Chants of his name rang through City Halls as Mayor Jorge Elorza entered the Council Chambers to give this year’s State of the City address. In his following speech, which was received with equivalent enthusiasm to his entrance, Elorza focused primarily on improving infrastructure and education to create a “New Providence,” while also discussing green initiatives and public safety.
According to the mayor, who is in his second and last term in office, the city has committed to the “largest infrastructure investment in (its) recent history,” with half a billion dollars invested over the next two years. Elorza said that recent improvements in Providence’s infrastructures, such as City Walk walking trails and a new pedestrian bridge, have connected different communities within the city. He cited the success of the 3-1-1 app, which allows residents to easily report infrastructural issues and has been used to complete over 55,000 cases. Elorza wants to ensure that “every child in the city lives within 10 minutes” of a green space by walking. Providence has over 100 parks — some of which have not been upgraded since the 1970s, which the mayor would like to improve.
Elorza also spent a large portion of his speech talking about the “great and necessary undertaking” of education reform. Recalling the union protest that “shouted down” his 2018 State of the City address, Elorza claimed that a holistic transformation of the education system has taken place since. Investments in public school facilities such as libraries and parking spots, as well as youth recreation centers and summer camps, show his administration’s commitment to public education, Elorza said.
“The ‘New Providence’ takes an integrated approach to taking (on) the whole challenge,” Elorza told the crowd. “And we’re not done yet,” he added. Saying that early learning programs can be costly for families, Elorza promised to provide universal pre-K education before the end of his term to ensure that “every single child is ready to learn at the age of five.”
Despite mentioning ways the school system has improved, the mayor conceded that the state take-over of the Providence Public School District will accomplish something his administration could not: “We never managed to break through and bring about the change that was needed,” he said.
Elorza also made sure to touch on Providence’s growing sustainability. One of his major accomplishments was the Climate Justice Plan, which has garnered national attention. Other successes included converting to LED street lights, banning plastic bags and using solar power for 70 percent of public buildings.
As his speech neared its end, Elorza lauded the police department. “Last year, total crime was at an all-time low, and over the past five years, shootings have been reduced by over 60 percent, burglaries have declined 55 percent and we have seen some of the lowest homicide rates in almost 50 years,” he said. The mayor also mentioned an improvement in the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement.
The mayor’s address was largely met with support from the crowd.
Elorza’s speech was “spot on” according to Providence Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Pare. Pare said the mayor is doing a great job in identifying the city’s issues and working through them.
One attendee, Joel Rosario Tapia, a member of the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee, said that the process of improving the city wasn’t only in the mayor’s hands.
New Providence is an “ideal which is dependent on the people,” he said. “It requires accountability on the part of the city and also accountability on the communities affected to hold the city to the standard that it is aspiring to.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to infractural issues instead of infrastructural issues. The article also previously stated that the 3-1-1 app had been used 500,000 times when in fact Mayor Elorza said it has been used to complete over 55,000 cases. The article also quoted Mayor Elorza as saying burglaries had been reduced by 85 percent, when he said they have declined by 55 percent. The Herald regrets the errors.