Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Reinventing Metro Providence

I was very pleased this week to be a guest on Ted Nesi’s “Executive Suite” talk show on WPRI-TV in Providence. We spent about half an hour talking about the challenges and opportunities facing the region. Here’s the show, without commercial interruption even. We cover a lot of ground, and I think much of the thinking is relevant to many other cities. If the video doesn’t display for you, click here.

A big point I made was the need to think metro, not Rhode Island. But gosh darnit didn’t I go and talk Rhode Island myself for most of the rest of the piece? I think it just goes to show how difficult it is even for the diligent newcomer to maintain a perspective that’s different from the one that’s basically in the air he breathes.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Education, Public Policy, Regionalism, Strategic Planning, Talent Attraction, Technology, Transportation, Urban Culture
Cities: Providence

5 Responses to “Reinventing Metro Providence”

  1. Peter Brassard says:

    Aaron, Don’t beat yourself up about being Rhode Island centric with your descriptions of the Providence metro area. There’s almost four centuries of separate identities particularly between the southern New England states, which you obviously picked up just living in the area.

    Providence “metro” is a bit awkward. It sounds alien to my Rhode Island native/New York transplant ear, as I’m sure in must to others. It’s too new or artificial. This is an old place. For some people in Bristol County on the Massachusetts side of the metro area might feel indignant or annoyed or offended being identified as part of Providence, the same as many Rhode Islanders might as being identified as from Boston. Naming this economic region, as a unified entity is really a branding or re-branding exercise, which needs to acknowledge the differences and history of the area.

    Boston is such a powerhouse; most of eastern Mass residents identify themselves as part of Boston. Since so many Boston area residents migrated to southern New Hampshire, southern New Hampshire has more easily integrated into the Boston orbit. Hartford mostly stands alone. Springfield can be part of the Hartford area or not. This is probably due to both core cities having similar population size. New Haven can standalone, but also is on the outer edge of New York City. The exception to this tribal territorialism of most of New England would be Fairfield County in southwestern Connecticut, which is clearly part of New York, as is northern New Jersey. People in the ”tri-state” area usually aren’t offended being identified as part of New York. Though usually they’ll say that they a part of the New York area or region.

    For the Providence metro to say the Providence Area would be confusing, because it would be thought of as the core cities and suburbs nearest Providence (city) in upper Narragansett Bay. More so in the past “Southeastern New England” was used to identify the Providence metro area. Southeastern New England started to be used less following the FCC creation of the Providence-New Bedford television market. Would “Providence Region” be a better choice as region implies a greater area or something else?

  2. CityBeautiful21 says:

    Nice job, and a good overview of where Providence stands. The comparisons to Detroit/Cleveland will definitely get some people’s attention.

    In terms of Providence assets, let’s not overlook Mr. Nesi. It’s pretty clear that he did some homework for the interview and has a decent understanding of many of the strategic issues. Maybe you guys could do this once every 6 months or so?

  3. George says:

    I like most of what you said, but there were two things that didn’t quite work for me. 1. The average person in Metro Detroit or Greater Cleveland would kill to have higher home values and the resulting “higher” cost of living. 2. Providence itself is doing a great job attracting diversity. There is a huge Hispanic community, a good-sized African-American population, a sizable Asian population for what is a relatively small city. I think you really mean that you want more college-educated people to come to Providence? I’m not sure.

  4. George, only people who currently own homes in Detroit would rather see higher home values. Anyone who would like to buy a home someday wouldn’t find it quite so attractive. The problem in Providence is that the increase in incomes is more than offset by the higher costs.

    Also, Providence metro is simply not diverse, which is what matters to the economy (metro area is basically a labor market definition). The diversity the area has is concentrated in a handful of places like the city of Providence, Pawtucket, etc. Keep in mind though, that Providence City is a very small core municipality compared to many similar sized regions. It’s simply not the determinant of the labor force available to any prospective employer.

  5. George says:

    RE: diversity. Fair enough, but I don’t know of all that many “diverse” suburbs. I wouldn’t consider Providence at a major disadvantage in that sense.

    And as far as Detroit goes, I live in the area, and I think you’re off the mark here. Fear of depreciation has helped drive away investment from Detroit for a long time. If more people felt like they could invest in a typical Detroit neighborhood and not lose their shirt (or – imagine this – even see their investments appreciate!), it would do way more good than harm. The true bottom in a city like Detroit is a big fat 0, and we hit that way number we way too often.

    Detroit isn’t Manhattan or the Chicago Loop, where demand is almost intrinsic. We could very well lose just about everything. Just today Mayor Dave Bing was forced to close another 50 parks in Detroit. The city, which had over 300 parks four years ago, is down to well under 100, and many that remain will barely be maintained.

    We’d take Providence’s problems in a heartbeat.

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