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Those who are not familiar with United States geography might have never heard of Rhode Island. The smallest state in the country is often confused with Long Island, which is in New York, or tends to conjure up an image of some sleepy little New England town that you might have seen once on a postcard. Yet in reality, Rhode Island is one of the most culturally diverse states in the country. It’s capital city, Providence, is known for it’s mouth watering local cuisine, ranging from New England clam chowder, to authentic Italian, as well as numerous notable Universities and a thriving creative scene.

In the early 1990’s Providence underwent a cultural renaissance. Once a small overlooked industrial city, Rhode Island’s capital became one of the liveliest creative hubs in New England, attracting numerous artists and creative talent from across the country. Yet, like many cities in the United States, the 2008 financial crisis hit Providence hard. The city experienced devastatingly high unemployment rates, and many people found themselves starting from the ground up. 

In difficult economic circumstances, coworking spaces tend to serve as a platform for regeneration, allowing individuals to take their professional destiny into their own hands. Luckily Providence has several established coworking spaces, many of which are working together to allow Providence become, once again, a vibrant cultural hub.

The DESIGN OFFICE

Back in 2000, freelance web designer John Caserta was living in San Francisco, dreaming of working in a shared-space with like-minded individuals. Some years later, after attending graduate school on the East Coast, Caserta ended up settling in Providence and decided to revisit his dream. “In October of 2007, I ventured into a small space with a couple friends, and the idea was off and running. It's been growing ever since, with the big jump in space and membership happening in September of 2012,” Caserta told Deskmag.

The Design Office is located in beautiful downtown Providence, where many of the buildings have maintained their original facade, adorned with columns and high ceilings. On the smaller side, The Design Office currently has 17 members with core competences in all types of design (graphic, industrial and architecture) as well as photography and programming. “We are open to anyone who thinks of themselves as an artist-meaning anyone who makes his or her own work, puts their own voice into the world and can stand on their own when needed,” explains Caserta. Of course you have to be open to working with others, so Design Office gives their coworking members the chance to help select future coworkers in order to strengthen the community as it grows.

In terms of what can be done for the city as it struggles to stabilize, Caserta feels that there needs to be more conversations concerning alternative economic models. “The 20th Century model that large companies will take care of health care, retirement, and job training doesn't seem to work anymore -- and Rhode Island understands this better than most states," explains Caserta. “From the perspective of an individual's spirit, most jobs are crushing, turning people into what we like about machines: regulated, consisted, reliable. Humans are not machines.”

In Caserta’s experience, a greater degree of autonomy and flexibility is better for the individual, which often defines the core philosophy of coworking. But there also needs to be the opportunity to receive benefits such as health-care, and retirement. “Self-employment in general has to be more economically tenable and if the public could take on health benefits, we will see a lot more self-employed workers and more coworking.”

Although Caserta says 3000 sq. ft. is “a healthy amount of physical space”, as it allows members to make the space their own, he is certainly interested in future growth.

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