Cover Story

The Future of the East Side

The Bay Magazine ·

In an era when technological, climate and demographic changes are altering everything from global politics to our day-to-day lives, what, we wondered, does the East Side need in order to continue adapting to the times? To answer this question, we reached out to the East Side’s movers and shakers, including politicians, community activists, educators and business owners, and asked them: “What does the East Side need right now?” As East Side Monthly grows and evolves here’s how the East Side should evolve, according to some of its most passionate and accomplished citizens.

On Infrastructure
The FPNA would like restored funding, thoughtful design and completion of the Gano Gateway – the intersection of lower Gano Street and I-195 at India Point Park – in order to improve safety, access and economic development for the entire East Side. –Amy Mendillo, Executive Secretary, Fox Point Neighborhood Association

The East Side needs continued improvements in critical infrastructure: streets, sidewalks and school facilities, particularly at the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. We have made some progress over the past ten years, including repaired sidewalks on Ives and Wickenden, repaving of a number of the worst streets in the neighborhood, and repurposing of the historic Fox Point Bathhouse which is now integrated into Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. But there is still much work to be done and we need to ensure that new projects are designed in an environmentally and neighborhood-friendly way. –Seth Yurdin, City Councilman, Ward 1

On Policing
The East Side needs an increased police presence in the community. There are still too many break-ins and assaults. –Deming Sherman, Of Counsel, Locke Lord

We have not taken the lead in working with the anti-gang groups and the Providence Police to seek to work with individuals who have committed crimes. I believe we should also create a first class alert system to let neighbors know about the most recent crimes and how to assist the police. I would like us to involve a private police service to support the Providence Police in their efforts to resolve every single crime in the shortest amount of time. –Ray Rickman, Executive Director, Stages of Freedom

On Community
My hope is that our community, religious and otherwise, would come together, to meet and know each other, by choice, before we are thrown together by tragedy or circumstance. This happens in all manner of ways: dinners, visiting one another’s places of worship and deliberately going out of our own comfort zones. Reach out, and meet a neighbor! –Rev. Jamie Washam, First Baptist Church

The FPNA would like more neighborhood communication with our city councilor, to keep us informed on a regular basis. We’d also like to see broader participation from neighbors in our own neighborhood organization, with better representation from all parts of Fox Point.–Amy Mendillo, Executive Secretary, Fox Point Neighborhood Association

The East Side needs an annual East Side Community Dinner Fundraiser. I envision a block party, maybe on Hope Street, with a long communal table down the center of the street, with East Side residents from every neighborhood coming to eat together. Dinner tickets would be on a sliding scale price so everyone could afford to attend, with those who can afford to paying more so that money can be raised through this community dinner to fund our East Side nonprofits who serve our neediest community members, such as the Camp Street Ministries and the Mount Hope Learning Center. –Karina Wood, community activist, Executive Director of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses education program at CCRI

I’d like to see the East Side better demonstrate its commitment to assisting its less resourced Mount Hope community members. I think that it reflects very badly on the East Side as a whole that so much wealth is circulating throughout the community, and yet the local community center (MHNA) is not able to fully fund its staff and has to scrape and scratch for funding to support neighborhood youth. If we are all one East Side family, then we should be making sure that every aspect of the East Side has what it needs to thrive.
–Raymond Two Hawks Watson, Founder/CEO, Providence Cultural Equity Initiative

On the East Side’s role in Providence
We need to invest in better schools and we need to build and attract more companies so that there is more opportunity for our residents. All the East Side–specific stuff is important, sure, but it pales in comparison to the larger needs of our city. –Alissa Peterson, Board Member, Fox Point Neighborhood Association

I would encourage everyone in the city to enjoy everything that’s already here. Providence’s cultural landscape is so diverse and unique – it’s something we should all be proud of. –Matt Burriesci, Executive Director, Providence Athenaeum

I would like to see a community that looks out for each other. Residents in the South Side face very different issues from the East Side, issues that tend to be more life-threatening. It would be nice to see East Siders fighting along South Side folks for No LNG [National Grid’s proposed Liquefied Natural Gas facility in the Port of Providence], against police brutality, for fair housing, etc. –Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, Campaign Coordinator, STEP UP Network

The East Side can feel like a privileged bubble sometimes. It is loaded with crazy cool talent and experience which could help transform our entire city. I would open up more connections and engagement with the rest of the city. –Saul Kaplan, Founder, Business Innovation Factory

Wheeler students are fully engaged in agencies and organizations that are making changes to improve our shared neighborhood and community. I hope that in future years, Wheeler can build and sustain partnerships that will benefit both the East Side and all of Providence. –Allison Gaines Pell, Head of School, Wheeler

On Schools
The arrival of Boston-based SquashBusters at the new 12-court squash facility at Moses Brown will open up new possibilities for partnerships between independent and public schools. I’d also like to see all schools – East Side and elsewhere – unite in taking a stand against the kinds of bigotry shown to some local institutions and schools last year, including the JCC. –Matt Glendinning, Head of School, Moses Brown

I hope to see Wheeler lead and create collaborative programs reflecting our public purpose through teacher education, public events and ongoing partnership with community organizations. –Allison Gaines Pell

I would like to see a pipeline built between Providence public schools and the local small business community, connecting school and student needs with resources that our small businesses can provide. Here on the East Side, we could match students from our local public high school, Hope High, who need a summer job or paid internship, with opportunities at East Side small businesses. This small businesses-helping-public schools-pipeline would tap local young talent and foster it, bringing economic opportunity and building relationships across divides in our community. Connecting Hope High School students to East Side small businesses could maybe serve as a pilot program for Mayor Elorza’s proposal to create a year-round internship program through its Office of Economic Opportunity in partnership with employers throughout the city to place Providence public school youth and to expand next year’s successful summer youth employment program. –Karina Wood

No service is more important than strong neighborhood schools, and you can’t have strong schools when our school buildings are literally falling apart. That’s why I will continue to fight for the school facilities funding necessary to make MLK Elementary, Nathan Bishop and all of our schools the safe, welcoming spaces our kids deserve. –Aaron Regunberg, State Representative, District 4 (Summit, Mt. Hope, Blackstone)

Mayor Elorza and the City Council are supporting a massive investment of over $200 million in our school buildings and classrooms over the next decade. We need our families, stakeholders and Providence taxpayers to participate in the community engagement process, so that the financial decisions the city makes about our schools reflect the needs of the people who teach and learn in them. –Christopher N. Maher, Superintendent, Providence Public School District

On the Environment

It would be wonderful for people to discover some of the hidden gems on the East Side. Our new Park Finder and Story Maps (ProvidenceRI.Gov/Parks-Recreation) can help. –Wendy Nilsson, Superintendent, Providence Parks Department

The East Side has an array of public parks and open spaces that need more attention. The neighborhood organizations make significant efforts in improving the parks, which are also critical to the quality of life, but the City needs to do more in improving and maintaining these assets. –Deming Sherman

We need a full-fledged corrective program for lead in our drinking water system. –Ethan Gyles, President, Summit Neighborhood Association

On Politics
The city council needs to regain the public confidence and trust through open government/transparency initiatives such as: suspending indicted council members from holding officer positions and/or committee assignments; posting online at the city council’s website the campaign finance filings and Ethics Commission annual reports of all elected officials; requiring that all proposed legislation receive a committee hearing and a vote within three months of submission; requiring the Finance Committee to vet publicly the city council’s budget; [and] similar to the State’s current practice, requiring the budget approved by the Finance Committee be publicly disclosed at least a week before voted on by the full city council. –Sam Zurier, City Councilman, Ward 2

I want to see increased engagement at the state level from the East Side. I would like to see more women run for office, and more women serving on state and city committees and boards. I want to see more diversity of race, class and gender on the political landscape. –Nirva LaFortune, City Councilwoman, Ward 3

The council as a whole needs to make ethics its number one priority. Public officials need to raise the bar and hold themselves accountable. I hope that moving forward, all council members will take ethics and transparency seriously. –Seth Yurdin

I would like to see our city council do their job – ethically. All of them.–Jodi Glass, doctor of audiology, civic and social organization consultant

On Libraries

We need serious improvements for our Providence Community Library Fox Point branch. It is one of the most used libraries in the city. It serves children from the nearby elementary school and the Boys & Girls Club, seniors from the Fox Point Manor and residents from the rest of the neighborhood. The geographic location is perfect, but the facility is inadequate with serious problems of access, lack of proper air conditioning and space limitations. I hope that over the coming months the community can work together to solve this critical neighborhood issue. –Seth Yurdin

On Parking
I’d build a public parking garage in College Hill. There are so many great cultural institutions in this area doing so many great things – it feels like every given night there are so many choices – but parking can definitely be a challenge. –Matt Burriesci

I find the proliferation of parking meters, especially the supposedly “easy to use” ones (which are too tall for me to read), work inconsistently, and no, I don’t want to whip out a credit card and stand waiting by myself at night overpaying to park. –Jodi Glass

Providence needs to aggressively reduce the amount of parking in the city and replace it with buildings to house people and businesses. Tax parking, as many cities do, and use the revenue stream to lower property taxes on homeowners and renters, and commercial taxes on business. –James Kennedy, blogger, Transport PVD

I think that one of the best changes that could’ve happened in the East Side is parking availability. We have great businesses in the East Side that are not getting the visibility and business they deserved because people prefer to go to a mall where parking is not going to be such a big problem. –Carmen Diaz-Jusino, Senior Director, Program & Service Delivery, Center for Women & Enterprise

On Culture
I’d like to see the community embrace its cultural history more abundantly. The East Side is not only home to the first settlement of the Providence colony, but also home to one of the oldest American Indian/”African-American” communities in the country. The East Side collectively has enough wealth and resources to be a leader in acknowledging and celebrating this history, and doing it in a manner that is both genuine and respectful.

I’d like to see some actual monuments erected on the East Side acknowledging its cultural heritage. I’d specifically like to start with a statue being erected honoring my late Great Uncle Chief Sunset, who was not only one of the last full-blood Sachems of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, but also lived right in the Lippitt Hill Neighborhood. It would be a great educational tool and a draw for cultural tourism that would visibly demonstrate the East Side’s unique cultural history and narrative, and be an appropriate acknowledgment of the legacy of such an impactful Indigenous leader who called the East Side his home.
–Raymond Two Hawks Watson

Bring back the funk, bring back the noise, throw a little carefree, crazy, young and hopeful, old and stuffy into the business mix – stop trying to grow a formal garden and get back to being a field of wildflowers and weeds. –Bob Burke, Owner, Pot au Feu

On Housing and Property
I believe we still have time to float a self-supporting housing bond to assist current low and moderate income East Side residents to buy a house in the community. For the most part this could be accomplished by turning double and three deckers into condos. College Hill has lost 95 percent of its working class population during the last thirty years. This is happening at an alarming rate to Mt. Hope and other sections of the East Side. When you have a retired police officer or RISD student living on your street it can be a richer place to live. –Ray Rickman

I would like to see the return of the Cape Verdean community here. The East Side is segregated in such a way that only college students and rich white folks live here; it would be nice to have this community return to its roots. –Vanessa Flores-Maldonado

One of the biggest changes needed is the expectation of appropriate property maintenance and management by multifamily property owners. Some owners are very good, but some need to improve a great deal. A prime example of this can be seen on Benefit Street, Providence’s famous “Mile of History,” where there are a baker’s dozen of properties that need to be brought up to snuff.
Before the economic downtown over a decade ago, the City and State offered incentives for historic property rehabilitation and reuse. Because of those, most of our mills and downtown buildings have seen new life, as have the neighborhoods in which they’re located. –Brent Runyon, Executive Director, Providence Preservation Society

On Transportation
One change I would like to see on the East Side is the signage on Angell Street. Each year, several cars miscalculate the steepness and sharp turns at Benefit Street, and crash through the fence. It happens so often, our landscaping allows for tow-truck access. Fortunately, none have been fatal, but I would prefer that people come to church through the front doors, rather than arriving aerially through the back garden. –Rev. Jamie Washam

The East Side needs updates and improvements to the visual of the RIPTA tunnel entrance/exit onto Thayer Street and to tie the East Side neighborhoods together with safe bike lanes. –Donna Personeus, Executive Director, Thayer Street District Management Authority

On Local Business
A good kosher deli would be nice! –Saul Kaplan

I would hope for stricter limitations on noise pollution (which can take a variety of forms, from early morning yard blowing to middle-of-the-night utility work), better street paving (under way), and even more boutique eateries like those emerging on Ives (including great ethnic food and a fun pedestrian experience). –Matt Glendinning

I would like to see the City provide small business matching grants to improve the exteriors for all businesses on the East Side. Depending on lease agreements, business owners many times are responsible for awning addition/repairs, painting, security cameras, all enhancements and property repairs. Many times these expenses are difficult for business owners to manage and plan for, especially when rents are high like on Thayer Street.
–Donna Personeus

I would like to see more opportunities for startup businesses to be in the East Side and to grow there. At this moment there are a lot of commercial spaces available but at an extremely expensive rate. If we create more opportunities for different initiatives to grow in the East Side like “Saturday, Buy from a Small Business,” “Buy Local” and others, we can see more traffic and business growth.
–Carmen Diaz-Jusino

On Health Care
For our September session, my primary focus is final passage of my earned sick time legislation to guarantee that no Rhode Islander has to choose between their job and their or their family’s health. When we return in January, Rep. Ajello/Sen. Goldin’s Reproductive Healthcare Act needs to be at the very top of all of our priorities. With Roe v. Wade under assault in Washington, it’s never been more important that our state step up to protect the reproductive rights of Rhode Islanders. –Aaron Regunberg

Fox Point Neighborhood Association, Seth Yurdin City Councilman, seth yurdin, Deming Sherman, Ray Rickman, Stages of Freedom, Rev. Jamie Washam, First Baptist Church, Karina Wood, Goldman Sachs 10, 000 Small Businesses, –Raymond Two Hawks Watson, Providence Cultural Equity Initiative, Matt Burriesci, Providence Athenaeum, Vanessa Flores-Maldonado, STEP UP Network, –Saul Kaplan, Business Innovation Factory, Allison Gaines Pell, Wheeler, Matt Glendinning, Moses Brown, Aaron Regunberg, State Representative, Wendy Nilsson, Providence Parks Department, Summit Neighborhood Association, Sam Zurier, Nirva LaFortune, Jodi Glass, Carmen Diaz-Jusino, Senior Director, Program & Service Delivery, Center for Women & Enterprise, james kennedy, Bob Burke, Pot au Feu, Brent Runyon, Providence Preservation Society, Donna Personeus, Thayer Street District Management Authority