INNOVATION ECOSYSTEM: Investing in neighborhoods and residents

By Richard Asinof

PROVIDENCE – If Providence had its own home-grown breakfast cereal to celebrate its champions of place-based development, one of the faces on the inaugural cereal boxes would no doubt be Jennifer Hawkins, the executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, who in the last few years has stewarded a series of remarkable achievements and tangible results [though Hawkins would certainly demur and insist that members of her team share in the spotlight].

• Last fall, ONE Neighborhood Builders launched the first free community wireless network in Rhode Island, building out a wire mesh network using its properties, in response to the needs voiced by residents to connect to the Internet during the coronavirus pandemic. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Healing the digital divide.”]

• In December of 2020, ONE Neighborhood Builders received a two-year, $8 million investment from Blue Meridian Partners, to support place-based investments in the community to address health disparities through systems change, the Central Providence Opportunities Initiative. The goal is to increase economic mobility for residents. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Changing life trajectories in Providence.”]

• Since 2019, ONE Neighborhood Builders has served as the convener of the Central Providence Health Equity Zone, bringing together residents, community organizations, health professionals and others to address root causes of health disparities. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Health Equity Zones expand to Cranston, West End of Providence, East Providence.”]

• In October of 2019, ONE Neighborhood Builders held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the innovative Sheridan Small Homes project, a community of five, very affordable compact small homes that have been built along Riverside Park in Olneyville. The small homes project features net-zero design and passive solar techniques, designed by RISD students. [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Five small homes poised to become a giant step for RI.”]

A big deal
On Monday morning, July 26, ONE Neighborhood Builders will host a celebration touting the completion of its two latest affordable housing projects, King Street Commons and Sheridan Small Homes, representing some $20 million in investment in Providence – in developments outside of downtown. Among the elected officials on hand to join in the festivities will be Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Gov. Dan McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.

The new affordable housing projects represent the fruits of a collaborative approach to the place-based development of neighborhoods.

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