Over the Memorial Day weekend, one of my daughters went to the Gaspee Days Arts & Crafts Festival with her friend and her friend’s parents. When I went to pick up my daughter later that night, her friend’s father told me what a nice time they had and asked me if I’d ever been to the Gaspee events. Sheepishly, I replied that I had not ever attended any of the Gaspee Days events, parade included. Now, both he and I know these events are held in Pawtuxet Village, and that’s technically the city of Warwick, but our conversation quickly turned to how the eastern side of Cranston can be a little foreign to residents of the western side. With this, the father remarked that Cranston is a divided city, and I agreed.
The eastern side of Cranston is a little bit foreign to me for good reason – I’ve only lived in what’s known as “western Cranston.” As I’ve reminisced on these pages in the past, the western Cranston I grew up in was quite different from what the area is today. As I vividly remember, a friend at the time, Neil, agreed to come to my house for dinner when we were classmates together in the sixth grade. Neil lived in Garden City and his mother drove him to my house. When they arrived, his mother exclaimed, “You didn’t tell me you lived in the woods!” Back then, that’s what the western side of the city was – a few neighborhoods surrounded by woods and some farmland.
Cranston has its divisions and its most prominent one is along the east-west lines. When discussing the divisions with that fellow father a few weeks ago, we both added that nearly every city is divided in some way. Providence has its east side, the west end and the South Providence area. A former colleague who grew up in East Greenwich explained to me once that there were literal “right” and “wrong” sides of the train tracks in his town.
More notably, major cities have their divisions. New York has its upper and lower, east and west sides. Los Angeles has neighborhood divisions with places like Hancock Park and Mid-City. In fact, the writer Dorothy Parker described L.A. as being “72 suburbs in search of a city.” A writer from the Los Angeles Times noted that in L.A., “residents take their neighborhood names so seriously. Those designations are part tradition and history – but also part economic and political.”
Much like Los Angeles, Cranston’s divisions can go deeper to the neighborhood level. A Facebook friend’s account once listed his “Lives in” as “Alpine Estates, Cranston.” These divisions can be part tradition and history but, more often, their significance comes from the economic or political perceptions tied to these divisions. There are those in other parts of Cranston that think the western side gets more attention at the school and city services levels. From a political perspective, to some candidates, there may be that precinct or neighborhood that’s a “lost cause” for getting votes.
Perceptions are one thing but, in reality, these divisions across the city are more benign. When I was a kid, my father’s friend once joked that, growing up, both my father and him said their rule was that they’d never marry girls from their neighborhood, Knightsville. I am not sure what the rationale was behind that rule, but maybe it was tied to some perceived divisions between Knightsville and other parts of the city. Of course, both of them would eventually marry girls from, you guessed it, Knightsville.
As long as there are geographic, economic, ethnic or political disparities in a city, that will make it a city divided. How deep those divisions go, and whether they are perceived or real, vary from city to city. For Cranston, there are divisions based on many of the traits listed above but, thankfully, these divisions are largely perceived. According to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city of Rome, were born on the Palatine Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. So, for hundreds of years, I’ll bet there were perceived divisions based on this myth between the Palatine Hill neighborhood and the settlements on Rome’s six other hills. Even today, maybe someone on Facebook lists his or her “Lives in” as “Palatine Hill, Rome, Italy.”
Bruce Saccoccio can be reached at email@example.com.