The upside of hope in Rhode Island

Nine individuals who are bullish and optimistic amid the state's current tough times
By IAN DONNIS  |  January 29, 2009

Photo by Frank Mullin

Annie Costner
Age: 24
Where she's from: Pasadena, California
Moved to RI: To go to school at Brown University.
Level of hope and optimism for the state's future, on a scale of 1 to 10: "If the artists stay, we're probably going to survive all right – 7."
Reasons to be cheerful: She believes RI will prosper when it just goes for it with renewable energy.
Attracted to Rhode Island by her curiosity about the East Coast, Annie Costner took a circuitous path to her current work in leading the local chapter of environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action's ongoing fight against diesel pollution.

An environmental studies major when she came to Brown, Costner switched her focus to Latin American literature (she combined both interests when she later studied a water system in Chile). She tried living in New York City after graduation, but it wasn't for her, so she was glad to find her way back to Rhode Island, where she began working for Clean Water Action in October 2007.

Costner calls lowering diesel pollution a triple-win: it's good for public health; it's good for environmental justice — since such pollution has a disproportionately bad effect in poor neighborhoods — and it's good in the fight against climate change, since black carbon is a potent contributor to global warming. A federal mandate demanded that new diesel engines be 90 percent cleaner by 2007, but efforts to pass similarly tough requirements for older vehicles, including municipal trash trucks and construction equipment, have come up short so far at the General Assembly.

Having gained political experience while managing state Senator Josh Miller's successful reelection campaign last year, Costner is adding State House lobbying to her portfolio — an experience she doesn't find intimidating, even with few other young female peers. That she doesn't have local relatives is "kind of working for me," says the activist, who happens to be the daughter of a certain well-known actor.

Even with US Census data showing that Rhode Island is losing population, Costner, a West Side resident, believes the state's largest city retains a special allure for young people from elsewhere in the US. "Providence — it's just opened its arms," she says. "I love this city — it's a great city for people my age." Whether pursuing activism, taking in the arts, or just enjoying the city's social life, says Costner, "You can be a part of the community."

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