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FEDERAL HILL vs THE NORTH END
By comparison of the two Italian immigration colonies and some civic recipes for improvements.

Walter Potenza

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Columbus Day Festival will be celebrated on Federal Hill this weekend, with certain reduced activities. Nevertheless, still appealing for food, folklore, and music. Although not as popular across the land as a few years back, the folks here on the Hill are all about the traditions, not about politics. With some sensible safety in place, we will have a great turnout, and hopefully good weather.

There are several Little Italy in the USA. Many of them not as popular as others; territories of importance regarding Italian communities deriving from the immigration influx of the twenty century. New York’s Arthur Avenue, the Hill in S. Louis, Federal hill in Baltimore, or San Francisco fisherman’s wharf, is the one you hear more often. Others of equal relevance include Providence’s and Boston North End. Because of the proximity, let’s inspect both communities and analyze the positives and improve.

Historical anecdotes

The first evidence of Italians on Federal Hill dates back to 1886. The existing Irish settlement dwindled after 1877, offering tenements to the Italics newcomers seeking a prosperous future after the Unification of Italy of 1865. Most new immigrants were from Southern Italy, the influx of the language, cuisine, and culture. In 1850 records show that there were only 25 Italian-born in the state, mostly from the north. By 1890 there were 9,000 scattered throughout the state of Rhode Island. The dramatic change occurred during the first decade of the twenty century. During Providence’s 1900 Columbus Day Parade, Italians’ numerical strength was much in evidence as Italian marchers lined up in an endless procession. Italian divisions poured throughout the city streets in rapid succession at a steady military pace. “Rhode Island had become conscious of its Italian population in a day, as historian Charles Carroll recorded the event in the book: Rhode Island, three centuries of democracy.”

In the North End of Boston, the first Italian immigrants came in the 1860s from Genoa in Liguria. They settled in a three-block area off Fulton Street, next to the Jewish Menorah Products poultry slaughterhouse. They numbered fewer than 200, but during the 1880s, the immigrant tide shifted — of the 15,000 Irish that lived here in 1880, 5,000 remained by 1890. The Genovesi welcomed the Campanians, followed by the Sicilians, the Neapolitans, and the Abruzzesi. Each group settled in their area within the North End, creating their enclave within the more fantastic North End neighborhood. The Italian masses that flowed into the North End on the departing Irish heels and at the Jewish settlement’s apex found an area in dire physical condition. A rundown, overcrowded slum of deteriorating tenement buildings confronted their struggling arrival. (Trusted Source)

Population comparison

Federal Hill Providence has about 4,500 residents within an area of 0.533 square miles. Many of them are young professionals, students, artists, and business owners. After the 1980s, several Italian families moved to suburban areas. Only 77 Italian-born families are currently living on the Hill as of recent stats.

Boston North End has less than 11,000, in an area of 234 acres of land. However, the North End portion rests on only 0.36 square miles. The contrast with Providence is striking as more Italian-born live in the North End, maintaining the sense of Italianate much more visible and vibrant. Just like Federal Hill, the North End inhabitants include students and your professionals.

Restaurants

Both Federal Hill and the North End have several excellent restaurants, respecting the various ethnic cultures present in the area. We can classify neither locations as total Italians because a neighborhood’s shifting has occurred steadily in 30 years. Neither Italian settlements offer healthy and authentic Italian regional cooking, but an off-shoot of Italian cuisines, classified as America-Italian cooking. We can trace the difference in the use of ingredients. The repetition and the technical procedures of those ingredients within a menu’ explain the philosophical difference between the two cuisines. American Italian cuisine derives from the early immigration input, which contributed to the development of plate-size. Quantity justifying price point. Authentic regional Italian cooking concentrates on the ingredients’ quality. The plate-size is secondary and follows a specific eating formula rationale, including a complete meal’s total weight and elements’ diversity. Besides, the chronology of food ingested is essential. Consumption of starches as the main entrée is an America-Italian dining habit.

The North End has more restaurants, about 60, whereas the Hill includes about 26. The number disparity relates to the size of the respective territories. As of 2020, the Ospitalità Italiana Seal has not awarded Federal Hill or the North End restaurants with the prestigious inclusion in its roster. The Ospitalità Italiana Seal is a certification promoted by the Italian Chambers of Commerce to evaluate Italy’s quality and abroad’s receptive and restorative facilities. Potenza Ristorante in Providence and Cranston in Rhode Island was the last property included in the 150 best Italian restaurants in America. Potenza’s retired in 2018. Both locations could benefit from an influx of more veritable establishments, elevating the quality level and International appeal.

In the bakery and pastries category, Federal Hill runs slightly behind with the North End having much more to offer, with 15 locations providing a more comprehensive selection of coffee and pastry shops table-served or purchased. Pastiche Fine Dessert on Spruce Street in Providence remains the only location for the Hill, after the unfortunate closing of Scialo Bakery. Some pastries, cakes, and cookies are available in some stores such as Roma’s and Tony Colonial. As a vital food street, we can use more sugar work and, most of all, bread-making shops. Currently, freshly made bread is available at Roma Foods and Venda Food Emporium. Tony Colonial offers fresh bread daily made by others.

A new bakery recently opened on 408 Atwells Avenue called Blush. The owner and pastry chef Samantha Chamberlain specializes in vegan baking. Check them out here.

Pizza and sandwiches

The North End offers 21 locations versus 11 on the Hill, but the quality is comparable. However, neither area cannot claim authentic Neapolitan pizza. The serious pizza fans will find their specific preferences at both locations: Chicago deep dish, New York thick crust, or nouveau grilled. And while they are all divine, they remain distantly related to the succulent wood-oven pizza under the Vesuvius. Good Americanized renditions with too many ingredients on top, completely falsifying the aroma of the dough. The credential of Pizza Napoletana is very stringent. The making process boasts a particular methodology that it recently earned UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Status. We must admit that Venda Restaurant and pizzeria on De Pasquale Plaza on the Hill offers the closest rendition to a pizza Napoletana.

Similarly, in the pubs, bars, and taverns category, both Little Italy, have a considerable amount of drinking establishments, carefully controlled by the authorities. Federal Hill went through a delicate and dangerous period a few years back. Still, it seems to have found the right mix of styles and responsible operators. Other ethnic establishments, such as Middle Eastern and Latino’s popular concepts, offer a safe and sound quality nightlife and diverse cuisine, popular among millennials.

Historical sites

Federal Hill does not have any historical sites of relevance. After the passing of Commendatore Joe Muratore, the prominent curator of the Hill’s historical richness, we have been sluggish in representing the ward’s historical aspect. We never created a commission to promote our valuable assets. The Rhode Island Historical and Heritage Commission does not include Federal Hill as a historical landmark as of 2020. There is, however, the photograph gallery Federal Hill Heritage Center (286 Atwells Avenue), offering chronological compilations of early Italian immigration in Rhode Island. Walking food tours are available in the North End and on Federal Hill. Led by the Chef-historian Walter Potenza, the Federal Hill Walking tour includes the most prominent food, history, and architecture aspects.

As far as grocery stores Boston has more options in comparison.

The higher concentration of residents and tourists dictates the number of operating businesses; the Hill has three. Tony Colonial being the oldest since 1969, Venda Gourmet, and Roma Foods. Fed-Rick Veal Company, a full-butchering facility on Sutton Street, for anything related to meat protein and more. It is also open to the public, with wholesale, retail service. Eating habits have changed through time, and today’s consumers opt for pre-cut and pre-packaged versions. Sadly the times when the Hill had seven butcher shops and 11 ice cream parlors are long gone.

I will skip the category of Libraries, churches, social and religious organizations. The North End has Four important churches with a deep Catholic history and a synagogue. On the Hill, we had two churches up to recent times: the Holy Ghost Parish and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The latter sold to investors and turned into business-living mix use. Holy Ghost Church, located at the end of Atwells Avenue, operates with a reduced parishioners participation. Nevertheless, the parish is highly supported by the Italian and Latino communities. Maybe not as vibrant as we would like, but the Holy Ghost remains the first Italian Catholic Church in North America, completed in 1906.

Some greenery still exists on the Hill. The lovely and pristine Garibaldi Park is positioned at Atwells Avenue entrance under the majestic arch commissioned by the late mayor, Cianci, and Saint John’ Park in the neighborhood’s approximate semi-center at the corner of Sutton and Atwells.

Parking is probably the most significant issue on Federal Hill. Perhaps not sufficient free parking to match the growing number of visitors. Street parking is available at an affordable three-dollar cost, with valet parking, always attentive and efficient when dining or shopping. The grocery stores offer free parking to their customers, but the visitors could use more spaces and comfort. City living does not always provide the necessity we need, and the Hill is no exception. However, paying to park lots is plentiful at a fraction of the North End’s cost, which usually runs $28.00 per vehicle.

Yesteryear butcher shop

Conclusive analysis:

Other than the broader population and tourism advantage, I have reason to believe that Federal Hill is not secondary to the North End. Both locations boast a similar history, walking connection to the city centers, and comfortable public transit access. The disparity of businesses is related to the metropolitan area’s size, with Boston having an advantage. Federal Hill could undoubtedly use more bakeries and pastry shops and butcher shops, fresh produce stores, and organic and health-food bazars. We also have a community of pet-lovers that could benefit from a supply center. I believe the saturation for restaurants and bars has arrived, and probably more consumer businesses are needed. Hill’s vibrant community could benefit from mix-use concepts connected with the daily routine, paired with local energetic entertainment.

Personal objections and concerns:

Safety misconception.

For several years the Hill has been visualized as unsafe and unstable to visitors. The media lives on selling ads and keeping your remote control focused on exaggerated slogans such as “breaking news.” Well, we all know the game. Federal Hill has been inaccurately featured many times for criminal acts, when, in fact, the misdeeds occurred somewhere else. To clarify, Ward 3 includes Manton Avenue and sections of the West End, including approximately 314 square acres of land. Still, putting the Federal Hill name on the TV screen will keep you from changing the channel, and hopefully download the article on the Projo app. We all agree that we should have been better prepared to handle unsafe situations in the past and strip violators of their operating licenses. We all agree that we should have a robust local business association where all businesses are active members, providing sensible participation and enduring vision. The Federal Hill Commerce Association is working diligently to offer a better neighborhood and facilitate business interaction. It is also frustrating when not everyone participates in the design of the goals and prospects. It is also absurd that local radio and television hosts run only negative videos and Hill’s footage because it benefits their sluggish ratings. We could do a better job by offering constant press-conference every time the media jumps on negativity, reiterating that we have a safe environment. The local police force continuously monitors Federal Hill.

But most importantly, the residents and the business leaders ensure the safety of their families and visiting patrons. The Hill must develop a new network through social means or television. We cannot trust the local media, seeking only opportunistic returns.

Garibaldi Park is unquestionably Federal Hill’s attractive property. It is maintained in pristine conditions by the OMNI Corporation; whos are heavily investing in the neighborhood.

Cleanliness

This issue is even more relevant because it involves the safety and hygiene of all the businesses, vendors, residents, and visitors. The North End of Boston is much cleaner than Federal Hill. It is a crude reality.

We have had a drastic decline in the Providence Department of Public Works’ participation on the matter.

The cleanliness problem is on everyone’s radar.

1) Our trash bins are despicably looking and randomly sanitized.

2) The tree beds have not been weeded since 2019.

3) The side streets are horrendously filthy.

4) Signs are bent, confusing, and erroneously located.

5) Street sweepers are a luxurious rarity.

6) Street lights don’t work correctly—many of them rusty and broken.

7) Not sufficient lighting on the street, ensuring safety and practicality.

8) Private properties filled with garbage. Code enforcement is necessary. It is time to implement the “Clean & Lean” provision by the authorities.

And more!

We have not seen political leaders take an active role in combating these vital issues. Still, this is one of the highest tax-revenue wards in the city. Most businesses tend their front door and related spaces, but the rest is an endless nightmare. I guess that the responsible leaders do not travel and compare with other prominent cities. Otherwise, it is unexplainable how we have been blind in addressing the issue. Federal Hill cannot merely provide adequate food, spirits, and nightlife and think it may be sufficient to attract tourism. It needs a comprehensive and robust plan. Entertainment is an art form that needs all the actors to perform in synchrony. Neat and manicured streets is an essential element.

My final appeal: for those of you living or visiting the Hill, remember that pets feces is your responsibility, as well as taking your COVID masks with you. “It is your civic duty.” Your behavior affects our neighborhood and reflects poorly on those who paid for your education. We will always welcome you on the Hill, but your sense of civility is expected.

If I am asking for too much: you can always go to the North End of Boston, and let me know how you make out!

Note: As I am completing the column, the Department of Public Works is cleaning Atwells Avenue this morning to appeal to the visitors. It’s ironic. Now, if they could clean the side streets, we will be in great shape.

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