Politics & Elections

City Council candidate Bradly VanDerStad wants community to drive the agenda in Providence

“So many problems are answered by just empowering the communities to make the decisions about what happens,” said VanDerStad. “The I-95 Commission would be an example of something here you have this big tract of land and now suddenly you have a bunch of state appointees – bunch of folks who come from on high – to make decisions for the City of Providence.”
Photo for City Council candidate Bradly VanDerStad wants community to drive the agenda in Providence

Published on March 8, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Bradly VanDerStad is running for the open Ward 3 seat on the Providence City Council. He currently serves as the assistant editor at Motif Magazine. And operates a small business offering walking tours of downtown Providence.

Uprise RI spoke with VanDerStad last Thursday at the Red Ink Community Library in the Mt. Hope Neighborhood, who generously allowed us to use their space.

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We started our conversation with a brief introduction, and Uprise RI asked VanDerStad about the potential conflict of interest in being an editor on a magazine like Motif that deals with local politics, and being a politician.

What are the top two or three issues you’re hearing as you knock doors and meet voters?

“Definitely education… followed closely by the pension crisis,” said VanDerStad.

Following up on the pension, and the referendum on a borrowing plan to help deal with the pension crisis, VanDerStad reported that in his conversations with residents, most people oppose it.

“People don’t like. They don’t want to put the city at risk,” said VanDerStad.

On education, Uprise RI asked about the state takeover of Providence Schools and the possibility of the schools being returned to the control of the Providence School Board.

“I don’t think we should take [the schools] back until we’ve looked at ourselves in the mirror and said ‘What are we going to do different,'” said VanDerStad. “I haven’t heard of any major changes that the City Council or the School Board of providence have suggested that would make things any different than before [the state] took it over…”

On policing VanDerStad said that “any government organization thrives with three major components; engagement, transparency and accountability. With the Police, we haven’t seen the level of accountability that we’re looking for.”

VanDerStad would like to empower communities to take greater control of their own policing.

“Before I get into [climate change], I think that we on the East Side need to take the [Port of Providence] very seriously, even though it’s not in our wards…

“The Port,” said VanDerStad, collecting his thoughts, “It just seems extractive… The state is using the most vulnerable communities in our city, and all the profits are going outside the city.”

How do we prevent gentrification as we make places like the Port more livable and cleaner?

“So many problems are answered by just empowering the communities to make the decisions about what happens,” said VanDerStad. “The I-95 Commission would be an example of something here you have this big tract of land and now suddenly you have a bunch of state appointees – bunch of folks who come from on high – to make decisions for the City of Providence.”

We have to approach the problem of affordable housing from two ends, suggested VanDerStad. “The first end is supply. We need to build more affordable housing… On the other end, we have to be careful with what we’re incentivizing. I think the uptick in prices comes from investors more than homeowners – so I think there are some policies we can come up with to discourage using the utility of home ownership, living in a house (which is something I think everyone deserves) – for profit.”

Related to housing is the issue of homelessness.

“Last I heard, we have about 300 regularly unhoused folks, and that’s not an impossible number,” said VanDerStad. “We could make 300 units available, especially with the influx of millions and millions of dollars. We could solve homelessness…”

On public transportation, bike lanes and sidewalks, VanDerStad said, “A 21st Century city needs to have transportation options. We have to have the option for people to drive, to take the bus, and to bicycle.”

On Kennedy Plaza, “again, I needs to be community driven. Every decision that gets made should be driven by the people who use that service.”

If elected, VanDerStad will be part of a pretty new City Council. With a new City Council President and a new Mayor. This opens up some interesting possibilities.

“I’m excited about it,” said VanDerStad. “I think the City Council has the capability to become a leader of the City of Providence. If we start putting our collective needs first and start really engaging with neighbors… the City Council could be changed forever…”

Asked what questions Uprise RI missed, VanDerStad brought up the issue of racist redlining and the way it contributed to the underfunding of certain communities, like Mt. Hope. People historically denied “should be first in line to access a fund from the city for housing improvement – to do roof repair, to invest in a more efficient hearing system… and if we have the resources, I’d love to make those loans forgivable.”

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