Unearthing Providence (#21410)

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Nov 6, 2019, 12:17:35 PM11/6/19
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Unearthing Providence

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A platform for historical data-driven analyses of industrial land use, story-mapping, and community organizing.

Social scientists and computer scientists at Brown University have assembled a unique database that contains information on every manufacturing facility that operated in Rhode Island since the early 1950s. The database also contains information on other environmentally risky land uses such as gas stations, dry cleaners, and auto repair shops as far back as 1936. We have also collected information on “green” land uses such as urban parks, playgrounds, schools and community gardens dating back to 1915. Taken together, these data tell a complex and dynamic story about socio-ecological change one American city and state over the past century.

Now, we are looking to add your stories, memories, and experiences to the project. Join us and contribute!


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Featured sites

The industrial sites catalogued include both currently operating and long-closed factories, jewelry manufacturers, gas stations, laundromats, and many other land uses which may have a lasting impact on the land.


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Where do the data come from?

We use computational techniques to extract information from historical manufacturing directories and old city directories. From these data, we can identify where industrial and other environmentally risky land uses occurred in the past, investigate how the same sites are being reused today, and identify potential sources of legacy contaminants.

Here’s a short video that explains our basic approach:

Our data collection efforts are ongoing.

Related projects

One interesting part about the project we’ve developed is that it can be used as a foundation for new storytelling projects, which overlay narratives or new datasets on top of the industrial sites database (above). Here are some of those projects:


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About the project

The Socio-Ecological City Project (SECP) is an intensive data collection effort focused on assembling a comprehensive longitudinal geospatial dataset to better understand the changing relationships between people, industrial hazards, and nature. Focused on socio-environmental change in the city of Providence, RI over the past century, the SECP has compiled information on every manufacturing facility operating in the state since 1953. We have also collected information on all parks, playgrounds, cemeteries and schools that have existed in Providence since 1915. Currently, we are compiling additional geospatial data that inventories hazardous retail sites such as gas stations, dry cleaners, and auto repair shops.

When complete, the data and related visual and statistical analyses will become available to the public through this website. Our hope is that by making visible a treasure trove of lost historical knowledge about urban land use (residential, industrial, and commercial) the website will function as a platform and research tool for strengthening and forging new relationships with policymakers, planners, regulatory agencies, and community and social justice organizations. The SECP is committed to working toward environmental justice and the reduction or elimination of environmental exposures, and promoting public health by assisting state regulators and legislators with systematic analyses of proposed and existing environmental health policies and regulations.


This project has been made possible through support from the Brown University Superfund Research Program and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, and seed grants from Brown University Office of the Vice President for Research, and Social Science Research Institute. This website is the result of a collaboration between Public Lab and the Brown University team.


This site is under development, and we would love your feedback; please use the form below. Thank you!


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