My Turn: Pete Janhunen: A love letter to Rhode Island
Dear Rhode Island,
We’ve been in Rhode Island for a year now, and I thought it was time to write a quick letter to my new home state.
So far, it’s been a wonderful experience. From the beaches of South County to Wright’s Dairy Farm — and so much in between — Rhode Island feels like a warm hug.
Here are a few more things I especially appreciate about our state:
It starts with the enduring embrace of what’s local (highlighted by the so-watchable “Rhode Show”). It is noticeable to me, after more than two decades in the nation’s capital, that Rhode Islanders shop small and shop local. We are already big fans of Gregg’s, Riffraff bookstore and Den Den, just to name a few. Trust me — once something local is gone, it is gone for good.
Next up is the pride Rhode Islanders feel about their state. I warmly remember the Del’s vendor we met in Narragansett who recounted the history of “his” frozen lemonade.
Richard, the security guard in our building, taught me to correctly pronounce local place names — especially the troubling PawTUCKett, rather than the PAWtuckett I heard way up in Central Massachusetts while growing up (I in turn taught him to pronounce Worcester as Wuster, not Wister, as I have heard way down here). Pride of home is a powerful force.
On a more serious note, I admire the commitment to civil society that abounds in our state. From the steady work of large organizations like the Rhode Island Foundation to the tireless contributions of smaller nonprofits, thousands of men and women are making our state a better place for all of us. We can be proud of this record — and should all find a way to contribute just a little more to causes that matter to us.
Every Rhode Islander can also take pride in The Providence Journal, an outstanding newspaper with a sterling national reputation.
Of course, it wouldn’t be real love if I didn’t have a few thoughts on things we can do to make our state even better.
First, let’s do something about this transportation infrastructure situation. The roads are as bad as you think, especially compared to many (most) other states. Potholes, lack of lighting and painted lines … and the list goes on. We must make our state drivable.
The defining factors for economic development come down to a different kind of infrastructure — the human side, which is best supported by education and health-care systems that are effective, efficient and nimble. The challenges are great, but the stakes are too high to set aside this important work.
Working to combat homelessness and addiction may mean the difference between a Rhode Island that flourishes in the 21st century and one that languishes. While many work tirelessly to address these challenges, there is more we can do. Given Rhode Island’s commitment to caring for its veterans (as a veteran, this especially means a lot to me) and the fact that many who served honorably are suffering on our streets, this work has special meaning in this patriotic state.
It’s great to be in Rhode Island, even with another winter on the way. In the meantime, I look forward to learning even more about the state’s history (80 years since the 1938 hurricane), present (why does the “Superman” building remain empty?) and future (how the state can compete in the global economy).