Greater City Providence

Census says…


2000 Count: 173,618

2009 Estimate: 171,909

2010 Count: 178,042

More information to come as we look through the data.

  • Mass. communities near R.I. grow more Hispanic [ProJo]
  • U.S. Census Bureau Delivers Rhode Island’s 2010 Census Population Totals, Including First Look at Race and Hispanic Origin Data for Legislative Redistricting [Census Newsroom]
  • The rise and fall and rise of Providence’s population [Nesi’s Notes | WPRI]

Largest cities 2010 Count (% change since 2000)

  • Providence 178,042 (+2.5%)
  • Warwick 82,672 (-3.7%)
  • Cranston 80,387 (+1.4%)
  • Pawtucket 71,148 (-2.5%)
  • East Providence 47,037 (-3.4%)

Counties 2010 Count (% change since 2000)

  • Providence County 626,667 (0.8%)
  • Kent County 166,158 (-0.6%)
  • Washington County 126,979 (2.8%)
  • Newport County 82,888 (-3%)
  • Bristol County 49,875 (-1.5%)

ProvPlan Interactive Maps

Mapping the 2010 U.S. Census [New York Times]

This map shows the entire country at the level of Census Tract, which means if you zoom into Providence, you get much more granular data than just the neighborhood level.

Greater City Providence

Promoting the smart urban growth of the Greater Providence region.


  • Not sure, results were just released to the public moments ago. Notably though, Worcester is in the lead as second largest city in New England. However, their 2010 count was lower than their 2009 estimate. Our 2010 count as you can see was significantly higher than out 2009 estimate.

    Why am I comparing to Worcester..? Because it is fun to have a horse race.

  • This clearly validates my long-standing argument that the 2000 count and all the estimates based off it were badly skewed along ethnocentric lines. That is, immigrant populations actively hid from the census for fear of getting involved with the authorities, whether they were documented or not. It’s common knowledge among demographics wonks that the denser the area, the less accurate the count.

    Last year, the Hispanic community actively pushed participation and we probably have one of the more accurate core-city counts around.

    Yay, us!

  • Worcester may have a bigger population but considering Providence is almost half the size as far as area and land I’d say Providence is looking a bit more impressive.

  • The growth numbers make me wonder what the ideal population count and density is for the city and state. Providence peaked at something like 250,000 in the 30’s or so, but that was with every tenement packed with many large families. Surely that’s not ideal. Just the same, we have tons of underutilized urban space that should be filled with something or someone.
    Statewide, is growing so little a bad thing? Our cities are already far denser than many American cities, and we want the rural areas to stay rural and the suburbs to stop growing. What should we be striving for in terms of growth, and where?

  • Part of the reason that there was a higher population in Providence in the early to mid 20th century was that there was more housing stock. Housing began to vanish with demolitions in the late 1950s with the start of highway construction and the creation of “modern” industrial parks.

    Institutions such as Rhode Island Hospital, Miriam Hospital, and Brown had footprints that were a small fraction of what they are today. Upper South Providence, Summit, College Hill and Fox Point simply had more housing units whether three-deckers or single family houses than they have now.

    Also in many of the higher density neighborhoods like Federal Hill, Olneyville, and the West End, since the 1960s every time there’s a down real estate market when prices drop buildings are bought and demolished to create parking lots for adjacent properties.

    Upper and Lower South Providence, parts of Olneyville, Elmwood, and the West End suffered from either the 1960s race riots where buildings were burned or over the decades lost buildings by landlords who burned their properties to collect insurance also contributed to loss of residential units in the city.

    Commercial corridors such as Elmwood Avenue, Broad Street, Charles Street, and Cranston Street had more buildings that had ground floor retail with apartments on second and third floors or had multi-family residential buildings lining the streets. Many of those properties have been demolished to create parking lots or single-story strip retail stores.

    It is true that the there was a significant population shift from the city(s) to the suburbs and that families generally were larger in the past, but those were by no means the only reasons why Providence and other Rhode Island cities lost population after World War II. The acceptance of automotive land-use patterns and anti-development land-use policies contributed as well.

    It’s unlikely that anyone who responds to this forum would advocate for losing rural lands for population expansion. To consider losing rural lands for population and economic expansion assumes the acceptance of the postwar car culture model and land-use patterns are the only way to achieve population and economic increases.

    If Providence and Rhode Island are to get smaller that implies that people, jobs, and wealth are leaving the area. Providence and the state have plenty of room to expand its population and economy. It just won’t be by using late 20th century methods as used in other parts of the country, but rather by going back to its 18th and 19th century origins of concentrated high-density development.

  • During the initial Providence Tomorrow charettes, the consulting firm brought in to run them had done some studies on their own. I think they said Providence could comfortably handle something like 320k, and they said it could happen in 15 years. That was, of course, before the economy tanked.

  • @Rachel, I don’t know what the growth rate should be. At the very least the state should hold onto the population that already lives here, including calculating the number of births and deaths. Providence has about 35,000 college and university students each year, if roughly 7,000 or 8,000 graduates annually, very few are staying here after graduation or locals that attend out-of-state schools aren’t returning.

    As far as where to put development, a start could be to fill up parking lots and empty lots throughout the city. Downtown and underdeveloped industrial neighborhoods like Woonosquatucket valley, Olneyville, South Providence near the hospitals or the area south of Broad Street offer opportunities. Also, the industrial pockets like the area west of Elmwood Avenue between Westfield and Cromwell Streets with entire empty blocks could be redeveloped not to mention under-built commercial corridors dominated by strip retail and parking.

    New residential development in these kinds of areas either are not permitted under the current zoning rules or what is permitted is so minimal that the economics to buy a property and rebuild don’t make sense. Providence could easily re-achieve it previous population maximum of 250,000+ and more as Jim pointed out sited from the report findings. Land-use regulations should be incentivized to encourage targeted high-density development. This could be done without replicating a Midtown Manhattan landscape of 50 story towers. With the exception of a few downtown neighborhoods Providence’s zoning discourages development and still caters to car culture.

  • Huh. 320,000 is interesting. I feel like that would mean filling a whole lot of parking lots with new housing. I’d love to see the change in car culture that would allow that to happen, but it seems awfully optimistic to think that kind of culture change could happen in 15 years. And, of course, we’d have to do some breathtaking economic development to employ all those new residents, a prospect that also seems extremely optimistic, to say the least.

    Has there been a statewide analysis of natural resources, etc. to find an ideal RI population?

  • As an aside on the density and car culture front, driving up N. Main the other day, I looked to my left and dreamed of plowing under all that extinct development and returning it to the earth. It’s certainly serving no urban purpose now. Wouldn’t it be a crazy change to have a stretch of country separating Providence and Pawtucket? Urban planning dreams. . .

  • I don’t know where our optimal population would be, but here are some population densities to think about (2010 numbers):

    Providence: 9,623/square mile
    Boston: 12,752/square mile
    Worcester: 4,678/square mile
    Cambridge: 14,749/square mile
    Central Falls: 16,146/square mile

    In order to have Worcester’s population density with our current population, Providence would need to expand from 18.5 to 38 square miles (which is about the size of Worcester). In order to have Central Falls population density, we’d have to shrink to 11 square miles.

  • Or, to have Central Falls population density, we’d have to increase population to about 298k. To have Boston’s population density, we’d need a population of about 235k.

  • Exactly, if you think Boston’s density is stifling, then you wouldn’t like a 235,000 person Providence. In actuality though, much of Boston is much more dense than that, when you consider the amount of parkland and the massive airport taking up space where no one lives.

    One of the keys to density in Boston and Cambridge is the transportation system. If not for the T, if everyone had to drive, Greater Boston would be a nightmare.

  • When Providence population peaked, large parts of the East Side and Mount Pleasant were still farms. Almost no one had a car.

    The character of existing stable residential neighborhoods would not have to change in order for Providence to grow by tens of thousands. Peter Brassard correctly identifies where growth belongs.

    Would anyone disagree that neighborhood character would be improved by redeveloping crudscapes like Eddy St? Even the Summit Nimbyhood Association is at consensus that midrise commercial/residential structures built right to the street are what North Main Street needs.

  • “N. Main the other day… plowing under all that extinct development and returning it to the earth… have a stretch of country separating Providence and Pawtucket?

    As a resident of Pawtucket along Main St, that idea frightens me deeply. I’d much rather have a healthy commercial strip connecting Hope Artiste Village and Woodlawn to Providence.

    Imagine a little two-screen theater, coffee shop, a few places to get your car serviced, a reopened bowling alley, and a few bars.

  • Jef’s density comparisons are interesting in that Cambridge shows a higher density than Boston. Cambridge’s built environment is more similar to Providence with its mix of wooden three-deckers to single family houses. The difference is that Cambridge wasn’t bulldozed for highways and because of the T and permitted on-street overnight parking much less surface parking was created there, though most people own cars.

    When Providence was at the 250,000 population level, the trolley car system was still in place that saw ridership of around 150,000,000 passenger rides per year. For an “out dated defunct” system that was a lot of equipment and drivers to provide to maintain that level of service. Even in the 50s after they dismantled the system ridership was around 100,000,000 passenger rides per year as compared to today’s 20,000,000 or 30,000,000 rides annually.

    Where ever new residential development is located, the transit system needs to be stepped up to support it.

  • I have to agree with mangeek about not wanting a greenbelt between Providence and Pawtucket. What would be good is existing greenspace being better utilized such as Swan Point and the North Burial Ground. Of course those being cemeteries, the uses would have to be respectful and passive. More intense recreation uses, that also allow for the quiet enjoyment of the greenspace should be developed along the river in Pawtucket, which I believe is that city’s long range plan.

    The conurbation of Providence and Pawtucket I think is healthy and having a strong dense connection between the two benefits both.

    North Main Street and the areas into Pawtucket are indeed ideal for intensifying population density. North Main is already our strongest transit spine and well connects the centers of both cities to each other and the train station. Good transit connections provided by the future Core Connector make the North Main Street area a good residential home for Hospital, Brown, and Jewelry District workers. In the future, the transit spine can provide for local transit between Providence Station and a future Pawtucket Station. And of course North Main is prime area for a future streetcar extension.

    The areas west of North Main are poorly utilized and could support intense building development, and the good transit spine would also allow for further jobs development along the corridor.

    Intense residential, retail, and office development along North Main would also help to justify infrastructure spending to better the Route 95 crossings in the area for pedestrians, cyclists, and mass-transit.

  • I agree that a major key to density in Boston and Cambridge is the transit system. Another factor, though, is that Cambridge isn’t really a free-standing city (I have some experience- I lived there for years.) Cambridge has a lot of its own industry -education, biotech, some factories still- but many, many of its residents depend on employment in businesses, schools and other industry that is 10 minutes away in Boston. Population density is going to be much higher when some residents use the city as a bedroom community. Look at Somerville- way denser than Cambridge with house after house after house, because pretty much everyone works somewhere else.
    In some ways, Cambridge can be so dense because Boston contains the financial center, the airport, the bus and train stations, the port and much of the other stuff Cambridge needs to be more than a college town.
    As a full-service city, Providence might aspire to a density more like Boston’s than like Cambridge’s, if we give up the nature of Mount Pleasant, Elmhurst, Blackstone and less-dense residential areas like those. Boston doesn’t really have areas like that, except for maybe parts of Hyde Park or West Roxbury.

  • And you are probably right about N. Main, although it looks an awful lot like failed sprawl. The stuff that could go there might be better off just fit into the cities on either end of the street, which we seem to all agree could be more dense as it is.

  • Don’t know if any of you saw my “Killing Me Softly With His Car” parody lyrics on the Facebook, but Bekah and I were inspired to that by – you guessed it – trying to get from our side on No Main to the other when we walked up to the Farmers Market. From a pedestrian standpoint, that road is a nightmare.

    I may be the only one that thinks Rachel has something in her thought about urban farming to the east of the Moshassuck. I don’t think you need to do a whole lot of demolition OR lose the feel of a continuous urban area in what I call the “City Line” neighborhood.

    That’s my patch, as it were, and there’s already a lot of unbuilt land down there, and we could add to that strategically AND still rebuild along No Main. The sheer amount of parking is staggering, much of it now empty. Let’s face it – the “Almac” mall is a total failure and should just go. Who wouldn’t prefer the Pho place right on No. Main? What few businesses survive could relocate up to the vastly superior main artery. Then that giant, stupid parking lot could be reclaimed.

    Granted, this is visionary, but the single biggest obstacle is the brownfield nature of that area. Just north of the mall is an auto recycler/junk yard. Just past that is Microfibre and Cooley chemicals, two fairly toxic operations. Past that is the vacant and semi-vacant ex-industrial places. Finally, you get to the giant and almost always empty lot behind Hope Artist Village. Even without demolition, there’s several acres of unbuilt land between those developments and the river. I once dreamed of buying one of those buildings to create an environmental sciences center to study and teach what needs to happen to reclaim damaged open land.

    If you need it, there is no better place to farm than next to a river, for obvious reasons.

    Bottom line: I wouldn’t dismiss that idea so quickly. I believe that with a little vision and a couple of key acquisitions and relocations, we could have our cake and grow the ingredients, too.

  • I should add, for clarity, that south of the Smithfield Avenue overpass is yet more unbuilt land only part of which is the playing fields. As a point of interest, the bus station is WEST of the river.

  • glad to see you like my vision, Frymaster! The brownfield thing makes the whole idea just about impossible, but one can dream.

    Scratch what I said about “Providence might aspire to a density more like Boston’s . . . if we give up the nature of Mount Pleasant, Elmhurst, Blackstone and less-dense residential areas like those.”
    I just looked it up: Providence’s least-dense neighborhoods are already like 2-4 times more dense than West Roxbury or Hyde Park.

  • Oh, yeah, and that is an absolutely terrible location for a bus terminal- you pretty much can’t get there unless you have a car. Duh.

  • I walked down to pick up my daughter last Thursday. Not the greatest, but it’s a doable thing. In nice weather. During the day.

    This quick Google map shows the potential area that could be farmed.

  • A couple of things:

    – I’m not sure it is worth reclaiming farmland. Not only do you need brownfield remediation but you would need some hefty engineering to keep runoff from 95 and the train-yard from getting back into the soil.

    – It is a lousy place for a bus terminal but IIRC you can pick up any bus you need at KP as well. It’s not really that unusual to have terminals like this out of the way, even in Europe. Although the whole thing is kind of a blight due to neglect, etc.

  • Mapping the 2010 U.S. Census [New York Times]

    This map shows the entire country at the level of Census Tract, which means if you zoom into Providence, you get much more granular data than just the neighborhood level.

  • I like that census tract map. Since I live on the East Side, I analyzed the census data there. Overall, the East Side neighborhoods (Hope/Summit, Mt Hope, Blackstone, College Hill, Fox Point and Wayland) lost 1,066 people in 2010, or about 3% of its population, vs a gain of 236 or 0.7% in 2000. College Hill and Wayland, which both gained population in 2000, each lost over 4% of their population in 2010. The next highest percentage decrease was Mt Hope at 3.7%. Blackstone and Hope/Summit each lost about 2%, and Fox Point had the lowest loss at 1.6%. Interesting that it shows the only East Side census tract to gain population was College Hill east of Thayer Street, up 6.1%. Conversely, College Hill west of Thayer Street lost the highest percentage of its population of any East Side census tract (10.1%), and 5th highest percentage loss in the city.

  • Manton has the second highest population increase, 57.4% or 1,601 people following Downtown with a 65% increase or 1,871 people. Downtown isn’t a surprise with all the building conversions and new towers. Has there been a lot new construction in Manton? If so where did they put it and what kind of construction?

  • I don’t understand the East Side numbers. For example, how did Wayland add two huge (and mostly occupied) condo buildings in East Side Commons, a condo building where there was previously a commercial building, and convert a bunch of previously single family homes to multiple unit condos and apartments and *lose* population?

    The only way I can think of is that the East Side in general is aging out a bit, with a LOT of families here with parents in their 40’s/50’s with children who have gone away to college in the last few years. I can think of a dozen families off the top of my head that probably had 4-6 in a household back in 2000 but now are down to the 2 parents in 2010.

  • I don’t understand the increase in Manton. I don’t know that there is any new development there, but I don’t spend a lot of time there either (why would I?). Downtown makes sense. There were practically no residents there 10 years ago. Now there are many.

    I think the East Side has the same issue as Elmhurst. The population is older and while 10 years ago, the kids might have been living at home, they have since gone off to college or graduated and moved elsewhere. Elmhurst has that same issue. While there are people moving in, they tend to be younger couples who haven’t started families yet (myself included in that). That’s the only reasoning I could come up with.

  • New housing units have always been a risky way to project population increases. Perfect example, Fall River. They added over 1,500 new housing units since 2000, but lost about 3,000 in population. It makes demographic projections quite difficult in urban areas. In some cases it is people vacating old triple deckers and moving into newer condos, and in other cases it’s empty nesters as Bret said.

  • I think some of the numbers on the East Side and downtown must be skewed by numbers of students. Maybe East Side numbers are down because fewer East Side students answered the census this time, for whatever reason?
    If you look at the ethnic stats on the NYT census mapping feature, you can see the influence of the student population- it looks like Rhode Island’s Asian population is concentrated in two places: Cranston behind Mashapaug pond and Downtown/College Hill. Someone who knows about Providence would know that shows that our Asian population is largely resident families in Cranston and students in dorms downtown or on College Hill..

  • I realize these estimates are probably to be taken with a grain of salt, but the latest population estimates show that Rhode Island gained 1,391 people in the year ending July 1, 2015. The estimates were not available for the city of Providence, but Providence County gained 1,448 residents.

    2015 Census Estimate for Rhode Island by County

Providence, RI
5:21 am8:03 pm EDT
Feels like: 52°F
Wind: 11mph NNE
Humidity: 95%
Pressure: 29.97"Hg
UV index: 0
72°F / 52°F
81°F / 57°F
84°F / 59°F