Remembering When Providence Was One of America’s Safest Cities


I remember a time when Providence was once considered one of the safest cities in America.

I remember advertisements touting that phrase, “Providence,  the safest city in America.” It all seems like a dream now, something that was far, far away.

It seems like you can’t turn on the television news without hearing of gunshots, shootings, stabbings, and some kind of violence.  How sad this is for our city of Providence we all love.  Providence is the capital city of Rhode Island.  It is the anchor city of our state, the anchor that should be holding steady to keep the rest of our state together.

It is the home to approximately 178,000 people of diverse heritages and cultures. Each of its 39 constituent neighborhoods is full of its own landmarks, customs and unique history. Much of the housing was built prior to World War II, making Providence one of the older and most historic cities in the country.

During the 2014 campaign for Mayor of Providence, Candidate Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was quoted during a television debate as follows: “When I was mayor, Providence was one of the five Renaissance cities of America, according to USA Today in those days.  Money magazine said it was the fifth best city to live in in America.  In addition to that, All Cities Almanac said in 1994, I believe , that it was the safest city in America.”  This quote was ruled true by a Providence Journal PolitiFact article written by Alex Kuffner on October 2, 2014.

As a lifelong Providence resident, I have always felt safe.  But the times are changing and there is reason for concern. 

I don’t want to hear that the crime rate goes up in the summer months or that these  are isolated incidents, because that doesn’t make any of us feel better. I’m saddened when I tell people I live in Providence and they respond with the comment, ” I use to live in Providence, but I moved out, it’s too violent now. It’s changed.” 

The fact is when you talk to many Rhode Islanders they will tell  you  that their roots stemmed from Providence.  They will tell you they grew up in Federal Hill, Mt. Pleasant, Smith Hill, Silver Lake, North End, or the  South Side, etc.  Providence was  like a big old oak tree, and its tree  branches consisted of  many neighborhoods our ancestors lived in, labored in, and built with their blood, sweat, and tears.  

The police have their hands full, and now isn’t the time to be understaffed.  It’s a critical task  that Mayor Elorza has before him.  This must be a priority, ahead of bike paths, street islands, and festivals.  I must admit there was a time when I felt Providence was safe and didn’t think twice about being safe on our city streets.  But that feeling has changed for many of us as we have to stop, look, and listen to our surroundings now.

On Thursday afternoon, a group of about 100 teenagers were reportedly riding through the city on mostly “Jump bikes” terrorizing residents.  They were banging on cars to set off alarms, riding through neighborhoods, assaulting residents, and creating havoc. This plan was allegedly organized on Facebook and called “Rideout” where the teens met in Kennedy Plaza and stole Jump bikes in an organized terror ride.  How outrageous is this? 

I don’t want to hear that they are boys behaving badly.  It’s fun and games for them, until someone gets  hurt. The Jump bikes have become prey for thieves and vandalism, clearly not what they were intended for.

This incident was organized on Facebook and planned.  Who are these teens? Are they gang members who are trying to take over our neighborhoods?  This has to stop. There are advocates out there working with the local youth and  they are trying to help.  But even they do not have all the answers to a problem that is growing and becoming more frequent in our neighborhoods.

We as Rhode Islanders have a lot to lose.  What starts in Providence usually ends up in other cities and towns.  Our city of Providence is also the home to many fine restaurants, businesses, and opportunities that start the economic engine in our state.  We need people to feel safe so that they will come to our city to enjoy seeing a show at Providence Performing Arts Center and then dining at one of the fine restaurants in Federal Hill or shopping in one of the many neighborhood markets.0

We need people to feel safe so they will continue to send their children to college here, where we host some of the finest colleges and universities  in the country.  Whether it be Brown University, Providence College, Johnson and Wales, Rhode Island School of Design, or Rhode Island College, we are proud that Providence has always been known as a college town with thousands of students coming here from all over the world.

It’s not in Providence’s or Rhode Island’s best interest for Providence to be rumored as unsafe or violent.  The responsibility for change falls upon all of us. There is something we can all do to try to stop the violence.

One thing that can be done is to fully cooperate with law enforcement.  If you see something wrong or suspect fowl play, report it to police. Don’t bury your head in the sand.  Respect our law enforcement because they will need that respect to do their jobs and protect our communities.  

Attend neighborhood forums and meetings to discuss your concerns and fears about your neighborhood and street.  Inform your local elected officials that you want to see their updates on crime statistics in your neighborhood and ask what they are doing to stay on top of the issue.

If you have time, volunteer at a youth community recreation center as a coach or recreation worker for the summer months.

Also, get to know your local council person or legislator and ask what progress is being made to ensure safe streets and safe schools.  These are simple tasks but important ones. 

I love my city of Providence as my parents, grandparents, and ancestors did.  They settled their roots in Providence to ensure a good, safe life for their children and each other.  We owe it to them to preserve the past and pave the way for the future by getting involved in our neighborhoods.

The future of Providence depends on the involvement of the whole community to speak up and pay attention.  We cannot let the thugs and gangs destroy what our ancestors built here to ensure the American Dream.  It’s our duty.  It’s our right.  It’s our neighborhoods.


Featured image by Dave Amadio.

  • Joe Smith

    I usually find WalletHub a bit lax when it comes to its ranking methodology, but some interesting data (if accurate) in their state capital rankings.

    T4th lowest weekly work hours (idle hands..)

    47th – highest unemployment rate (correlated with the weekly work hours no doubt)

    #1 – lowest % of public (Fed/State/Local) employees – I though that was a mistake but I’m taking it to mean there a public jobs in Providence but they are filled by people (proportionally more relative to other states) who live outside Providence.

    and the “college town” — let’s be real. Brown/RISD exist in a bubble. Providence College – read Princeton Review – # 3 (in the country) for ‘strained town relationship” and #3 for “little race/class interaction” so it’s in a bubble too.

    “It is the anchor city of our state, the anchor that should be holding steady to keep the rest of our state together.”

    Providence is the anchor dragging down the state. Most people I know older than say 30 won’t go into Providence – not because of the crime – but because it’s a pain (red light cameras, parking, traffic) and there are plenty of options for fine restaurants and places to shop outside the city. The Dunk and PPAC are still fairly accessible, but can’t think of much else.

    Want to get more action – put some affordable housing in the East Side – “a study by New York University’s Furman Center found that residents living in public housing within a wealthier neighborhood tend to show “dramatically better economic and quality-of-life outcomes” than those in poor neighborhoods, which supports the idea for mixed-income neighborhoods.”

    • Rhett Hardwick

      Public Jobs – I noted in the last census that about 23% of Rhodents draw their paycheck from a government. This is about average. Just think, 1 in 4 to govern the rest of us.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    It is the home to approximately 178,000 people of diverse heritages and cultures.
    But, in the 50’s population approached 500,000. And, of course, it was a “Navy Town”.
    ” I use to live in Providence, but I moved out, it’s too violent now. It’s changed.” Commonplace. My relatives near Richmond (about the same size as Providence) will tell you the same. In that case, “violence” is obviously code for blacks. Surprisingly, to me, Richmond has a rather high murder rate.
    “we are proud that Providence has always been known as a college town with thousands of students coming here from all over the world.” Yale has the same problem, New Haven is a hellhole.

    Why are we forgetting that in the Golden Era, that you suppose, Providence was utterly controlled by the Mafia? I mostly grew up in a Providence suburb, I can recall being warned of what parts to stay out of. My mother who lived in Providence proper, in her teens, reports that “nice Irish girls” didn’t go to Italian neighborhoods. I am assuming the reverse to be true. “Diverse heritages”?

  • Makaha Ken

    Not at all surprised at all the troubles in Providence and it is going to become worse and start spreading out to other cities and towns in the State.

    When I visit friends in New England I don’t even go anywhere near Providence anymore and my family use to live there!!!

    Rhode Island is ranked one of the top 10 unfriendly states in the nation:

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Not sure why this reminds me of a Journal article from the middle 60’s, I’ve never forgotten it. A black guy, a suspected rapist as I recall, was chased into three decker by police. By the time they got him back to the first floor, he didn’t have a hair left on his head. According to police “It was the only place we could grab him”. If there was a follow up story, I don’t recall it.