MHT Forward: Building community pride

MHTThis post is part of MHT Forward, an ongoing series written by Manchester native Brian Chicoine. Brian also writes a weekly column for Manchester Ink Link, and recently founded the Facebook group Manchester Forward, which is dedicated to celebrating the Queen City and advocating for an even more vibrant, people-focused, and financially stable community that honors its history and embraces its identity as it builds for the future.

Kennedy declared his candidacy for president at Manchester’s Carpenter Hotel

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”

– John F. Kennedy

Service to the MHT

The Millyard and downtown Manchester skyline - photo by PSNH
The Millyard and downtown Manchester skyline – photo by PSNH

Having spent most of my life volunteering and being involved in my community, I find it fitting to return to my hometown of Manchester to help guide it as we continue into the future. While we move forward, we need to remember and honor the past so that we never forget what was involved in building and keeping our great city going. We need to remember where we came from.

As I have mentioned in previous pieces, Manchester has a history of destroying its past or neglecting things to the point that they need to be torn down. Manchester has made its mistakes, but they have also done some great things, such as restoring the Millyard. The Millyard district is a great example of honoring the past while building for the future with its modern businesses housed inside 19th century mill buildings.

The Issues

Downtown Manchester seen from the surface parking that dominates portions of the Millyard – photo by Ynsalh

Like many American cities, Manchester has seen vacant buildings, crime, and unemployment. The city has a sub-par citywide transit system and the regional system relies on busses, most of which have their closest stop at a station situated in North Londonderry, which is about a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Manchester, (not helpful to those who do not drive). There are vacant and under-utilized buildings that could be used for the benefit of residents and visitors. Surface parking lots are in abundance, taking away from the beauty that the city offers and taking valuable space that could be better utilized.

The riverfront is underutilized, with a major point of access that is near downtown currently being used as a surface parking lot with occasional festivals. Underutilized and unrealized potential are terms I use to describe aspects of Manchester. The public schools are seen as sub-par and the Board of School Committee seems to constantly clash with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. This non-cooperation and gridlock often results in lack of sensible policy that harms students and often restricts our teachers’ ability to teach.

Manchester has lost too many iconic structures like the Notre Dame Bridge, demolished in 1989 – photo by Ernest Gould
In a moment of epic shortsightedness, the white building and every other building in front of it in this photo were also demolished to make way for the Notre Dame Bridge’s uninspiring replacement – photo from the Historic American Building Survey

Continue reading MHT Forward: Building community pride

MHT Forward: Celebrate Manchester

MHTLivableMHT is proud to bring you the first issue in a new, ongoing series, MHT Forward, written by Manchester native Brian Chicoine. Brian is a Manchester native, who also writes a weekly column for Manchester Ink Link, and recently founded the Facebook group Manchester Forward, which is dedicated to celebrating the Queen City and advocating for an even more vibrant, people-focused, and financially stable community that honors its history and embraces its identity as it builds for the future.

Lost Civic Pride

photo by Bryan Marble
photo by Bryan Marble

Mark Twain said that we have the best government that money can buy. In some ways, this seems true – even in local government. While Manchester hasn’t seen some of the problems that other cities have, such as scandals or major shutdowns, and it doesn’t give the impression that it is “government for hire,” it has experienced city government that is often seen as nonresponsive and that ignores some of the major issues that face it. In recent times, the city has also ignored the needs of residents or has turned a blind-eye to those who are in need of help and resources that our local government should be offering.

The result is a growing number of people who see their elected officials as distant and not caring about the people who elected them. This has led to people not only losing confidence in their elected officials, but also losing their hope and civic pride – the very pride that helped get our city through its darkest times and the pride that can move it forward.

Over the years elected officials have made moves that have caused the people of our city to lose confidence and form the belief that the system doesn’t work for them and that only those who are connected can actually get things done, and that money creates that connection. People also believe that government of all levels only serves those who are chosen. The prevailing opinion is that the old adage of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” rings true in our local government.

I have spoken to many people in Manchester who share this general belief. And this is evident when one looks at recent city-wide election results. For example, turnout in the 2013 municipal general election was a puny 25.26%, which translates to 15,451 ballots cast out of 61,176 registered voters. In some instances, the number of blank ballots surpassed the number of actual votes. I have been told that low turnout in municipal elections is the norm, especially for odd-year elections because no state offices are on the ballot. Although this may be true, I see this as people justifying why citizens are not voting or otherwise becoming involved with determining the direction of our city.

The great news is that we can celebrate Manchester regardless of how we view our elected officials. This is because celebrating MHT is about our great city…it is not about who is running it.

Restoring Hope

A local mayor has said that he believes his greatest accomplishment, even greater than leading the city through a renaissance that has been widely celebrated, is that he restored the hope and pride of every citizen of their great community.

It is my belief that restoring hope to a community will lead to people becoming more engaged and that everything will flow from there. And if the citizens become more engaged true change will happen. I often tell people that change will not happen unless we make it. Making change on the local level is relatively easy, but with less than 26% of registered voters casting ballots, it will not happen. (And we’re not even talking about those who are eligible to vote but not registered). Can you imagine the change that we could make if we got more involved? Everything that our elected officials do effects every resident of our city, and in many cases even effects non-residents when they visit. But my standing on a soapbox will not do much because of the lost hope and civic pride of many people in Manchester.

Placing our hope for a better Manchester in our elected officials alone is misplaced hope. There is the hope that our elected officials will do the right thing, which is doing what is best for the city and her people, but our hope needs to be placed in ourselves as well. We are Manchester! Elected officials can lead the way by working to make Manchester a stronger city by utilizing the tools that they have and the power that is given to them – by the people, but we need to invest ourselves to the cause as well. Hope and pride was restored in the city I spoke of earlier, but it wasn’t solely placed in government. The mayor helped the people hope and believe in themselves and in the city. Government makes things possible by setting public policy, and sometimes there are visionaries in government, which leads to more openness to new and innovative ideas, but we the citizens need to be active participants.

Government has a role

In the aftermath of a devastating flood and the bankruptcy of Amoskeag, Manchester pulled together in 1936 to secure a vibrant future–economically and culturally. – photo from the National Archives

It was our local government working alongside private entities and individuals that brought Manchester back from the ashes. It was this cooperation – this partnership – that restored our great millyard and helped it become the vibrant multi-use area that it is today. It was this coming together of visionaries in the public and private sector and those who could set public policy that led to such things as the Fisher Cats and the Monarchs coming to town; it is this coming together of ideas and the power to make things happen that will continue to move Manchester forward! Government, nonprofits, the private sector, and the people all need to be active participants in order to create an even better Manchester!

I equate our involvement with Manchester’s future to learning in school. As students, it was (or is) our hope that the class leader knows the material and can articulate it, but it is up to us to do the work in order to truly learn. It only works if we participate.

Continue reading MHT Forward: Celebrate Manchester

Mancunian Business Spotlight: Manchester Acupuncture Studio

Speculative Buy Local logo for Manchester hastily designed by LivableMHT - a real one should be created & used

In the second of an ongoing, occasional series on local businesses and their place in the Queen City, Elizabeth Ropp explains the history and mission of the Manchester Acupuncture Studio, and why it was important for the studio to remain downtown even as it moved to a more accessible location at 813 Canal Street recently.

Manchester Acupuncture Studio (MAS), with locations in Manchester and Nashua, is one of five Community Acupuncture clinics in New Hampshire, and operates on a sliding-scale to ensure that acupuncture is affordable to all members of the community.

photo 4
View of Millyard from MAS’ new space

Manchester Acupuncture Studio (MAS) is bringing in the new year with a new location at the flagship Manchester clinic, now located at 813 Canal Street.

Why the move?  It really comes down to accessibility and improved facilities. The new location in the Gold’s Gym Corner overlooks the Mill Yard and the Merrimack river, offers superior visibility, plentiful and level parking, ADA accessible bathroom and improved facilities. MAS to be as inclusive as possible in how we provide acupuncture, which means maintaining affordable rates, offering services seven days/week, and now more accommodating facilities.

MAS provides 23,000+ treatments annually between our Manchester and Nashua locations.  We work in Manchester and Nashua because between all MAS employees live in the area and we want to serve the community that we live in.

Southern New Hampshire has enthusiastically supported affordable acupuncture services by spreading the word to family, friends, co-workers, and health care providers.  Over the last few years MAS has received hundreds of referrals from the medical community, to which we are extremely grateful.   

Neighbors napping at MAS
Neighbors napping at MAS

Why downtown Manchester?  MAS founder, Andy Wegman, had been practicing acupuncture in Manchester for 7 years before opening Manchester Acupuncture Studio.  “I met lots of folks who were open to acupuncture,  but couldn’t afford private room rates.  I developed a real love for the people of the city, along with the model of Community Acupuncture.” The discovery of a beautiful big space to treat lots of people in Manchester’s Millyard was pure serendipity.  The original space served us well for many years and patients often mentioned that they loved the old buildings and shared personal stories of having worked in the Mills or of a mother or grandmother who had once worked in the mills.  

Continue reading Mancunian Business Spotlight: Manchester Acupuncture Studio

Bike MHT announces 50/50 bike rack program

Bike Manchester has just announced the Manchester 50/50 Bike Rack Program, which will provide bike racks to 15 lucky (and savvy) Queen City businesses and non-profits for just $200. Thanks to the efforts of Bike Manchester and theCity of Manchester Department of Public Works and Bike Manchester, Manchester gained its first striped bike lanes last year.

Bike lanes and racks are the sort of improved bicycle infrastructure that Bike Manchester has been advocating for in the city since 2013 in effort to get more Mancunians out riding bikes more safely, and the organization is now partnering with the City DPW on the Manchester 50/50 Bike Rack Program.

More bike racks will mean less bikes chained to signposts – photo from Manchester Ink Link

According to Bike Manchester’s map, there are a number of bike racks located at private businesses, city parks and schools, but many are the flimsy portable type, and there are many areas of the city without any racks at all. The Manchester 50/50 Bike Rack Program will not only boost the numbers of racks in the city, but provide strong, permanent racks either on private commercial or non-profit property, or on public sidewalks.

Businesses with bike racks will not only be more appealing to bicyclists, but the increased visibility that the racks will provide will give Manchester residents more assurance that there will be a place to “park” when running errands or commuting by bike.

Bike Manchester explains the application process in their press release:

Business interested in applying to take part in the program must do so by Feb. 28 at Bike rack applications will be evaluated on, and priority given to, those whose proposed bike rack locations are most visible to the public, are accessible to the greatest numbers of bicyclists and potential bicyclists, and on the strength of the applicants’ plans to promote bike rack use to their customers, employees, and/or commercial tenants.

Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?

Next stop: Manchester? - photo by matthrono
Next stop: Manchester? – photo by matthrono

We’ve written several times about the need for commuter rail between Manchester and Boston. In fact, LivableMHT’s very first post was about the Capitol Corridor study of passenger rail between Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Boston.

Two years ago, the Executive Council wisely permitted that study to go forward, and with the official results of due out soon, there are very promising preliminary results showing that commuter rail would be an economic boon to southern New Hampshire.

New Hampshire continues to lose young people to cities like Boston and New York, and the tech companies and startups that fill places like the Millyard have sounded the alarm that they are having difficulty attracting talented workers to the state. It’s clear that the “New Hampshire Advantage” of low taxes (unless you consider property taxes) and a low cost-of-living is no longer enough to convince the young, talented workers who drive the economy that New Hampshire, and more specifically Manchester, is a dynamic, interesting place to live. The State and the Queen City need to step up their game, and join with Nashua, in strongly advocating for a rail connection to Boston.

Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study
Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study

Commuter rail won’t solve all of the state’s problems, but with the study showing that the “Manchester Regional” option will lead to an additional 5,600 new jobs and 3,600 new housing units, with nearly 2,600 daily riders, there’s no question that the investment to build and operate passenger rail would be a plus for the state. Rail commuters in Nashua, many of whom now drive to Lowell to catch a train to Boston, would largely be heading south for work.

That will probably be the case in Manchester, too, but Gray Chynoweth, COO of Dyn, points out that passenger rail between Manchester and Boston would also make it easier for commuters to head north from the Hub to the Queen City. That would make jobs in Manchester more attractive to young people who want to live in a bigger city like Boston, and it would make tech companies and other businesses that rely on young workers more likely to stay and move to New Hampshire. Over time, some of those commuters heading north to Manchester might be attracted by the lower rent, access to the outdoors, and the city’s burgeoning dining scene, and decide to settle in the Queen City, knowing that they could still easily hop on a train down to Boston.

Continue reading Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?

Where are Manchester’s 10,000 college students?

UNH Manchester emphasizes its urban setting
UNH Manchester emphasizes its urban setting

The school year is in full swing at UNH Manchester, NHIA, SNHU, St. Anselm and other Manchester colleges, and it’s hard to overstate the positive effects that those schools and their students have on the Queen City.

It has been estimated that there are roughly 10,000 students attending Manchester colleges and universities, and in recent years their presence has become more noticeable around the city and especially downtown. UNH Manchester will be moving into an expanded and more visible space at the Pandora Mill in the coming year, building on the astounding growth of NHIA over the past decade.

NHIA's original building, French Hall - photo by C Hanchey
NHIA’s original building, French Hall – photo by C Hanchey

Ever since it became a degree-granting college in 1997, the New Hampshire Institute of Art has had a growing presence in downtown Manchester and the inner east side of the city. Growing from a single building as an art instruction school, NHIA’s student body now numbers more than 500 on a campus that dots the city center, with facilities ranging from a six-story dorm at 88 Lowell Street to a community arts center in the former St. Anne’s Church.

Manchester will never be a true “college town” like Durham or Hanover–as the state’s largest city, it will always be defined by more than that–but it can and should do more to harness the energy, cultural offerings and economic impact that students and colleges bring to the city. With nearly as many students as Durham and more students than Hanover, Plymouth or Keene, Manchester’s student population and area colleges should have a greater prominence in the wider community. Unlike traditional college towns, Manchester’s economy is not based on higher education and its largest schools (SNHU and St. Anselm) are on opposite edges of town. NHIA’s cluster of buildings around Victory Park are the closest Manchester comes to having a college district or neighborhood.

With news in August that a possible merger between NHIA and SNHU has been postponed, and that student housing could be built on the Pearl Street parking lot, Manchester is at a potential crossroads and should actively consider the role that colleges and students have in the city. Whether a merger between NHIA and SNHU is a good idea or not, greater cooperation and shared efforts by Manchester colleges would certainly be a good thing for the city, as would having many more students living downtown. The Pearl St student housing would be built privately, and presumably would be open to students from several area colleges, promoting more interaction of a diverse and currently far-flung student community. Continue reading Where are Manchester’s 10,000 college students?

Mancunian Business Spotlight: A&E Coffee & Tea

Speculative Buy Local logo for Manchester hastily designed by LivableMHT - a real one should be created & used

In the first of what we hope will be an ongoing, occasional series on local businesses and their place in the Queen City, Emeran Langmaid describes the allure of opening a coffee shop in downtown Manchester.

A&E Custom Coffee Roastery is an award-winning coffee roaster based in Amherst, and founded by Emeran Langmaid in 2001. Given her background in textiles and manufacturing, the Queen City is a natural place for Langmaid’s latest endeavor: the A&E Coffee & Tea cafe that recently opened in the former J Dubs space in downtown Manchester.

Baristas at A&E’s new cafe in Manchester

“Why Manchester?” I get that question a lot. In fact, I ask that question a lot. What makes Manchester a good place to open a business, a craft coffee and tea cafe nonetheless? Now that I am open, I daily rely on my answer to that question.

The hard facts are that Manchester is one of the larger cities in New England. It is continuing to grow and get favorable rankings as a “great place to live and work” among leading magazines such as Forbes and Money. For a coffee/tea cafe, those are great statistics. However, that alone is not why I opened a second location in Manchester.

You see, at the core, I am an underdog. I like the raw and grittiness that eventually produces something amazing and beautiful. I started a coffee roasting company with two pennies rubbed together, and have grown it to a successful, sustaining company that employs people, creates an environment where everyone is welcome, and has a net positive impact on all we touch; coffee and tea producers all the way to our customers. We take tremendous care and pride in our product and want to pass along that enjoyment to all around us. Manchester has its own underdog history with the rise and fall of the textile industry. It is certainly on the upswing, but as with us all, has areas of improvement.

Continue reading Mancunian Business Spotlight: A&E Coffee & Tea

Learning from Concord: a festival for downtown

Starting today, downtown Concord will host its 40th annual Market Days Festival, which runs for three days through Saturday July 19. The festival is a celebration of the Capital City’s downtown, with Main Street closed to traffic and sidewalks lined with vendors and entertainment.

Local businesses and organizations apparently saw the value in putting themselves in front of the more than 50,000 people who attended last year, as this year’s festival will host nearly 200 booths, tents, stages, miniature golf courses and even a temporary park. As NHPR reports, in addition to the “sidewalk sales, food vendors, live music, and other activities,” the event heightens a sense of community in downtown Concord.

It begs the question: if Concord, a city of little over 40,000 people, can pull of such an event, why can’t Manchester? Next weekend, Arms Park will host the first annual Granite State Brewers Association Summer Festival, and Intown Manchester runs the ongoing Summer Concert Series in Veterans Park, but there’s no event in Manchester that captures the same spirit of celebration, community and even commerce as the Market Days Festival in Concord.

Jazz & Blues Festival on Hanover St, early 2000s
Jazz & Blues Festival on Hanover St, early 2000s

During his time as mayor, Robert Baines, along with the Hippo and others, spearhead the Jazz & Blues Festival, which ran for a weekend each summer for a number of years in the early 2000s. The festival featured musicians on several stages on and around Hanover Street, but it also provided a showcase for local businesses and organizations. And it offered a reason for people of all ages and walks of life to congregate downtown. It was such a hit that years after it was last held, it is still touted on websites from the MEDO (the City’s Economic Development Office)’s profile of downtown to Kiplinger’s list of the 10 best cities for retirees. It wasn’t just a celebration of music it showcased, but of downtown Manchester itself. Continue reading Learning from Concord: a festival for downtown

Improving Manchester’s streets for everyone

In the past we’ve looked at ways to transform Canal and Bedford Streets into a vibrant urban boulevard, but today we’re taking a look at a more budget-friendly way to make streets throughout the city–and by extension the neighborhoods around them–better places not just for cars, but for everyone.

Reverting multi-lane one-way streets to two-way

Maple Street toward Ash Street School, Corey Square - photo by Brian O'Connor
Maple Street in Corey Square – photo by Brian O’Connor

Standing on the corner of Maple and Lowell streets in the heart of Corey Square just east of downtown, it can be easy to forget that streets are built not just for cars, but for users of all sorts–pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Streets aren’t just ways to move traffic; they’re the lifeblood of cities, connecting neighborhoods and providing valuable public space.

Across the country, cities are reverting busy multi-lane one-way thoroughfares like Maple, Beech, Pine and Chestnut streets into calmer, single-lane two-way streets that respect the livability of neighborhoods and enhance the viability of local businesses. The results are almost entirely positive, from fewer vehicle collisions to decreases in crime.

LivableMHT's redesign of Chestnut Street on
One possible reconfiguration for a newly two-way Chestnut Street

The slower traffic makes the streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as motorists, and it increases the livability and property values of the neighborhoods around them. And while the traffic is slower, there tends to be more of it, which is good for businesses, including the corner stores, shops and restaurants that already dot Maple, Beech, Pine and Chestnut streets.

Continue reading Improving Manchester’s streets for everyone

Coffee in the Queen City

Image by

Word has it that Manchester is the second-most coffee-obsessed city in these United States, behind only Portland, Me. Who knew? Compared to Portland (or the cities of the Pacific Northwest), Manchester isn’t exactly teeming with coffee shops, cafes and coffee culture. It’s hard to turn a corner in Portland, Me., without coming across a local coffee shop or roaster. Even Burlington, Vt., which ranks third behind Manchester and Portland, has a more established coffee scene.

The Men’s Health article that placed Manchester second considered “percentage of households that own coffeemakers and buy coffee; household average spent on coffee; coffee shops per capita; percentage of people who drink coffee and who drink five-plus cups a day” in determining their rankings. With the prevalence of Dunkin’ Donuts–41 within a ten-mile radius of Manchester–and the space devoted to coffee in Manchester’s supermarkets, the ranking makes a bit more sense.

Cafe la Reine, Downtown

But there has never been a better time to be a coffee drinking in the Queen City than now. Within the past few years, downtown Manchester has seen a resurgence of locally owned coffee shops serving locally roasted coffee. And the rise in coffee roasters hasn’t been far behind, with the Millyard-based Java Tree/Cafe du Jour supplying many local restaurants, and CQ Roasters in Bedford recently being honored for roasting some of the best coffees of 2013.

Continue reading Coffee in the Queen City