Why Providence, Rhode Island?

Why Providence, Rhode Island?  This is a question I find myself answering daily as I inform friends and colleagues that after a decade of nomadic wanderings, my husband Geoff and I are buying a house and moving our family and our stuff (currently spread across three states) to Providence, Rhode Island.

Moving our stuff into storage (again).

Moving our stuff into storage (again).

The root of this question can be traced to our original question — where should we live?  — which we have spent a decade pondering and avoiding.  In the past 10 years, we have lived in three countries and four states.  We’ve moved eight times since our daughter Madeline was born two and a half years ago.  It’s no wonder that every time we get in the car, she looks at us and demands, “What’s going on?”  A month after one of our several moves, I posted on Facebook that I wanted to move (again), to which one of my friends mused, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.”

As we have wrestled with the question of where to live, we forced ourselves to look closely at our priorities and narrow down the three things we felt we couldn’t compromise.  Here were mine: 1) enough room to have a home office and guests; 2) a walkable city that has some international culture; 3) more local donations to the Democratic party than the Republican.

We considered New York City since until a few weeks ago, we owned a one-bedroom apartment there.  But neither of us have careers there and it’s an expensive, intense city.  To live in New York, we’d sacrifice my number one requirement, foregoing amenities like outdoor space, parking, and guest bedrooms.  But we’d also lose something much more fundamental: freedom.  New Yorkers walk fast — they have to.  They need to get whatever they’re doing done so they can get back to the real task of making more money.  Don’t get me wrong — I adore New York.  It’s like a charming lover that spends all your dough — you kind of resent it but you also kind of believe it’s worth it.  When you live in New York, you scoff at the world wondering why anyone would live anywhere else but the greatest city on the planet.  When you don’t live there, you wonder why anyone would.

View from our window in Boston, Massachusetts.

View from our window in Boston, Massachusetts.

Another contender was Boston, Massachusetts where many of our friends live.  Geoff and I both went to college and grad school there, and Madeline was born there.   We lived in Back Bay for three years, the Fenway for one, and even Cambridge, Massachusetts for a year.  And after all that, I can honestly say I don’t like Boston.  I feel bad saying that because I think Boston likes me, but it’s nothing personal.  It’s just not my type.  I recognize Boston’s redeeming qualities and ‘on paper’ it looks like the best option for us.  It’s liberal (gay people marry), intellectual (27 colleges), and pretty (swan boats).  What’s more, it’s near Geoff’s work, and most of my contacts in film and education are there.  But I’m just not in love with it.  To me, Boston has all the disadvantages of city life, with too few of the advantages.  If I’m going to live somewhere where I need to sign my kid up for preschool a year in advance, it should be New York.  Because in New York, you have a city that satisfies every niche all night long.  There’s Times Square for pulse, Central Park for nature, and a taxi when you need one.  In Boston, you have the T which will probably take longer to get somewhere than walking, and lots of luck hailing a taxi.  In Boston, there’s not even a Pinkberry, but it still costs you several hundred dollars a month for parking.

Around New York City and Boston, there are dozens (hundreds?) of affordable, lovely suburbs which we know we don’t want to live.  In fact, we spent four years living in one of them — Winchester, Massachusetts — a town with good schools and historic houses.

The yard in the Providence, Rhode Island house we are buying.

The yard in the Providence, Rhode Island house we are buying.

So that has left us with Providence, an actual city close enough to Boston to work there a few days per week and one where we can afford a whole house with a driveway and a yard.  No doubt, I’m put off by one of my friend’s remarks, “If there is one place I’d like to burn to the ground, it’s Providence.”  And a doctor I met in Providence recently told me no one’s moving to Providence, only out of it.  To make matters worse, the Rhode Island government announced yesterday that they’d be shutting down for 12 days, forcing over 80 percent of the government workforce to take unpaid days.  The state’s unemployment rate has reached 12.7%, second only to Michigan.

So why indeed Providence, Rhode Island?  I can’t say it’s because I love Providence.  Even though it’s where I was born, I don’t know it very well, which is part of what makes it scary, and so alluring — it’s another adventure.  And whether we live there for a few years or a lifetime is yet to be determined and the start of the next question we will ask ourselves.

13 thoughts on “Why Providence, Rhode Island?

  1. Thank you for this informative post. I’m considering my options re: moving back to the east coast (I’ve lived in Brooklyn, Tampa, and now LA) and Providence is one of the cities I’m currently considering. Your criteria is similiar to mine and I loved running across your post.

    Do you have a time-table re: your move? I would love to hear more regarding your experience once you are there.

  2. Thanks Alli 🙂

    Sonia – We are supposed to close on our house mid-September. We’re redoing the floors so we will have to wait probably til October 1 to move in. Subscribe via RSS or check back here — I will definitely be posting our experiences as we continue! If you do wind up in Providence (and I kind of hope you do because the more interesting people we get to move there the better), let me know!

  3. Thank you Michele! I’ll definitely keep tabs on your blog and will let you know if I decide to move to Providence.

    Good luck!

  4. Hey, I love Providence. Here are at least two good reasons to move there:

    1. As far as I can tell, it has the best bike path in the world. (Providence to Bristol) And, I have seen a lot of them.

    2. WaterFire. I can’t wait to go see that again. Maybe next year. I want to bring Mom to see it while she can still travel. What an exciting, surreal, fun experience.

    Providence used to be kind of a dump, but the downtown renovation was a complete success, in my opinion.

    Also, don’t be misled by the show “Providence”. The sort of back-country feel is not that accurate. I think most of that show was probably filmed in Woonsocket.

  5. Perfect timing and great idea for a blog. B and I have begun brainstorming more seriously on where to go (or stay) without that lingering feeling of what will be next. I wish your entry of two years from now were already available. That would really help. The house looks great; I’m sure you made the right choice. Be sure to get that guest room furnished quickly. Bon courage!

  6. Allan – I haven’t been on the bike path yet (see even you know Providence better than I do) but looking forward to it! We bought a bike seat for Madeline at a garage sale but it’s missing some parts so we may have to spring for a new one. Water fire was a lot of fun. Come with your mom and stay in our new house — plenty of room for you guys!

    Tobias – I know what you mean. The trouble with making a decision is that it rules out other options (at least for now) which is hard to do when you love so many places and don’t really want to commit to any. Guest rooms will be up and running this fall – you must come! Perhaps I can start a ‘move to Providence’ cult and get all my friends and family to come and then I really will like it….

  7. Hi Geoff & Michele:

    So happy to stumble across this blog, and find that you are living in RI now (Michele, I went to college with Geoff).

    Geoff: if you are in Providence during the week, and would like to grab lunch let me know. Cafe Choklad is one of my favorite places, and would be a great place to catch up.


    PS: The post above is spot-on, and we had the same list in mind when we moved from Tarrytown to Edgewood (Cranston). We’ve been here since 2005, and have no regrets.

  8. Hello,

    Very glad to have happened across this blog when we did!

    I took a job promotion, and moved out here with my wife from Minnesota in January… With apprehension, since we would be uprooting from everything, and everyone we’ve known.

    Unfortunately, we brought our Minnesota winter with us! (sorry).

    We had the same type of requirements while looking for a place as your family had, and will be closing on our new home in early April. I think we’ll do alright out here.

    Anyway, your blog has given us a number of great ideas on what to do after we’re finally settled in, (and the shock of moving our cats, and dog has subsided).

    We are excited to soak up the local culture, and are ready to start the next chapter in our adventure together out here.

    So, Thanks from these midwestern transplants! Your above post, along with the rest of the blog, has been very informative. Much appreciated!

    ~Zack & Katie

    • I’m so glad to hear the blog has been helpful to you. This has been a *rough* winter, but sounds like you were prepared. I normally don’t like snow & cold, so this really hasn’t been my kind of winter at all!

  9. Acclimated, unfortunately yes.
    Prepared, meh.

    Indeed, After such a long, cold, dreary winter we really take to heart Steinbeck’s quote
    “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”

  10. Hi Michele, I just stumbled onto this while thinking of moving to Providence myself. Like you, I’ve lived in many places and, also similarly, know the suburbs are not where I need to be. I also hate Boston for all the non-box-checking reasons you wrote about. I recently came to Pittsburgh to see if it could be a contender but am finding it too surrounded by religiosity.

    Anyway, how is Providence treating you now? Would you mind sharing your thoughts?


    • Hi Valerie – I still love it here in Providence – it is now officially the longest place I’ve lived in my life. Even after spending 4 months in Berlin last fall, where I was perfectly content to stay actually, I still was glad to be back in Providence. I still wish there were more jobs here for all of us – and many of my friends have one person in their household commuting or working for a Massachusetts company, which is not ideal, but the pros just so clearly outweigh all of the cons. Love the year-round farmers’ market, the intellectual/artistic/somewhat offbeat community, the slightly slower pace of the city – it’s just a great fit for us in so many ways. Do you have specific questions?

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