Fane Tower Shows Rhode Island Has No Center to Hold

Now that it is no-longer-proposed, we are free to look at Fane Tower renderings in detail, beyond the gut reaction that it is odd and would be misplaced in Providence.  Structurally, the building would have been akin to a tree trunk that began to split near the ground.  The strength comes from the middle, providing the support for the flaring ends.  Rhode Islanders should contemplate the visual metaphor.

Years ago, I came to the conclusion that the problem with U.S. politics and governance is not that it’s too conservative or too progressive, but that our system was no longer extracting the best from each impulse.  A contingent that insists that we keep moving is valuable, and a contingent that insists on slowing down so as to preserve what is important is also valuable.  As we become more divided, culturally, we’re losing the central support to make these tendencies better together than separate.

Rhode Island’s peculiar trait appears to be marrying this division within the same movements and individuals.  We have progressives who don’t want anything to change — at least anything that’s important to their day-to-day lives.  They’ll champion the continuing cultural revolution in which they can partake only as a matter of fashion, but when it comes down to it, they want the capital’s skyline to remain locked in time.  They want jobs for workers and housing for low-income families, but they don’t want anything that is distinctly a business change their view as they drive home.

On the level of special interests, the situation is arguably worse.  We’ve got the NIMBYs, to be sure, who insist that things should change but “not in my back yard,” but we’ve also got the radical progressives whose demand is that all changes serve their narrow ideology.  On the other hand, the state has no business interests to speak of to offset these groups, all of them having been absorbed by the fundamentally corrupt government-insider gang whose interest is not business or development per se, but only that they be able to take a cut of whatever does happen to happen.

In a culturally homogenous society, the culture could provide the ballast to keep these factions from tipping the boat.  In a diverse state, the political system could play a similar role by making it in politicians’ interest to triangulate.  When the self-serving interests of those politicians represent the only “conservative” impulse, however — that is, the only restraint on radical change is that they must be able to profit from it — the system falls apart.

With the Fane Tower project killed off, the Pawtucket soccer stadium on the ropes, and the Superman Building project groaning under its own weight, we may be seeing the tipping collapse of the edifice that allowed insiders to pretend things were fine as the federal government kept money flowing after the real estate bubble popped and then COVID saved the state government’s fiscal neck.  As the illusion crumbles, Rhode Islanders need to find our center, and we can only hope its foundation is still intact.

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