It was a woman who brought Andy Cutler to Providence 10 years ago.
The relationship didn't work out. But he quickly grew enamored of the place: the food, the culture, the people, the ideas.
Cutler, a communications consultant with a sprawling network of friends and collaborators, authored more than a few of those ideas himself. But his latest, inspired by the city he's come to love, may be his most ambitious to date.
Cutler says he's devoted the last two years of his life — and all of his retirement savings — to a concept he's calling Smaller Cities Unite!
The notion is to draw smaller municipalities around the world — with populations of 1.5 million or fewer — into a partnership far grander than your standard mayor-of-Toledo, Ohio-and-mayor-of-Toledo, Spain-swap-proclamations arrangement.
He imagines a deep sort of learning about how small cities approach public policy, economic development, the arts, entrepreneurship, and education. And he wants to begin by connecting Providence and Copenhagen, Denmark in a trans-Atlantic funnel of people and conversation.
Cutler took a six-week trip to Copenhagen in 2001, after a divorce, and he was immediately taken with the place. The city consistently ranks near the top of happiness indexes. The people he met were possessed of a deep and appealing humility. And during the trip, Cutler met the late California Congressman Tom Lantos, who said something that stuck: Denmark, he argued, "is the most civilized nation in the world."
Now, Cutler sees a real affinity between Providence and Copenhagen. Both are entrepreneurial college towns, he says, that have put art and design somewhere near the center of their identities
He's been making calls to civic leaders in the Danish capital. Last month, he secured a letter of introduction from Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, declaring him "well equipped" to "serve as a global ambassador for the City of Providence." And on February 16, with funding from a series of local business leaders, he will hop on a plane for a two-week trip to Copenhagen.
Cutler will stop by the Danish App Lab, visit Copenhagen Business School, and, dash off to the Institute of Happiness Research. He'll attend a gathering of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and participate in Social Media Week Copenhagen.
Cutler says Copenhagen, which is building a bicycle super highway, has plenty to teach Providence about sustainability. And Providence, he says, can teach Copenhagen something about the power of networking and connectivity.
But the truth is, Cutler's not quite sure what shape the partnership might take. "Anyone who goes out exploring, they don't really know what they're going to find," he says, "if they're being honest about it."