Providencia is one of the three dozen comunes that make up the Greater Santiago region. Santiago, the capital of Chile, is not a single city, but is rather a collection of comunes (roughly equivalent to a county) with their own mayors and city councils. Providencia is just one of them, lying between Santiago comune (downtown) to the west, and Las Condes (traditional home of Chile's upper class) to the east. To the north is Cerro San Cristobal, a tall hill that is home to Santiago's largest park, and to the south is Nuñoa, a large residential neighborhood. Its population is 120,000 people living in less than six square miles, making it about as dense, on average, as Queens, New York.
Providencia has been my home for the last month, and while I can not claim to be the largest expert on it, I do have the insight that comes from being new to a place. Providencia is arguably the real heart of the Santiago region, having surpassed the traditional downtown region as the heart of commerce. The major highway, (here called Providencia) runs through the city, right above the main metro line. The tallest building in South America, the Gran Torre de Santiago, lies along the eastern edge of Providencia, along with the country's financial district. The embassies of (among others) China, Japan, Indonesia, Spain, France, Ecuador and Paraguay are all in Providencia (the United States Embassy lies just off its northeastern edge. Providencia, then, is the international district of Santiago. Also, although the presence of embassies and corporations can't demonstrate it, its also just a cool, fun place to live with many restaurants, bars, and street performers.
In larger terms, Providencia's location and atmosphere is a metaphor for what is happening in Chile right now. Chile, like the rest of South America, has been a country with a pronounced division between the rich and the poor. Providencia, to me, seems to be about the middle class of Chile, between the tenements that make up much of the city and the rich guarded neighborhoods of Vitacura and Las Condes to the east. The area's energy and openness to the world seem to be a sign of a possible future when the long-held class lines of the country dissolve. This is perhaps an optimistic guess by a newcomer, but the signs I see on the streets are mostly ones of positive change and social awareness.