The latest version of Providence City News included a great interview with two neighborhood leaders in the Wanskuck neighborhood, off Branch Ave. Its a good reminder of how to get involved, and the rewards !
My Neighborhood: At Wanskuck
A place where everybody knows your name isn’t just at a staged bar on the old set of the TV sitcom, “Cheers.” You realize very quickly that that friendliness, hospitality, and compassion for neighbors exists very nearby when you speak to long-time residents (who some also refer to as the “Block Captains”) of the Wanskuck neighborhood, Gail and Arthur Kirkorian, about the true nature of living in and standing watch over the same neighborhood for more than half a century.
Q: How long have you lived in Wanskuck?
G: I’ve lived here for 53 years – born and raised on the next street over from here (Vandewater Street) on Stansbury.
A: I’ve lived here for about 37 years. I was renting in this house where we live now and then ended up buying it later on.
G: I used to play in this house as a kid. But Arthur and I met later on and we dated for 12 years before getting married. I’ve been pretty fortunate here. I’ve known all my neighbors since I was young. In fact, I remember when the house next door to us was a little schoolhouse.
A: Many people have lived in our neighborhood for about 50-plus years. It’s a really close-knit community. A lot of old-timers. There are a lot of nice people in the area, a nice mix of different people. And people generally love the houses.
G: Yes, but a lot of them are old homes and they’re starting to deteriorate. That’s how we got involved in the neighborhood. When you fix your house up and others don’t, you start to see how quickly things deteriorate. Arthur started to get involved with the merchants in the neighborhood, mostly down the hill on Branch Avenue, to get their storefronts cleaned – picking up the garbage, cleaning their sidewalks … a lot has gotten cleaned up since. Even the McDonald’s on Branch has started to maintain their storefront!
Also, we’ve been getting involved in getting graffiti removed in the neighborhood. There’s been some kids vandalizing some property around here, but we call the Mayor’s Office. I’ve spoken to Chris Bizzacco and thanks to him, we’ve gotten quite a bit removed, and I’ve given him more to look in to.
Q: So, how do you do it? How do you accomplish your work in the community?
A: Sometimes, we’ll make up flyers and we pass it around the neighbors. There’s a small group of us – about 6 to 7 residents – that meet in the library with officials. Then, we have a bigger neighborhood meeting once a year. There is a neighborhood association and we’ve been involved with them for about 4 to 5 years now.
But going back to graffiti – you know what would be really great? If our officials go to the schools themselves and talk to the kids, inform them of the penalties involved when they vandalize property. I think that will help a lot.
Q: How has the neighborhood changed over the past few years?
G: You know, it’s sort of going down in just a few areas and some people have left. There are a few tough kids roaming around the neighborhood and we would like to see more community police presence. The kids that do bad things ruin it for the kids that really want to play and live healthy lives in the neighborhood.
A: Yes, I think it would be great to see our police in the playgrounds, just when the kids are getting out of school.
G: One of our neighbors recommended a walking path around the park. I think people would really love that, because if there were people in the park, we’d all be able to keep a better eye on it and the activities that go on here.
A: Well, our councilman, Peter Mancini, is very accessible, too.
G: Yes, also the staff at the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services – especially that Pleshette Mitchell – is great! They’re responsive and helpful. I called her the other day about getting an auto body shop down the hill cleaned up.
Q: What do you like most about your neighborhood?
A: There are a lot of good neighbors around here. We have a neighbor who likes to bring our trash cans in after it gets picked up! And we have another neighbor who helps plow the snow in the winter. So we all help each other around here.
G: And there’s also a neighbor who helps clean up the park himself! He picks up the trash, rakes the leaves, sweeps the sidewalks. In fact, he plans to get us all together and clean up Vandewater Street! Arthur himself loves to plant flowers.
(As Gail continues to speak, Arthur leaves the room to grab some photos of the yard work he does in his house. He showed us pictures of morning glories, petunias, and marigolds that he planted around the fence and in the yard of his well-kept property.)
Yes, sometimes people will see us walking around the neighborhood and ask us, “You’re not the house with the flowers, are you?!”
So, in general, if we have problems in the area, we call our neighbors. When they have problems, they call us. It’s a good neighborhood, these streets within the blocks of Stansbury, Vandewater, and Sherwood.
Q: What would you like to see most in the future of Wanskuck?
G: I’d like to see people keep their properties up.
A: We’re referred to as the Block Captains around here, because we address the problems in our neighborhood!
G: Yes, the Block Captains! We just want to see it kept up.
A: Because we’d like to stay here as long as possible. But it needs to be kept up and people need to pay attention more to how the neighborhood looks.
G: You know it is a shame when people get afraid for their kids and move – but for the most part, we haven’t had many problems. I think that’s because the neighbors look out for each other. Neighbors need to get involved with each other to make a difference.
A: And that’s basically what we do.
Neighbors of Gail and Arthur Kirkorian should rest easy at night knowing that their “Block Captains” seemingly never cease to watch over their safety and interests. Even as the interview was winding down, they came up with a list of messages and requests from neighbors to communicate to their officials – regarding topics that range from economic development, to trash and graffiti removal, to neighborhood revitalization, to preserving their local library, and so on. Because like so many of us, they just want to see their neighborhood thrive and be a place where different people can live, work, and study for as long as they have, if not longer.