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.
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.
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.
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.