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The Providence DNA, Moving Downtown Forward

When the Providence Downtown Neighborhood Association formed in October 2015, it was clear that this wasn’t your typical neighborhood association. The first meeting was in the atrium of the Peerless Building, smooth jazz was playing, there were drinks and snacks, and the vibe was mellow. At the front, there was a board set up for people to write down what they loved about the neighborhood on a sticky note. While many neighborhood associations grow out of a feeling of discontent or frustration, this group was started by Rich Pezzillo and Michael DeGrandpre, a couple who had recently moved to the neighborhood and LOVED it. Many of their neighbors did too, but they quickly realized that these residents didn’t have a unified voice in the city.

Two and a half years later, I reached out to Rich to hear about how the group has evolved, and what their vision is for the future. Rather than chat through screens, Rich corralled his board and we met up in person. DNA Treasurer Kristin Stone had her two kids in tow, so we settled in at Brandon’s Beach at Burnside Park where the kids could play while we all talked.

Photo by Christine Francis

We immediately started talking about the impressive work the DNA has accomplished in a relatively short time. They spoke about a big part of their success being projects with a visual impact, that people can see and notice, such as their Riverwalk Project. Together they have worked to sand and paint railings, poles and benches along the Riverwalk, as well as replace broken cables. Not only does Providence’s waterfront look more welcoming and safe, this project has also saved the city over $200,000 in labor costs. They also worked with local representatives in state and city government to advocate for replacing missing or broken lightbulbs. We can thank them for the Point Street Bridge once again shining brightly.

Photo by Michael DeGrandpre

Many of their successes are less visual but no less important. They have helped Downtown Providence gain recognition as a neighborhood that people call home, and not just one that people work in or pass through. “Our work has reinvigorated the idea of downtown as a neighborhood,” said Board Member Anthony Santurri.

Rich explained the DNA’s work as having three tiers: education, volunteerism and social. They aim to have transparency about what is happening in their community with each other, as well as the city and local stakeholders. They volunteer their time to increase civic engagement among the people living in Downtown Providence, and they get together socially to get know their neighbors.

After getting their organization off to a successful start, the board is hoping to set the DNA up for continuity into the future. They want new residents to get involved, and they want an engaged group, regardless of who is leading them. There are no membership dues to be involved with the DNA, you just need to live downtown.

Left to right: Peter Dugan, Kristin Stone, Christine Francis, Rich Pezzillo and Anthony Santurri

All of us at the Downtown Improvement District are thrilled to have such an engaged group of residents living in the neighborhood, and we look forward to continuing to work with them for many years to come.

For more information about the DNA, visit their website, follow their Facebook page, or join them at their next meeting on Tuesday, May 8 at The Pavilion at Grace where their guest speakers will include representatives from the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy.