Despite their efforts to solicit public comment, roughly 35 East Bay residents showed up to the RhodeMap RI workshop, held at Roger Williams University Tuesday night.
Program facilitators saturated media outlets, utilized social media outlets, provided childcare, transportation and interpreter services, hoping to generate participation and feedback about “what is working, and what isn’t” for residents and business owners in the state of Rhode Island.
“Bristol might be a model of what other communities can be,” said Kevin Flynn, associate director of Rhode Island’s Division and Planning. “But I’m sure there are issues.”
RhodeMap RI is Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s outreach effort to create a future plan for economic development, housing, transportation and land use. In 2011, Mr. Flynn’s office was awarded a $1.9 million Sustainable Communities Initiative Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The RhodeMAp RI program is the only state-serving program that has been awarded by HUD.
RhodeMap RI’s plan is complex, the first step of which is hosting four workshops across the state to solicit public input about the challenges facing Rhode Islanders.
“We want to know if we’re on the right track,” Mr. Flynn said. “We want the public to tell us what they think are the most important issues facing them.”
One major issue for several Portsmouth residents present was the impending toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge.
“I believe this toll will kill the economy,” said Amy Canario.
Steve Katz, Bristol resident and member of Bristol’s planning board, said he’d like to see more help from the state for small businesses.
“Rhode Island is known for not being a business-friendly state,” he said. “What the state is doing does not attract businesses to Rhode Island.”
Mr. Katz referenced state project bids that are often awarded to outside companies.
“Local businesses can’t compete with that,” he said.
Attendees were asked to place colored pins representing “needs improvement” or “places I like” on a Rhode Island state map. A large portion of East Bay was “liked,” versus a large portion of Providence was pinned for improvement.
Boards were posted soliciting thoughts about the state’s economic challenges and people were invited to write their thoughts on sticky notes. Some notes highlighted a lack of jobs for and education of minority youth, access to affordable education, adult literacy and worker training.
Some of the states assets, people thought, were Narraganset Bay, beaches, colleges an universities, as well as a potential diverse workforce.
Three other workshops were held this week in Woonsocket, Kingston and East Providence.
Information collected from these workshops will be compiled and used to facilitate four more workshops in other areas in the state this October.
The entire project is slated for completion in February 2014.
For more information about the project, go to www.rhodemapri.org.