PROVIDENCE: part 3

World War II brought some recovery to the local economy, as it did nationwide, but the relief did not survive the end of the war. By the late 1940s, Providence was again on hard times. The manufacturing miracle of the preceding century was over. It would take several decades for Providence to make the transition to the service economy that transformed the post-war United States. Anna Tirocchi, aging and increasingly ill in the 1940s, served fewer and fewer clients. When she died in 1947, her sister Laura Tirocchi Cella closed the shop.

In the 1950s and 60s, Providence made a transition typical of many urban areas, especially Northern cities. First, families moved out to newly developed suburban areas, a trend made possible by cheap cars, new roads, and the GI Bill supporting new housing for returning servicemen. As suburban towns grew, downtown Providence declined. No longer was it the center of shopping and entertainment for the urban area. Few buildings were added downtown during this period, but there was some commercial construction in outlying neighborhood areas. The largest industrial companies (American Screw, Nicholson File, and Brown and Sharpe) departed for the suburbs, and the local textile companies were virtually wiped out. Smaller manufacturing plants headed for the suburbs, too. Providence began the period with a population of 248,674 in 1950; by the census of 1970, that figure had declined to 179,116–a 28% decline. Railroads and local mass-transit suffered as well, but new urban freeways made their debut. In contrast to other declining trends, hospitals and colleges expanded during this period.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Providence was much reduced from its peak years, and city administrators worried about the tax-base implications of a population that was older and less affluent than in earlier decades. Nevertheless, they rolled up their sleeves and put together various public-private investment plans. Historic buildings in Downtown Providence were restored, and new buildings went up. Community centers and parks revitalized neighborhoods throughout the city, and many historic neighborhoods were refurbished. By 1980, several economic trends were evident. Investments in the port were paying off with a new marine terminal and containerized shipping. Service industries were rapidly replacing the industrial and manufacturing sectors that had dominated the economy for 150 years. Health care services employed 38.3% of the workforce and education employed 20.7%. Manufacturing provided only 31.3% of the jobs, while retail (16.2%) and the financial services (11.8%) continued to grow. The economy was diversifying at last, insuring the recovery of an economy that had begun to slide in the 1920s when the textile mills were first threatened.

Immigrants have continued to flock to Providence. Among the latest in the 1980s and 1990s are Hispanics and Southeast Asians. The ’90s have seen a great Renaissance in the city center. A new sports arena and convention center complex have attracted new visitors to the city. Uncovering and dredging the rivers that run through the downtown area has created appealing waterways. A new train station, hotel, and huge new shopping mall are also among the new downtown amenities. Night life has been re-infused into the city center with the establishment of new performing arts venues, a variety of new restaurants, and the creation of a tax-free zone for artists that has made downtown living possible and trendy. At the end of the 20th century, Providence’s economy is on solid footing. Despite challenges shared by every urban center in America, Providence looks toward the 21st century with the same optimism it carried a century ago.

Note: Information on Providence topics was derived from:

"Providence: Three and One-Half Centuries at a Glance," http://www.providenceri.com/

and from the 1999 "The Rhode Island Century" project of the Providence Journal.

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