The members of the Summit Neighborhood Association, at their annual meeting Monday evening, elected an expanded board of directors, heard reports from elected officials and participated in a wide-ranging discussion of the future of the neighborhood, the city and the state.
Re-elected at the gathering in Summit Commons on Hillside Avenue were directors Dean Weinberg as president, Jesse Polhemus as vice president and Harriet Hemphill as treasurer. Elected as secretary was board member Thomas Schmeling. Also re-elected were Anthony Arrigo, Grant Dulgarian, Howie Gladstone, Claude Goldman, Kerry Kohring, Daniel MacLellan, Britt Page, Sheila Perlow, Mary Ann Rossoni and Peter Sandby-Thomas.
Newcomers approved as a slate were Sierra Barter, Chris Bull, Daren Bulley, Colin Carlton, Martha Fraenkel, Anneliese Greenier, Volkan Gural and Joan Retsinas. Nominated from the floor and elected were Jim Barfoot and Jamal Carvalho.
Providence Mayor Angel Taveres reported that the city is working on improving snow removal, is preparing for a street-repaving project in the spring and is starting on Hope Street with a new city-wide program of recycling for businesses.
Speaker of the House Rep. Gordon Fox said his promise to get a vote on a marriage-equality bill has been fulfilled and that he is continuing to work on economic health in education and housing, transparency in government and gun safety.
Sen. Gayle Goldin said the first bill she cosponsored was on marriage equality and she is supporting legislation to repeal the voter identification law, to expand medical insurance to include family planning and to provide paid leave for people with family problems.
City Councilman Kevin Jackson vowed to continue to fight for the “underserved” by working with the other elected officials from Summit. He said his office has a map available showing the streets to be repaved and that his personal telephone number is 286-4223.
The discussion of the future was begun by a panel of neighborhood thinkers and activists including: Sierra Barter, of the PVD Lady Project; Jon Howard, Cause & Effect, Inc.; Coryndon Luxmoore, Buildium; and Jef Nickerson, Greater City Providence. The group was moderated by Weinberg and Arrigo.
The panelists seemed to agree that the quality of life in the neighborhood was good and improving, but that more work needed to be done, especially in education and “walkability.” They also stressed that increasing population density is a good trend as “people who are residents by choice” drive economic and cultural growth. Luxmoore said the area “needs more residents rather than parking spaces.” Nickerson agreed, saying “the more people available for supporting activities, the better” and Weinberg pointed out that “consultants support that.”
Better public transportation was also urged, as Barter said she wished Providence had “a system that makes sense for people after six o’clock.” In answer to a question from the floor about how to change the mindset about public transit, Luxmoore suggested limiting the availability of parking. “Rip up free parking,” he urged.
Another resident observed from the floor that funding for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is linked to the gasoline tax and therefore it depends on automobile usage, but asked about plans for service to the elderly, the young and minorities. Nickerson said that the concept of “aging in place” is very important, especially in a stable area such as Summit, and that AARP in Rhode Island, a lobbying organization for the elderly, is working with RIPTA to facilitate transportation.
But the school system generated the most reaction from the audience, especially as local schools increase in quality and there is competition for student space. One resident cited a breakdown in information from education officials about registering for school. Councilman Jackson said that local schools are supposed to have 80 percent enrollment from the neighborhood but that is not always happening. Nathan Bishop Middle School has recently gotten an extensive makeover, but one audience member said “Bishop got the improvement to keep white kids in the public schools.” Panelist Nickerson said there is “something fundamentally broken” in the way the state funds schools and they should be statewide “and all good.”
Howard said residents have to face the problems and he was amazed that “the citizens of Providence are not mobilized around the issue of horrendous education policy.” A comment from the floor cited “income inequality” as a core cause of inadequacies in the schools and another said the issue of poverty is “what we don’t want to address.” Yet another resident said the underlying problem was all about poverty and “as a society, we are not willing to pay for it.”
Arrigo closed the discussion by asking “What can SNA do?” The advice of the panel was summed up by Nickerson as “continue to discuss quality-of-life issues” and “lean on” elected officials.
Weinberg invited all Summit residents to attend the regular meetings of the board of directors at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of every month at Summit Commons.