By Barry Fain with Justin Razza, East Side Monthly - March 2008
This article is courtesy of the East Side Monthly
To paraphrase Las Vegas, there's an old, and probably outdated perception that "if you're born on the East Side, you stay on the East Side." Home ownership here is often times seen as generational. In fact, it usually takes decades before our homes are perceived as really ours. Take my home for example. My wife and I have lived in it for over 25 years, yet is still frequently referred to as the "White's house," in deference to the family who bought it in the late 50s and renovated it. Forget the fact that we bought it from the Joneses who bought it from the Whites and lived in it for a decade themselves. If we ever move out, perhaps our stay here will be memorialized for future generations, too.
But the reality, based on census data, is that the East Side actually has more home turnover than virtually any other area of the state. And despite Governor Carcieri's fear that people are fleeing Rhode Island because of taxes, the economy, education (choose one), that certainly isn't the case here on the East Side.
Some return because of family. Others come here for jobs. But what we find fascinating is the number of interesting, creative, committed families that have recently moved to the East Side but could have relocated anywhere. Sometimes their discovery of Providence was systematic; other times the process was more random. Of the many new residents we spoke with, here are six that we found particularly interesting. Hopefully you?ll find it as stimulating as we did to see our city through the eyes of people who have been in other communities and yet succumbed to the uniquely seductive charms of an East Side we all too often take for granted.
Nina and Todd Insler
Of All the new arrivals to the East Side, Nina and Todd literally are the new kids on the block. Or at least their two little children are. The couple bought a house on Orchard Avenue less than six months ago and are just getting acclimated to their new digs. And what's the verdict so far? "Best decision we've ever made," Nina reports with a broad grin.
When looking for a place to live, the Inslers considered locations from Maine to Florida. Todd is a pilot for United Airlines and literally could live anywhere. "As long as I get to the airport an hour before takeoff, they're fine with it." Ironically, Todd is actually part of the Los Angeles based flight crew. In addition he is a union representative which means frequent trips to Chicago, where United is headquartered. "It been a little stressful on occasion, but it's getting better." Obviously, you can count Todd as someone who'd like to see the airport runway extension come sooner than later.
Nina, on the other hand, is a ceramic artist and of course was well aware of RISD and Providence's established commitment to the arts. "I look forward to getting into things here, though with two small children, that may have to wait a bit."
The Inslers are Providence pioneers in the truest sense of the world. "We came here literally knowing no one... well one couple, but that was it. But if there one thing that has surprised us the most, it's how the community has embraced us." With one child at Wheeler, the Inslers feel they have become part of a family. "Anytime we need to know something, people are unbelievable about sharing their "network," what to so with the kids, where to shop or eat, doctor referrals. "Coming from Westchester County, the warmth came as a pleasant surprise."
The Inslers did have some concerns. "The price of the homes we looked at here, were dollar wise about the same as in New York,?" says Todd. With one big difference. "You certainly get a lot more house for the money." That said, he was surprised by the size of the taxes you pay in Providence. "It seem very high compared to some of our suburban friends and easily as high as New York. So we were a little concerned over what you get for city services in return." So far, the couple is quite satisfied. "A tree blew down in the last snowstorm and we called to alert the City," Todd notes. "It was gone within hours! Another time a neighbor's alarm went off by mistake. The police were right on. We couldn't be happier."
The decision to relocate to Providence came after a thoughtful analysis by the young couple. "We're both from Mt. Vernon, NY and we didn't want to be more than three hours or so from our parents. We needed to be sure there were some excellent educational options for our kids. While we're both products of public schools, we're quite excited about the many private school options that exist here on the East Side." They also love the cultural options, the proximity of some wonderful children's parks and the wide range of affordable and delicious food options. "Ironically, we used to go to the Cape when we were younger and Wayland Square seemed to be a place we often ended up stopping at for dinner. And now, here we are, within walking distance," recalls Nina.
When a young couple like the Inslers spends the kind of time they did doing their homework and then choose Providence as, in this case literally, their place to land, it reaffirms that our city has arrived. That they?re off to such a great start is even better.
David Becker and Rock Ripple
For David Becker and Rock Ripple, the decision to relocate to Providence revolved around the educational needs of their 12-year old adopted daughter Amelia. The two fathers had been up in Walpole, but wanted a more urban environment with a school that could deliver a first rate education. In their minds, the East Side of Providence and Moses Brown provided the perfect solution. And rather than have their daughter commute to Providence, David and Rock sold their home and moved here, allowing them to both do the commuting while Amelia could walk to school. In 2005, they purchased a condo in the beautiful Friedrich St. Florian designed project on the corner of Pratt and Olney which sits, ironically, exactly midway between the train station (for David's commute to Boston) and Moses Brown.
"We obviously would have preferred a less expensive public school alternative," the couple reports, "but MB and its community have been wonderful, and it's still considerably less expensive than private school options in Boston. And while Amelia initially came here somewhat reluctantly, it certainly has worked out better than we expected. The community has been exceptionally warm to us." They also report that, not unrepentantly, Amelia finds Thayer Street, "cool."
David, a dean at Roxbury Community College in Boston, and Rock, a physician who practices in Southeastern Mass., have been together for over fifteen years and began researching educational options in earnest once they had adopted their daughter. In addition to the schooling component, the two also sought a vibrant urban experience... since they'd also lived in places like Washington, DC and San Francisco as well as Boston. They love the life here in Providence, especially the fact that you continually bump into the same people. "The classic description of Rhode Island is correct," says David. "Six degrees of separation somewhere else is only one or two here."
Another positive aspect of the move has been their new condo. Most people who choose to live on the East Side are attracted by the historical architecture. David and Rock were quite the opposite. A native of California, Rock grew up living in what he describes as a "cubist house" in California. Just over two years ago, when he and David saw the stylish new construction that was planned for the project, they were hooked. As it turns out four of the six Pratt St. condo units are in fact owned by out-of-staters. Their unit is four floors... with a garage on the lowest level, two balconies and great views. What's not to like?
As happy as they are with the current situation, the two admit, as part of their "full disclosure," that they will probably move back to Boston when Amelia graduates MB (or "launches," as they label it). One reason has something to do with our topography. "As one ages, the hills that are now so enjoyable become a little more daunting making "flat space" more appealing." A second has to do with their close involvement with their church in Boston. But perhaps most importantly, the two expressed frustration with Rhode Island's current policy toward gay rights. "Given this is the state founded by Roger Williams in the name of religious tolerance, one would think we would be following the Massachusetts lead on this issue. The Governor and the Legislature need to consider a more progressive approach to providing equal protection under the law to couples like ourselves. Otherwise it makes it much less likely people like us will choose to retire here."
But for now, David and Rock continue to enjoy life in their new digs. Amelia continues to enjoy her new school. And the East Side continues to be the beneficiary of a non-traditional family that is making us all the richer by their presence.
Jonathan and Candace French
As Hurricane Katrina pummeled New Orleans on August 28, 2005, Jonathan and Candace French weathered their own storm, shipped out and crossed the pond from merry olde England to the artistic community of the East Side of Providence. "It was a bit of a traumatic time," Jonathan recalls, "But quite an adventure really." And no strangers to excursion, these two spirited artisans bravely bravely crossed the pond and landed right here.
Having arrived here in the US on the day of the New Orleans disaster, the Frenches came here looking for a great place to raise a family. Wanting to get the kids into school at the outset of the academic year, they stayed with some friends and in hotels until they finally moved into their house on Cushing Street at the beginning of October. The house itself, bought from a woman who had lived there for 75 years, is three floors, old and historic, and still maintains all of its original features. "I spotted the house and fell in love with it," Jonathan reminisces. And immediately, they knew they had made the right choice. They not only loved the neighborhood, but felt welcome immediately; their neighbors brought gifts of food, Italian sparkling wine, tools, and even an oven. Their friendly East Side neighbors even helped them clean their new house.
But the real question is thus: in looking for an inter-continental move, of all the proverbial gin joints in all the world, why choose Providence's East Side? "Because we're artists," Jonathan answers, "so we like the idea of the art community in Providence. And the East Side is full of good, like-minded people. RISD is right around the corner. There are all sorts of interesting activities going on. Plus it's a good place for kids, there are other kids around; East Side soccer, it's good." The family left a nice spot in London for a lovely spot here. They walk to the Avon, and the Cable Car, and to the many great restaurants that the city has to offer.
And in addition to walking convenience of the city, Providence is a great launchpad for excursion points. Jonathan loves the city's, "proximity to Boston and being able to spend the day up there, the Newport Cliff Walk and Beavertail, plus major museums of New England and skiing." Obvious lovers of adventure, they cycle down the bike path quite a bit and even over to visit friends who live in Barrington. "It's great how easy life can be being within walking distance of so many great things."
Candace, who is an American, lived in Boston for 17 years and then in London for 10. Her parents met at RISD in the 50s, so she has a fond affiliation with the area. "I found inspiration in moving here; it touched my heart," she explains the incentive behind moving to the East Side. "It still has that undiscovered feeling to me. The more I'm here the more I discover things and the more I like it." And while the day they moved to the US may have been a severe meteorological one in American history, the weather here in New England is something that Jonathan really loves. "It's nice to have the seasons so strongly." Pretty happy here, and having found a great and safe place to let their kids run free, the wayfarer trek of the Frenches may just have landed at their final destination.
Suzanne and Baynard Kellam
When Suzanne and Bayard Kellam retired after well over two decades of teaching, coaching and counseling at a boarding school in Western Massachusetts, they pretty much had their retirement years predetermined. An energetic couple with a broad range of interests, not to mention two grown up children, they were looking forward to indulging their love of travel, whether by bicycle, motorcycle, car or plane. The Kellams had a home on Martha's Vineyard and another in San Miguel de Allende, a small town in Mexico. But the more they thought about it, the more they felt they needed on off-island place to serve as a home base. After a bit of research, and ruling Boston out as too expensive, the Kellams narrowed their search down to two likely sites: Providence or Portsmouth, NH.
Providence drew the short straw so the Kellams came in to explore us first. They came in for a weekend on Friday night. By Sunday, they were committed. Portsmouth never even got a visit. "We just fell in love with the place... its size, its charm, its character. Fox Point in particular felt just right." The second house they saw was a cute historic house on Williams Street near Governor with a small, but adorable, backyard. Within a few days, the deal was done.
"Providence has turned out to be exactly what we hoped it would be,? reports Suzanne. "We're close to downtown and recently walked about 15 minutes to PPAC for a play. We go out to eat most nights. There's Brown around the corner. It doesn't get much better than this."
The Kellams have just headed off to Mexico for their winter hiatus, but they'll be back next month. But both Suzanne and Bayard are adamant that their delightful new Fox Point home is in it for the long haul. "This will be our home base for the foreseeable future. The Vineyard is fine for the summer and for renting out as well. Mexico is also a nice spot for a winter vacation. But Providence is a city and our new home."
Perhaps the most surprising part of their Providence experience is the friendliness of the East Side. "Everyone has been so welcoming to us. Neighbors came over the first day. Another young family who lives next door invited us over to a party. We were sort of like the grandparents there, but it was terrific. Even the drivers here are polite," observes Suzanne. "Lousy drivers to be sure, but polite."
So just what is it about Providence that makes it work so well for the Kellams? "Perhaps the most important thing to us was to find a community where we could feel comfortable. Fox Point is a place where whatever you are is just fine. No value judgments. It's a special place."