PROVIDENCE – Delivering his second inaugural address Monday, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza called upon the city’s most powerful institutions to help solve Providence’s economic and social challenges.
“The truth is that our city ranks among the worst in the country when it comes to income inequality; there is a stark divide of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ ” Elorza said in his speech.
In his second four-year term, the mayor said he’ll seek solutions through the Urban Innovation Partnership between the city and local universities and hospitals, formed through his conversations with them over the past year and a half.
“These institutions can do more and they want to do more,” Elorza said. “We have set a vision together, based on locally driven innovation and inclusive economic growth so that we can both support our entrepreneurs and expand the reach to communities of color and disenfranchised groups.”
In addition, the mayor said he will work to make Providence one of the few cities to offer universal pre-kindergarten programs free of charge, and ensure students have equal opportunities to succeed.
“In a time when virtually every school assignment requires some connection to the internet, many of our kids do not have access to high-speed internet in their home,” Elorza said. “These kids must visit a friend’s house or somehow hustle to find internet in their neighborhoods just to complete their basic assignments. This certainly puts them at a disadvantage and it perpetuates the advantage of those who already have it.
“Over these next four years, I will work so that every school-age child in Providence has access to high-speed internet in their home,” he added. “We want all of our kids to be ready to compete in the 21st century, and because of that we will equip them with the tools that they need to get ahead.”
The city also will host a “housing and affordability” summit this year.
“We must take a critical look at the issues of gentrification, housing affordability and displacement from every angle and craft a comprehensive city response,” Elorza said.
As a catalyst for neighborhood improvement, the mayor noted the city’s recently announced “Woonasquatucket River Vision” plan – a 20-year urban revitalization effort that will extend west from downtown to communities along the river.
“Working with hundreds of stakeholders, we crafted a vision that connects our city from Fox Point to the Waterplace basin to Valley Street to Manton Avenue,” he added.
Meanwhile, Elorza said, his administration will launch a “City of Kindness” initiative.
“Depression is at record levels, suicides continue to rise and overdoses have skyrocketed. People are feeling lonely, they’re feeling anxious and they’re feeling angry,” he said. “The initiative will begin by creating a kindness work group that will brainstorm ways that we can spread kindness throughout our city so that we lead our lives with more compassion and love for one another.
“In the next four years,” he added, “I pledge to not only engage around budgets, infrastructure, development, education and all those things that mayors talk about, but to also use this awesome platform that is being Providence’s mayor to engage in the meaningful work that it takes to be a kinder, more compassionate city.”
During his first term, Elorza said, Providence has made progress on a variety of fronts: The city’s finances are more stable today than four years ago; more real estate development is taking place; major crimes have dropped; and there have been improvements at more than 600 abandoned homes around the city and more than 80 neighborhood parks.
In addition, city departments and services have become more responsive to the public; summer learning and job programs for students are in place; infrastructure projects are underway, including $400 million over 10 years to rebuild public schools; and the city has started new community-building public events such as PVD Fest.
Moreover, he said, the city has taken progressive stances on the use of renewable energy, such as offshore wind and solar power, and as well as in welcoming immigrants.
“As many of you know, my parents emigrated here from Guatemala,” he said. “As a city of immigrants, we have a tradition embedded deeply within us of giving a helping hand to those who need it the most.”
Scott Blake is a Providence Business News staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.