Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Providence Lost

Rust Belt cities cycle through initiatives designed to stop the brain drain and rebranding campaigns. Taking the long view, I don't see much innovation. Metros try the same gambit again and again. The sad tale of Providence, Rhode Island:

RustWire’s Nicholas Cataldo takes a look at Providence, Rhode Island’s history of revamps, and he starts way back. When you look at the gusto in the city’s almost decade-by-decade makeovers, it makes you wonder; what works? ...

... In true ironic American fashion, Providence was founded on the Narragansett Indian’s land by religious dissident Roger Williams in the name of religious freedom and free thought. Williams was the first to be noted for promoting the separation of religion and government. Dissidents and persecuted groups flocked to the area. This early identity still runs through the heart of the city today - in fact the whole state still celebrates the flavor of “Rogue’s Island”.

While the straight trajectory of this ideological fervor doesn’t mirror the economic history of this Rust Belt city, hopefully we’ll have some nails left by the time Providence’s newest rebranding battle ends… at least, for the next ten or so years.

In the here and now, Providence is revving up the revitalization engines. Historically, nothing has changed. What's different this time around?

Providence needs to discover its own redevelopment narrative. The Creative Capitol ship has already sailed to Pittsburgh. Cataldo inadvertently touches on Providence's unique competitive advantage:

Situated nicely between Boston and New York City, it is pretty hard for Providence to get positive attention. Any reference of Providence as part of a top ten list, will more than likely lead to bad publicity. So, in lieu of innovation, the city has taken principles that have worked for other places in similar predicaments and is attempting to implement them here.

Other cities should be so lucky. Providence should figure out how to leverage this proximity asset. Want access to both major markets on the cheap? (See Scranton) Move to Providence. It's divine.

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