December 3, 2020

Keeping Metacomet Green: A Moral Imperative

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I believe the exasperation being expressed by so many East Providence residents regarding this proposal is not motivated by the clichéd sort of NIMBYism that typically accompanies large-scale development projects like this. There’s an altogether different feel to this. I believe the exasperation is motivated by a highly attuned sense of moral outrage at the circumstances surrounding this deal, a series of curious cascading events dating back several years:

  • The city charitably allowing the Golf Club to slip deeper and deeper into tax arrears;
  • The drawing of the Census Tract 104 Opportunity Zone boundary, ostensibly a “low-income area,” as the arrears continued to pile up, and less than a year prior to the April 2019 acquisition of the Golf Club by a new ownership group;
  • Grandiose promises made to a community, and publicly via the media, by the new ownership about plans to keep this property a functioning Golf Club and Open Space for generations to come;
  • The presence, on the potential new ownership/development team, of personalities for whom a reasonable case for recusal could be made, owing to their fingerprints on the aforementioned curiosities and others not listed herein.

Rhode Islanders, as a collective people, have a very heightened sense of when they’re getting a raw deal, dating back to the Gaspee Affair, and later when they became the first colony to renounce allegiance to King George III. East Providence residents, in particular, proved that they punch above their weight when they saved the Crescent Park Carousel and kept it spinning in situ, a carousel which by many scholarly opinions is the finest carousel still in operation in North America, and which was nearly destroyed by short-sighted greed.

The old adage is “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The outrage towards this proposal stems from the moral imperative that good things (massive profit potential, for one party via a flip, and for the other party, via long-term large-scale development) should not happen to people as a result of their failure to live up to their word. The sensation I’ve gotten from this Metacomet Affair is that a game was played, where the rules of the game were “Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.” The people of East Providence are not willing to play this game. They have no patience for this game. They have no tolerance for this game. Not only are they not willing to play this game, they are willing to pillory anybody who dares to drag them into this game. That is the extent to which this community feels betrayed.

It is a far cry from NIMBYism, as the comments I have read suggest the community would accept any number of developments in the city of East Providence, and even surrounding this neighborhood, or among the many abandoned storefronts or abandoned factories or cracked concrete pads along the waterfront. But demolishing this particular parcel, a pristine, marshy, green meadowland landscape, and positioning in its stead a new “Live, Work, Play” community abutting the modest homes of this particular neighborhood strikes many as a note far too sour, a chord far too harsh, especially at a time of a global pandemic, a looming potential for economic disaster, a tidal wave of economic retractions across a variety of represented industries, and the unknown political realities on the ground for the next eight to twelve years.

Open Space was zoned Open Space for a reason all those years ago. East Providence racing to attach itself ever further to Providence’s concrete urbanization by shedding its presumably perpetual Open Space is a race that this community simply does not want to run. Unlike the word of some, who make grandiose promises in the media about maintaining this property as an Open Space for “generations to come,” the word of this community actually has weight. Unlike the word of some, who will say one thing and then do the exact opposite thing, the final word on this deal belongs to the community. It is right and just that a community should cherish and protect its green, Open Space. It is their duty to do so. The Open Space belongs to the community. It is the word of the community that will decide its fate. And the word of the community is a resounding “No.”

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