Gonzalo Cuervo is one of three people (along with Ward 3 City Councilmember Nirva LaFortune and Brett Smiley, Director of Administration for former Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo) running for Mayor of Providence – so far.
UpriseRI asked Cuervo, formerly Chief of Staff for Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, about his ideas for the Port of Providence, just after the Shut the Scrap rally organized by the People’s Port Authority on Thursday was winding down. The rally was in response to the never ending cycle of environmental mini-disasters at the toxic industries that line Allens Avenue, the most recent being a scrapped Russian submarine fire.
Gonzalo Cuervo: I’m really excited to see the turnout and the energy at this protest. I think we really need to to reevaluate our priorities in the city. I think we have to understand that this is not the best and highest use of this land. In addition to the fact that it’s not economically productive, it’s pristine land on the waterfront and most of these businesses that are here do not require direct water access. They’re kind of like transfer stations, like holding areas. And what they’re doing is they’re contaminating a neighborhood that’s nearby.
I raised my family a mile away from here in Washington Park, and this is really near and dear to my heart. I think that we’ve really have a lot of opportunity to get community input, community buy-in, while also developing this area in a way that increases the tax base, that creates good living wage jobs, and also creates opportunities to expand to different sectors of our city’s economy into this area that has been kind of stagnant. Even for individuals who aren’t concerned with the environment, this is not the best and highest use for this land. And it’s kind of terrible that we are where we are now.
UpriseRI: When I look at this place over here, see what it looks like – it’s just embarrassing. It’s just awful, it looks so bad
Cuervo: And we’ve seen so many other cities that have developed similar waterfront properties in ways that are not only sustainable, but they also generate significant revenue for the cities. They also generate an increase in the tax base. We have such a huge problem with the nonprofits and the fact that more than 40% of our land is not taxable and we have this first-class waterfront land that could be generating so much economic activity – and it’s just sitting there. It’s just basically holding scrap that’s seeping contamination into the ground and keeping our families sick.
UpriseRI: You know who’s figuring that out, a little bit anyway, is across the bay in East Providence. They’re doing a little bit better on that.
Cuervo: They figured it out. As a matter of fact, some of the folks that have sold properties here have taken their money and invested it in real estate developments across the way, which is very telling. I think that what we need to do is we need to move away from fossil fuel infrastructure. We need to move away from trash management and we need to move towards a development that is not only environmentally friendly and health friendly, but is sustainable and helps grow the city’s economy.
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UpriseRI: Cool. How’s the campaign going?
Cuervo: It’s going great!