A version of this story by Ayana Crichton is published in Public Lab's Community Science Forum, Issue 17. Read more from this issue here.
Like many suburban cities throughout the nation, the city of Cranston is becoming increasingly diverse. As residents, it’s our responsibility to help build a future where all of our neighbors are welcomed as equal players. That’s why we’re working on community engagement projects to create an economy that serves everybody. That means looking at our history and the people that lived and worked here in the past, investigating the present dynamics, and looking to our diverse communities, and their opportunities and hardships.
More than a hundred years ago, Cranston was a mecca for employment for the whole state of Rhode Island. The area was home to countless industrial sites including Cranston Print Works, a massive textile printing facility that opened in 1807. The plant employed hundreds of people and was a site of incredible social cohesion; the people in the community shared celebrations and festivals, schools, churches, a grocery store, and a popular restaurant. They all helped each other out because they all lived and worked in the same place.
Now that we are a post-industrial city, we still have that sense of being close-knit. However, we’ve gotten larger population-wise and we’ve changed demographic-wise. With these changing dynamics, how do we keep that sense of belonging? We’ve addressed this in the past — nothing needs to be reinvented — but we have to work in a 21st century mindset to create a sense of belonging for everyone that joins this close-knit community.
This issue of the Community Science Forum is a picture painted from the history of Cranston, seen through the lens of one site: the Cranston Print Works. At one point it employed a majority of the city and was a bustling hub of industry. After some 200 years of operation, it faced the fate of so many industrial sites in the area, struggling to stay afloat as manufacturing jobs left the area for more modern means of production. The site was ultimately shuttered in 2009. In the following years, a community has come together to help preserve the legacy of the storied site.
Through my work with OneCranston, a cross-sector collective impact table, we’re building partnerships for community engagement. Working with Public Lab, we’ve held events with middle school students from the 21st Century Community Learning Center, doing aerial mapping and water testing at the Cranston Print Works site. At a later event, we did kite flying with adults, many of whom shared their memories about visiting the store on the site, working at the plant, and the generations of families who worked there. And through a partnership with Brown University, we’re interested in connecting the work we’ve done here with the industrial history of the area, which is one of their topics of study. The historical databases and maps they are collecting, and which you’ll read about in this issue, form a powerful part of this story.
We’ve sparked people’s curiosities about how to be inclusive, and how to focus that inclusivity around the very diverse community that now lives here. We’re working together on issues of equity, opportunity, and education, taking bits and pieces from the local history. By sharing, socializing, connecting, and building relationships around our history, we’re working together to make sure there is opportunity for all as we form a vision for the future of Cranston.
Ayana Crichton is the Initiative Director for OneCranston housed at the Cranston Community Action Program and an initiative of the Working Cities Challenge through the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and is an Afterschool Alliance Ambassador for Rhode Island.