Friday, November 1st, 2013

The Gerrymandered City

Much as been written about so-called gerrymandered political districts, ones warped into various contortions in order to create a favorable or unfavorable electorate as the case may be. But a number of cities have weird shapes as well. A lot of these result from various annexations designed for a whole host of reasons such as grabbing strategic territory or trying to avoid getting landlocked by competing municipalities. So other factors can produce strange looking towns.

But in at least one case, the town itself as the appearance of having been gerrymandered. I live in West Warwick, RI which looks like this:

It’s a bit of an odd shape, though not ridiculous. From what I’ve been able to glean of the history (based mostly on what people told me), West Warwick was once part of the neighboring city of Warwick. Eastern Warwick along the coast was mostly Republican and controlled the town. Western Warwick was a big mill district along the Pawtuxet River and mostly Democratic. Chafing that their needs were not being met by the Republican faction, they went to the Democratic controlled state legislature to get split off into their own town, West Warwick, which just turned 100 and is Rhode Island’s youngest town.

I don’t know all the details, but this makes it appear as thought the town was strategically drawn to take in the mills, but not much east of there. Hence the streets it follows along the curved section, which are in part roughly parallel to the river. Today the mills have long closed and West Warwick has economically struggled. Meanwhile, formerly rural Warwick is now a much more successful city thanks to freeway access, the airport, coastal access, etc.


Cities: Providence

11 Responses to “The Gerrymandered City”

  1. George V. says:

    Ah yes, the great urbanist lives on the outskirts of Providence in a deindustrialized suburb. He decries highways for ripping apart the tight fabric of inner city neighborhoods before hopping on the freeway to park in one of downtown Providence’s many parking garages, which he similarly detests for lacking ground floor retail. Only among the cognoscenti my friends, only among the cognoscenti.

  2. Actually, I don’t go to downtown Providence that much at all. The area I’m at is actually surprisingly walkable for most daily needs.

  3. Peter Brassard says:

    West Warwick though not the center, isn’t exactly the outskirts. A little more than half of the town is fairly dense suburban. By any definition the string of villages that forms the town’s core along the Pawtuxet River are urban with tightly packed mill row houses, two-, and three-decker apartment houses, as well as former multi-story mills converted to residential. There are mixed commercial districts, which have retail built to the streetline accessible by foot from sidewalks.

    If instead of New England, the town were located in a similar midwestern or southern metropolitan area, the town would have been already been part of or annexed into the central city as a city neighborhood.

  4. Eric Anondson says:

    I give you Maplewood, MN.

  5. bettybarcode says:

    “From what I’ve been able to glean of the history (based mostly on what people told me…”

    I have no idea if your gerrymandering theory is correct or not. But there is no excuse for a professional planner to base a argument solely on anecdotal evidence. Or is Warwick the only town in American that is 100% free of urban legends?

    There are over 100 distinct works dealing with West Warwick and its history, most of which are presumably in a library near you:

    For most people, the first page of Google results, however inept their search might be, constitutes “research.” Libraries exist for a reason: the past is not online.

  6. Wanderer says:

    There are lots of suburbs, some completely surrounded by their central city, which fought off annexation by the central city. So you get these strange “holes” in the central city boundaries. Brookline, Mass. fended off Boston, one of the earliest examples. Piedmont, California, fought off Oakland way back in the 1870’s, and remains a privileged enclave to this day. Then there are the places that the city didn’t want–like lower income, heavily Latino East Los Angeles, which the city of Los Angeles could have easily annexed, but didn’t.

  7. Den Voran says:

    There can hardly be a more extreme example than Centennial, Colorado – which with a population of over 100,000 was the largest incorporation in U.S. history (yes, this is what the “city fathers” started out with in 2001 – it’s not a product of cobbled-together annexations):

  8. Chris Barnett says:

    This appears to be a case of a “central city” splitting off from its (wealthier or rural) suburbs.

    By most peoples’ description, a collection of “mill villages” (which in the Midwest we would call “factory neighborhoods”) is “core urban”.

  9. The RI Senate used to have one member for each municipality (like the US Senate has two for each state regardless of population). This was found to be unconstitutional in the 60’s. When West Warwick was formed, it received its own Senator, I’m not sure if the party controlling the Senate at the time was also the party majority in West Warwick, but it seems likely.

    More information on the history of the RI Senate here.

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