The holidays are always one of my favorite times of year, not so much because I like the holidays (which I do), but because it’s around that time that I’m interviewing the individuals featured in our annual “10 to Watch” story, as featured on page 18. These are always interesting people with fascinating, unexpected stories and fresh, compelling ideas to share, but one of the things I like most is getting to see Providence through their eyes.
I’ve spent my whole life in or around this city, and I have the privilege of making a living highlighting its best parts. So, while I may have a deep and abiding love for it, being that much in the thick of things every day makes it easy to lose perspective. Talking with our 10 to Watch always realigns my perspective.
What’s always shocking (though perhaps it shouldn’t be anymore) about this roster of rising stars is that every year, without fail, it turns out that more than half of them are not native Rhode Islanders. Many of them have traveled extensively or lived in many other places – most have at least lived in another major metropolitan area – yet all of them are in Rhode Island simply because the want to be. That’s a very powerful thing.
We are bombarded on a daily basis with information and opinions telling us what a lousy place Providence is: how our economy is crap, our taxes are too high, our schools are lousy, there are no jobs, it’s unsafe, it’s dirty, it’s corrupt, it’s too small, it’ll never be New York or Boston, there are no opportunities. We’ll shout ourselves hoarse trying to make it known how bad off we are. Yet these people are not getting the message. Despite all the warnings and bad press, smart, cosmopolitan, forward thinking, engaged individuals still find Providence a desirable enough place to be that they will not only come here, they will do the work necessary to build a life here – and then make it a more attractive place for others to do the same.
This is important because these people are here by choice. Many of us have to be here–or at least feel like we do–but these people could live anywhere in the world. Many of them have. These are people who could just as easily make their way in bigger metro areas like New York or Boston, where existing opportunity is much easier to come by. Yet they’re here, because Providence offers the quality of life they want. While we rail about taxes or public safety or the economy of any number of other issues that allegedly determine whether or not a city is worth inhabiting, people are making that decision based on less dollars and sense criteria, like the number of good restaurants, the pres- ence of community organizations, the vibrancy of the arts scene, the closeness of the professional and social networks and many more intangibles. These things matter because someone who is in Rhode Island for a job opportunity, or an economic boom (pretending that we’d ever have one), or school, or any number of other more directly compelling reasons is only likely to stick around as long as they’re given cause to – while someone who wants to be here will find a way to make it work no matter what. And that’s exactly what a small, scrappy, oft-overlooked city like Providence needs: people who will fight to make a place work, even when it doesn’t look good on paper.