Providence is Rhode Island's largest city and the state capital. With a population of greater than 180,000, Providence is larger than the second and third largest cities combined (Warwick and Cranston, respectively). Because Providence hosts nearly 20 percent of the state's population and thus dominates the state demographically, Rhode Island is sometimes called "The City-State".
Providence sits at the top of Narragansett Bay, which also serves as Rhode Island's defining geographical feature. In downtown Providence, two rivers—the Woonasquatucket and the Moshassuck—join to form the brief stretch called the Providence River that enters Narragansett Bay through the Hurricane Barrier.
Several prominent hills define Providence's land geography:
- Smith Hill hosts the State House
- Federal Hill is known for its Italo-American culture, especially for food
- College Hill is known for Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design
- Mount Hope is thought to be one of the oldest communities of freed African-Americans in the United States
Providence comprises several distinct neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods, each of which contributes to the city's complex character (counter-clockwise, from the center out):
Downtown - Lowlands west of the Providence River
- Downcity - This compact, easily walkable urban core defines Providence as an American city
- The Link - Land available for redevelopment after the demolition of the 1940s-era I-195 highway
- Jewelry District - 19th and 20th century mill buildings now hosting artistic, entertainment and commercial ventures; because Brown University has built a new medical school in this area and because many high-tech companies have offices there, this neighborhood is also called the Knowledge District
Note: The former I-195 highway divided Downcity from the Jewelry District. By removing this elevated highway, Rhode Island has reconnected Downcity with the Jewelry District via The Link, hence its name. This restoration of historically connected spaces represents an ongoing process through 2014 and beyond. This includes the restoration of previously abandoned street such as Clifford Street and Friendship Street. As this is currently in process, articles related to these neighborhoods will be subject to change for several years.
East Side - The long, high ridge between the Moshassuck River and the Seekonk River to the east
- India Point
- Wickenden Street
- Fox Point
College Hill (Thayer Street)
- Benefit Street
- Mount Hope
- Summit (Off Hope)
- Blackstone Boulevard
North End - The hilly land between the Moshassuck and the Woonasquatucket
- Smith Hill
- Charles Street
- Mount Pleasant
Valley - A narrow strip bordering the Woonasquatucket from Downcity to Olneyville
- Eagle Square
West Side - A high plain between Downcity and a sharp turn on the Woonasquatucket (Olneyville)
- Federal Hill
South Side - A low plain between Narragansett Bay and the Westside (generally demarcated by Cranston Street)
- Elmwood (north)
- Elmwood (south)
- Broad Street
- Allens Avenue (waterfront)
- Allens Avenue (hospitals)
More about Providence Neighborhoods
By plan or by chance, Providence has retained and to a large extent restored its 19th and early 20th century architecture, giving the city a distinctly charming character. Unlike other cities that were only able to preserve certain neighborhoods, Providence has kept much of the original architecture in all of its neighborhoods. From the Ernest Street municipal facilities in the southeast corner to the spacious Victorian era homes in Elmwood, the Armory or in Elmhurst, the city delights the eye with it's detailed structures from bygone eras. Newcomers should visit Benefit Street in particular to see dozens of restored homes from the 18th and 19th centuries.
A compact city by American standards, Providence's complex geography creates over 20 distinct neighborhoods, each with its own characteristics. Some neighborhoods derive their characteristics from a dominant ethnicity, others from their geography and still others from the activities that fill the buildings. Every neighborhood offers at least one longstanding restaurant that serves as a cultural anchor. Olneyville's New York System "wiener" joint received a 2014 James Beard Award as a classic American restaurant; Haven Brothers now-famous mobile diner, offering similar fare, sets up nightly on the broad sidewalks in front of City Hall.
Indeed, Providence is well-known for its abundance of all kinds of restaurants, including nationally renowned fine dining venues such as Al Forno. Johnson & Wales University, located in Downcity, includes an outstanding culinary arts school, giving Providence a never-ending stream of highly trained chefs. Some graduates remain in Providence and open chef-owner restaurants, which represent the core of the culinary scene.
Historically, Providence has manifested a joie de vivre far above any other New England city, including Boston, which many Rhode Islanders consider somewhat puritanical. Shameful as it is, Providence's 18th century success in the West African slave trade came from the high quality of the rum it produced. So it is appropriate that Providence should boast an embarrassingly large number of bars, pubs, and taverns as well as dance clubs and live music venues. The Providence nightlife scene draws from a regional market that reaches from Cape Cod to beyond Worcester, MA and from the Boston suburbs to well into eastern Connecticut.
In 1877, wives of several Providence mill owners developed the idea that they could apply the principals of art and design to both the products made in the mills and the machines that made the products. Thus began the concept of industrial design and the world-famous Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). As an indirect result, Providence became renowned for the manufacture of jewelry, with international brands like Swavorski and Spiedel still headquartered in the area. As an anchor institution, RISD and its students, teachers and alumni have kept art and design in the forefront of Providence life.
In fact, art and culture represent a core aspect of the city's self-conception. The public art project WaterFire has gained an international reputation and helped transform the image of Providence from a seedy, rundown backwater to a thriving city. AS220, started in the offices of a vacant Loew's movie theater that is now the Providence Performing Arts Center, is among the best-regarded independent arts organizations in the US and owns approximately 100,000 square feet of real estate in Downcity. In the early 2000's, then-mayor David Cicciline created the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism as a "cabinet-level" entity and ordered that the city create a cultural plan to guide this aspect of city life.
More about Providence City Life
With its strategic location at the top of Narragansett Bay, Providence serves as the hub for nearly all modes of transit in the region. US Interstate 95, the main East Coast thoroughfare, passes directly through Providence, where it intersects with US Interstate 195 to southeast MA and Cape Cod and state Route 146 to northwest RI, Interstate 90 (Mass Pike) and Worcester.
The Providence Train Station boards Amtrak Northeast Regional, Acela and Acela Express trains as well as Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA, aka The T) commuter rail (Purple Line) trains that run from Boston to Wickford Junction, RI. MBTA trains stop at the Interlink facility in Warwick, where the Skybridge connects travelers to T. F. Green airport, Rhode Island's major air travel facility.
Regionally, Providence serves as the hub for Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA). The vast majority of RIPTA bus lines originate at the terminal at Kennedy Plaza, directly adjacent to City Hall.
In addition to being the seat of state government, Providence hosts several colleges, two universities and a university extension campus as well as the state's major medical institutions. Thus government services, health care and education comprise the largest sectors of the Providence economy.
Cultural sector businesses, including restaurants, bars and nightclubs, theaters, museums, art galleries and more, contribute both to the Providence economy and to the highly-rated cultural life of the city.
Business and financial services also play an important role in the city's economy. Citizens Bank, now a division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, rightly sites its national headquarters in Providence because the bank was founded in Providence, and it's original location still a branch today.
Providence serves as Rhode Island's capital, housing the Rhode Island General Assembly as well as the offices of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor in the Rhode Island State House.
Providence's city government has a mayor-council form of government. The Providence City Council consists of fifteen city councilors, one for each of the city's wards. The council is tasked with enacting ordinances and passing an annual budget. Providence also has probate and superior courts. The U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island is located downtown across from City Hall adjacent to Kennedy Plaza.
The city's first Latino mayor was elected in 2010, Angel Taveras, who assumed office January 3, 2011.