-comer is capitalizing on housing, business and the arts. Now widely-known as the “Renaissance City,” people from all over the world are flocking to its shores to live, visit or do business.
During the period from the 1950s tothe 1980s, Providence’s best-known economic dealings were connected with organized crime. Although some rebuilding was initiated in the 1970s, the city’s vision was still blurry. But in the 1990s the city began to turn around. Beginning with Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Jr.’s famous redesigning of Providence and his intentional showcasing of the arts, Rhode Island’s capital began to flourish again. Unfortunately, in the spirit of seedier Providence tradition, the former mayor himself has now served some jail time. Following his release in 2007, however, he maintains a level of popularity in this city for his reconstruction of it almost from the ground up, whether he cut some corners to do so or not.
Roger Williams, the original founder of Providence, may have had something different in mind for the city, although when he founded it, he himself was on the run from the prevailing legislature. After his exile from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he settled in a well-watered area—on the coast, surrounded by rivers. His eyes saw the potential of the spot, and having acquired a title from the local Narragansett tribes, the settlement was free to grow.
However, due to land disputes and agricultural difficulty, the city did not really come into its own until after the Civil War. The influx of immigrants from the South and from Europe, as well as strong silverware manufacturing and textile industries, caused the city’s economy and significance to boom. But in the 1920s, particularly with the decline in textiles, the city itself began to settle into decline, only to return to glory through the vision of former Mayor Cianci.
The redesign of Providence involved uncovering previously hidden rivers, and conversely hiding part of the existing railroad. Now the city has been featured in an NBC sit-com of the same name. Residents of other New England locales flock to Providence in the summers to witness the WaterFire events along the river running through the city. International business people journey to luxury hotels and the Rhode Island Convention Center, andshoppers can find whatever they are looking for at the Providence Place Mall. But it is not just the physical appearance of Providence that is being renewed.