Recently, the Boston Globe ran a piece about the perception of city neighborhoods by average people. Using an online mapping software, they asked people to draw the boundaries of the city’s famous (and not-so-famous) neighborhoods. What they found was that popular perception of what made up, say, the South End differed somewhat from what the City officially defined the neighborhood boundaries as, not to mention how real estate agents stretched the boundaries into lesser-known nearby areas.
That last bit is something that Fortress Manchester looked at with the desirable North End in Manchester. According to the planning department’s map of city neighborhoods, the North End starts at Salmon Street, but depending on whom you ask, the North End can extend as far south as Bridge Street or be cut off at Webster Street. Unlike the set lines of cities or even the river between the West Side and Downtown, most neighborhood boundaries are fuzzy. Some areas seem like they’re not even part of a neighborhood at all.
So we were wondering how people perceived of neighborhoods in Manchester. The neighborhoods in the Queen City aren’t as well-known–outside the city, for sure, but even locally–as those in Boston, but there are some that have strong identities: Downtown, the North End, the Hollow, the West Side (which is really too big and diverse to be just one neighborhood), and increasingly Rimmon Heights. There are other historic neighborhoods that exist mostly only on city maps and a few businesses: Janesville, Hallsville, Youngsville, Bakersville, Piscataquog, Notre Dame and Amoskeag. Then, there are other areas that are more defined by a major street or intersection than the neighborhood around them: the Hollow (again), Granite Square, Second Street, Webster Street, Kelley Street, and sometimes even Elm Street. The city planning department is trying to revive some of these neighborhood identities, albeit with new names in some cases. And then there are neighborhoods that the planning department seemed to create (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing): Straw/Smyth, Wolfe Park, Northwest and Wellington, among others.
In a city of Manchester’s size, having a series of neighborhoods with strong identities is crucial to the vibrancy of the city as a whole, and to the individual neighborhoods throughout it. Otherwise, what makes a particular area special or different? Right now, though, there aren’t many neighborhoods that are easy to identify. Fewer still have their own neighborhood center, a place with locally geared shops, restaurants, cafes and other places to naturally congregate and run errands without going downtown or to the strip malls on the edge of town.
The City’s master plan does identify at least eleven neighborhood business centers (also called neighborhood village centers), areas that “provide services, jobs and a sense of community for the neighborhood,” and suggests that they “should be strengthened through redevelopment, development of more mixed uses and a design framework that encourages a walkable area,” but the zoning and promotion of most of those centers is lagging far behind. We’ve put together a map of the neighborhood centers identified by the City, along with those areas zoned to be walkable, mixed-use districts (and other areas that we think should be rezoned as such). The master plan rightfully emphasizes the importance of strong neighborhood centers to serve as the core of the city’s neighborhoods, but the zoning, planning and promotion of those areas really needs to be stepped up.
Downtown Manchester is continuing to thrive and grow, and it’s the natural focal point for the city and the region, but Manchester is much more than its downtown–after all, the vast majority of people in Manchester live in the neighborhoods outside of downtown. Just as Manchester needs to implement and follow its master plan as a whole, comprehensive plans need to be developed for individual neighborhoods. One such plan was developed for Rimmon Heights several years ago, and it has been partially implemented, but there’s much work left to be done. Just across the city line, a similar plan is being developed for Pinardville in Goffstown. Of course, it’s not enough for there to be a plan or even to expect the City to implement it. There need to be strong grassroots groups, like the one in Rimmon Heights, to promote individual neighborhoods and give them a unique identity.
So what do you think of the neighborhoods as defined by the city? Do they follow the rough boundaries that you’d expect? How about the names? Some of them are easy to rally around (Rimmon Heights and the North End, for example), but others, like Straw/Smyth, are pretty clumsy. What would you suggest as a different name for any of the neighborhoods? And how about the neighborhood centers–do they make sense? Is anything missing? Most important, though, what can be done to strengthen the neighborhood centers? To make them more walkable focal points within the city? And what can be done to give various neighborhoods a greater sense of identity and uniqueness?