‘Gansett as the Sun Rises on Adulthood and Sets on Rhode Island

A little while back, an editor of a new online magazine, 7STOPS, sent me a link to an essay therein by Adrian Shirk, Providence-resident writer. The piece interweaves the history of Narragansett beer with the sense of rootlessness accompanying college graduation, these days, and the stasis of the state.

While looking for an apartment, I met a landlord who owned half the real estate around Holden Street in Smith Hill. In 1980 he’d moved into the second floor of an old carriage house while studying architecture at RISD and several years later bought the building. “I thought, just give me ten years, and this neighborhood will be booming.” So he went forth, purchasing and renovating many of the beautiful, fin-de-siecle governor’s homes that took up most of this bucolic road bordering the interstate. Come the early-90s, there still wasn’t much interest. “Give me another ten years, I thought.” But the early 00s came and went, and here he is today, with a slew of pristine properties, reliable tenants, but none of the enormous shifts he’d watched happen in Boston, New York, and even Baltimore took place. He’s beginning to imagine it might always be this way.

That pretty well captures the allure of Rhode Island — that intangible promise that everybody refers to as “quality of life,” even as they battle just to make ends meet. Any year, any decade, the world will see what the entranced resident sees and the state will blossom. Eventually, we conclude, as Shirk’s landlord does, that the world does see it; most people just calculate their interests before arrival and note that the visibles aren’t worth the costs in opportunity and freedom. Nothing will change until that does.
Perhaps that sentiment explains why I’m so intrigued by a word choice, upon Shirk’s arrival in the city, that strikes me as most likely a misfire of the thesaurus:

There were no street signs, grids, and almost no passers-by to ask directions, leaving me hot and agitated and wondering how such an apocryphal city could have been so poorly planned.

There is no reason that something apocryphal ought to be conspicuously well planned; indeed, one would expect apocrypha to tend toward the other direction. But it’s apt, nonetheless. Providence is a city, and Rhode Island a state, that doesn’t have the import that it appears to have. None can deny that they’re of significant historical origin, as can also be said of non-canonical biblical texts, but whether the’re infused with the spirit of life progressing toward a better future — guided along by the unseen hand of Deeper Meaning — is a matter of perennial doubt.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

There seems to be a naive belief that young people are drawn into cities because of “lifestyle” and “chic”. While there is some truth to this, what does it is an economic engine which creates good jobs. It is well to remember that vacant property in large cities became available because the economic engine moved to the suburbs.
I know little of Baltimore, except for its scary crime rate. Boston and New York have developed the jobs. Providence simply doesn’t have that engine. If great architechture wouldn’t hold population, there is little reason to believe it will attract new population; except as an alternative to less attractive parts of town.

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