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Monday, March 26, 2012

Council to Hear Proposal for New Ward Boundaries

Plan adds additional majority-Hispanic and majority-minority wards and reunites five neighborhoods

Tonight, the Providence City Council will hold a public hearing on changes to the city’s ward boundaries. The Providence Home Rule Charter requires the City Council to consider redistricting every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The plan is available here.

“The plan maximizes voter representation and adheres to Federal, State, and City guidelines,” said Council President Michael Solomon. “Five communities, each with unique concerns, would be united to the greatest possible extent in an attempt to concentrate and maximize representation. In addition, the plan reflects our city’s changing demographics by creating an additional majority-Hispanic and majority-minority ward.”

According to the 2010 Census, Providence’s population increased by approximately 5,000 people over the past decade and now totals 178,042. Additionally, there was a significant change in population distribution throughout the City. Wards One, Two, Three and Five experienced decreases in population while Wards Six, Seven, and Fifteen experienced increases in population; as a result, wards on the eastern side of the City needed to expand and include more persons to balance individual ward populations.

“Over the past decade Providence’s population experienced a change in geographic distribution and a change in demographic composition,” said Majority Leader Seth Yurdin, who also serves as the Committee on Ward Boundaries chair. “The plan addresses these population shifts while adhering to redistricting law and working to maximize voter representation across the City.”

The plan reflects growth in the minority population throughout the city. Between 2000 and 2010, the total Hispanic population increased from 30.0 percent to 38.1 percent and the non-white population increased from 54.3 percent to 63.4 percent. Federal law requires that any new proposal for boundaries does not reduce the number of minority districts as calculated based upon voting-age population. Currently, there are four majority-Hispanic wards and nine majority-minority wards. The plan increases the number of majority-Hispanic wards to five and the number of majority-minority wards to ten.

“While Providence’s population growth was not substantial, there was a substantial shift in the city’s demographics,” said Councilman John Igliozzi, vice-chair of the Ward Boundaries Committee. “The goal of any redistricting process should be to maximize voter representation. Minority population growth rates are significantly higher when compared to other population changes in the city. The plan accounts for this change by increasing the number of Majority-Hispanic and Majority-Minority wards.”

The plan also reunites historically divided neighborhoods across the City. College Hill, Downtown, Federal Hill, West End and Olneyville would be more nearly represented by single council members in order to maximize voter representation.

“Per the City Charter, the Committee on Ward Boundaries is tasked to consider ‘natural boundaries, and the inclusion of recognized neighborhoods,’” said Majority Leader Yurdin. “Changes in neighborhood populations and city infrastructure provided the opportunity to follow these charter requirements. For example, population fluctuations enabled us to better unite College Hill, the West End, and Olneyville while the reconstruction of I-195 removed a natural boundary and created an opportunity to reunite the Downtown neighborhood.”

Tonight’s meeting is the fifth public hearing on the City’s redistricting process and public comment is welcome.