Category Archives: Envisioning|MHT

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


Could the armory be reborn as a northern anchor to downtown?

Following the National Guard’s recent failing assessment of to the armory facility on Canal Street, there has been renewed interest in one of the city center’s largest under-development pieces of land. At nine acres, the armory site would be an incredibly valuable piece of land to a developer–and an unparalleled opportunity for the city to mark an impressive urban gateway– if the National Guard decides to find new digs.

Arthur Sullivan of Brady-Sullivan, which owns the eponymous tower next door, thinks the site could be a prime candidate for a major mixed-use development, especially given the influx of young people looking to not just work, but also live downtown. The armory site is a 10-minute walk from Arms Park in the heart of the Millyard and 15 minutes from City Hall, putting it within easy walking distance of thousands of jobs downtown. It’s also on the MTA’s free, frequent Green DASH bus route. The site also straddles the loose boundary between downtown and the North End and Oak Park, a leisurely walk away from Stark Park, Livingston Park, Webster Street and the Currier. That could appeal to young people and families who want to be within walking distance not only of downtown’s jobs, restaurants and nightlife, but of the North End parks and Oak Park’s cultural amenities.

Rendering of Portwalk Place, Portsmouth

Just as important, the armory site is one of the most visible in the city, sitting at the northern gateway to downtown, with almost direct highway access and sitting between Elm, Salmon and Canal streets. That’s where the mixed-use comes in: not just apartments, rowhouses or condos, but ground-floor retail, offices and possibly even an “anchor” retail tenant, something that could draw shoppers downtown. The large site means that ground-floor, street-facing retail spaces could be much bigger than what is commonly found along Elm and Hanover streets downtown. Larger retail spaces could mean that a mixed-use development on the armory site could attract the sort of tenants that currently only exist in shopping malls in the Manchester area. That’s a recipe that has proven successful for mixed-use development in already walkable neighborhoods in PortsmouthWest Hartford, Conn., Somerville, Mass. and elsewhere. Continue reading Could the armory be reborn as a northern anchor to downtown?

Manchester 2026: Could the Queen City host the winter games?

The Olympic Cauldron in Salt Lake City, 2002 – photo by Preston Keres

A month after the close of the Sochi games, it’s clear that the Winter Olympics have come a long way since the 1980 games in tiny Lake Placid. As the winter games move on to South Korea in 2018, the host for the 2022 games has not been selected yet. No American cities are among the contenders, and by 2022, it will have been 20 years since the United States last hosted an Olympics (summer or winter), in Salt Lake City in 2002. Salt Lake City (population 189,314) far eclipsed other American communities that had hosted the Winter Olympics (Lake Placid in 1932 and 1980, and Squaw Valley in 1960) in terms of population, and it hasn’t been since the 1994 games in Lillehammer that a small town hosted the Winter Olympics. But after the excesses and empty seats of Sochi, some are looking for a return to a more restrained Winter Olympics wherever they may end up in 2022 and beyond.

Already, a group in Boston is promoting that city as a potential host for the 2026 games, with venues in the White Mountains serving a key role. But with its rich history of winter sports (the Nansen Ski Club, founded in Berlin in 1872, is the oldest in America) and abundant scenic beauty, New Hampshire could be a contender for a future Winter Olympics in its own right–smaller than Vancouver or Salt Lake City but much bigger than Lake Placid or Lillehammer, and not far from Boston and New York City. That prompted friend-of-the-site and co-founder of the Rimmon Heights neighborhood group, Gary Therrien to muse about the possibility of the Winter Olympics coming to New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

“[Sochi] once was unheard of [and] now becomes a notable spot on the map. This made me think, could New Hampshire host an Olympic games? … An Olympic Games in New Hampshire has the potential to help New Hampshire grow … this would be a statewide event.” -Gary Therrien

Therrien’s idea inspired LivableMHT to imagine Manchester’s role in a statewide Winter Olympics. With the Verizon Wireless Arena, a handful of smaller ice venues, a mid-sized airport, several thousand hotel rooms nearby, and (barring political maneuvering to scuttle it) a rail connection to Boston by 2022, Manchester would be well-situated to host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and a bulk of the ice events. And like the White Mountains, Manchester has a rich history of winter sports, hosting the second largest Winter Carnival in the country in the mid-twentieth century.

Olympic Stadium

Derryfield Park with downtown skyline & Uncanoonuc Mountains in the distance - photo by Brian O'Connor
Derryfield Park with downtown skyline & Uncanoonuc mountains in the distance – photo by Brian O’Connor

Continue reading Manchester 2026: Could the Queen City host the winter games?

STEAM Ahead and the future of Manchester

Fresh off his re-election earlier this month, Mayor Ted Gatsas joined with former Mayor Bob Baines (who prior to his time as mayor was the longtime principal of West High Schol) and  other community leaders to announce an innovative plan called STEAM Ahead NH to improve educational outcomes at West. The program, which will begin next fall, could also eventually attract students from outside the West Side, including elsewhere in Manchester and potentially surrounding towns. That could also boost West’s enrollment, which has declined since Bedford opened its own high school in 2007.

STEAM is a twist on the familiar STEM acronym–adding the arts to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math that are increasingly in demand, especially in a city that is home to the “Silicon Millyard.” The initiative is an academy and laboratory-based program within West that will prepare “students for the challenge of meeting the daily needs of this dynamic, diverse, and richly complex community.”

Beyond its potential to better prepare students for college and careers, and to turnaround a struggling high school, STEAM Ahead is a new educational model for New Hampshire, and one that fits the collaborative ethos of the state. Rather than relying solely on the resources of the Manchester School District, STEAM Ahead is a collaboration with higher education (specifically the University System of New Hampshire and Manchester Community College) and the local business community (beginning with founding partners Dyn and Silvertech). The program will allow students to earn up to a year of college credits tuition-free and, in the words of Dyn CEO Jeremy Hitchcock (who, like this writer, is a graduate of West), “help develop our own students into the workforce of tomorrow.”

Former Mayor Bob Baines & Mayor Ted Gatsas discussing STEAM Ahead on Girard At Large.

LivableMHT has in the past criticized Mayor Gatsas, who saw a closer-than-expected victory on November 5, for failing to articulate an overarching vision for the city. We applaud the mayor, though, not only for stewarding such a visionary program for the one of the city’s most struggling schools, but for waiting until after the election to avoid any perception of politics in announcing it.

We still think Manchester needs a strong unifying vision going forward, but could STEAM Ahead be the first step in getting there? As he begins his third term, there’s an opportunity for Mayor Gastas to use STEAM Ahead not only as a means to improve education in the Queen City, but as a model for other projects throughout the Manchester.

Continue reading STEAM Ahead and the future of Manchester

Envisioning a better Arms Park & how to get there (literally)

New Hampshire may not be getting a casino this year (for better or worse), but that doesn’t mean that cities like Manchester can’t do more to attract visitors, not to mention residents and workers. Last month we wrote about all the good things happening and being planned in downtown Manchester, and how city leaders–beginning with the mayor–need to take more of a, well, leading role in guiding the future of downtown if it’s really going to thrive.

Iconic view up Stark Street to City Hall Plaza from Arms Park past Mill Girl Statue - photo by Brad Danielson
It’s a great view from the Millyard to Elm Street, but there’s not much actually tying the two together – photo by Brad Danielson

One of the major things that city leaders need to promote, we wrote, is a better connection between the Millyard and riverfront with Elm Street and the heart of downtown. This was identified as one of the most important topics at Intown Manchester’s Next Steps Summit in February, and we wrote last month that we’d be talking about that idea more the following week. Well, clearly we’re late on that, but here are some specific ideas of what how that could be accomplished.

We first wrote about the need to bridge the divide–literally the former series of canals–between Elm Street and the Millyard back in September 2011. And since then, we’ve been glad to hear that need mentioned by many other people and organizations–connecting the riverfront, the employment center of the Millyard, and the nightlife and dining center of Elm Street would remarkably transform downtown Manchester.

The riverfront is only about a quarter-mile–only three or four blocks–from Elm Street, but the desolate, highway-like expanse of Canal Street, and the lack of any retail, dining or other attractions along the way makes the distance feel much farther. It’s not a pleasant walk or an easy drive (and parking is tough at both ends) between the Millyard and Elm Street. The free Green DASH bus that loops between the two is great, but in order for the two areas to really feel tied together, there needs to be an enjoyable walking experience along streets that run through the old Amoskeag rowhouses like Spring, Stark and Market. In the block between Canal and Elm, those streets are beautiful, tree-lined and even feature some small businesses and restaurants (though not nearly enough). If the City takes the lead to improve Canal Street and promote more retail and dining options both in the old rowhouses and along the riverfront in the Millyard, development and private investment will follow.

Here’s a satellite image of what the area looks like now:

Canal Street_existing

Continue reading Envisioning a better Arms Park & how to get there (literally)

Future MTA: Imagining a better bus system for Manchester

Manchester’s red, white and blue MTA buses with the iconic MTA logo.

If you’ve ever ridden the MBTA, known as the “T”, in Boston, you’re probably aware of its strengths–frequent and relatively cheap service, coverage of most of Boston and Cambridge’s densest neighborhoods and biggest sites, reasonable hours from early morning until late at night 365 days a year.

You’re probably also aware of some of its weaknesses, not least of which is its hub-and-spoke subway system–to get from Allston to Harvard Square by car or bike, you can simply cross a short bridge over the Charles River; to get there by subway, you’d have to take a Green Line trolley 3 1/2 miles into the heart of Boston, and switch to the Red Line for another 3 1/2 miles back out to Harvard Square.

For the past few years, FutureMBTA has compiled maps–of actual proposals and imagined ones–that show ways to improve the T system.

LivableMHT began after an initial, imagined proposal for a streetcar system in the Queen City, and we’ve been glad to see the MTA making big improvements within its modest budget, such as the free Green DASH bus, which follows a loop similar to the heart of our streetcar proposal. And a few months ago, we thought about some improvements that could be made to the current MTA system.

All that got us thinking–why not imagine a Future MTA–what would an ideal, but still realistic MTA bus system look like?

Burlington, VT’s handsome CCTA buses run more frequently and more extensive in a city barely a third the size of Manchester.

Portland and Burlington–the largest cities in Maine and Vermont–combined have fewer residents than Manchester. They are both farther from other mid-sized cities, such as Nashua, and major urban centers like Metro Boston. Yet, they both have more extensive transit systems, with longer hours and more frequent service. Burlington’s CCTA bus system is also cheaper to ride than the MTA and Portland’s METRO.

Based on experience using those systems, as well as the MTA and the T, LivableMHT has drawn up an imagined bus system that we think Manchester could support if it was funded more like the bus systems in Portland and Burlington.

Continue reading Future MTA: Imagining a better bus system for Manchester

Bridging the canal: uniting the Millyard and Elm Street

Iconic view looking up Stark Street to City Hall Plaza from Arms Park past Mill Girl Statue - photo by Brad Danielson

The Amoskeag mills made Manchester.  They are the most prominent feature of the city as seen from I-293 on the west side of the Merrimack—a low, long skirt to the city’s newer, taller buildings up the hill along Elm Street.  Though little manufacturing takes place in the mills anymore (beer from the city’s lone brewpub being one of the last vestiges of production there), they remain crucial to the city’s economy, housing many of its largest employers and best-known businesses.  To this day, the Millyard remains the most iconic symbol of Manchester, and the heart of the Queen City.

Yet despite being only a few blocks apart, the Millyard is too far removed from Elm Street and the bustle of downtown.  The canals and gates that once surrounded the Millyard are long gone, as are nearly all of the smaller-scale accessory buildings that once lined the canals and filled the spaces between the remaining, larger buildings.  In their absence are the scars of Manchester’s urban renewal efforts of the 1970s and 1980s—where 19th industrialism was shrouded in austere Victorian beauty, the 20th century renewal was all business: the ugly, highway feeling of Canal Street and the adjacent rail line, and parking lots and vacant spaces scattered throughout the Millyard.

The canals and rows of curved accessory buildings between the Millyard & Elm Street were removed in the 1960s & 1970s - photo by Randolph Langenbach

Arms Park and the Merrimack River are less than a five-minute walk from Elm Street, but none of the routes there pass many—if any—retail establishments, parks or other draws to entice pedestrians.  Worse, once past the old boardinghouses (and the recently, very well done, new sidewalks and streetscape improvements along West Merrimack, Middle, Market and Stark Streets), pedestrians must pass through the automobile-oriented wasteland of Canal and Bedford Streets and what feels like the backside of the Millyard.  And as bustling as the Millyard is during business hours, there are far too few restaurants, cafes, bars and shops to attract people past Canal Street, and almost no options for those who would like to live in the brick-walled, airy spaces with river and city views.

Currently, the Millyard functions more like a financial district or business park—albeit an especially beautiful one that forms a lovely backdrop for the city—rather than a dynamic district or neighborhood connected to the rest of downtown Manchester.  The good news is that there have been plenty of planning proposals, policies and schemes drawn up to better tie the Millyard and river with Elm Street; and it really wouldn’t take much to make that happen.

Continue reading Bridging the canal: uniting the Millyard and Elm Street

Livable: St. Mary’s Bank & re-urbanizing McGregor Street

There’s some exciting news about one of the West Side’s dreariest plots of land: the shopping mall, bank and parking lot at McGregor and Amory Streets.

St. Mary’s Bank, the first American credit union, is planning to build a new headquarters in front of their existing main branch in the West Side neighborhood that has always been their home.  The existing, two-story 1969 building, which replaced an elegant 1925 building on about the same site, will be demolished once the new, three-story bank is completed.  The earlier marble bank was demolished as part of the complete removal of an area once known as the Flat Iron District or McGregorville in the late 1960s in one of the worst examples of urban planning anywhere in the city, which is astonishingly still touted as an “improvement” on the Manchester Housing & Redevelopment Authority’s website.

The new building, in addition to providing more height to the neighborhood, will also be significantly closer to McGregor and Amory Streets, restoring a vital urban wall that has been missing for nearly a half-century.  On a more poetic note, the graceful curve of the new building, designed by Lavallee Brensinger Architects of Manchester, recalls the handsome 1925 building.

Aerial view of Notre Dame Flat Iron District (a.k.a. McGregorville), late 1950s – photo by George L. Durrett from “Franco-American Life & Culture in Manchester”

The news is particularly exciting for LivableMHT as it comes at a time when we are beginning to look at how the desolate and mostly vacant Rite-Aid shopping mall, bank and parking lot might be redeveloped as a vibrant, urban neighborhood befitting such a prominent site.  Between its proximity to downtown, adjacency to major employers like CMC and the beautiful Lafayette and Simpson Parks with their views of downtown, a 2006 study recommending the promotion of the area as a corporate/institutional corridor, and the addition of several hundred apartments at Mill West, the land that was once the Flat Iron District seems especially poised for urban-appropriate redevelopment.

Continue reading Livable: St. Mary’s Bank & re-urbanizing McGregor Street

Envisioning Corey Square: please share your ideas

Central High School from Concord Street, Corey Square - photo by Brian O'Connor

As part of LivableMHT’s Envisioning series, we’re beginning to look at the Corey Square neighborhood, and specifically the square itself, at the intersection of Maple, Lowell and Nashua Streets.  We’ll be looking at how the neighborhood might be enhanced with amenities for pedestrians, bicyclists and hopefully transit users in the future, how the streetscape might be beautified, how to encourage investment in buildings and facade improvements similar to those downtown and in Rimmon Heights, and especially how the square itself might be made friendlier to local residents and visitors, and become the vibrant heart of this diverse neighborhood.

Corey Square, sometimes called Janeville, comprises the area roughly between Union and Ashland Streets to the east and west, and Pearl and Manchester Streets to the north and south.  The neighborhood includes the major intersections of Maple and Beech Streets with Hanover and Bridge Streets, as well as such landmarks as the Ash Street School, Central High School, Bronstein Park, and the Boys and Girls Club.  It is the smallest city neighborhood by land area, but it is densely populated, fully developed, and extremely walkable.  In addition to enjoying close proximity to downtown, NHIA, the City Library and the Currier, Corey Square is located along the two major eastern gateways into the city along Hanover and Bridge Streets.  The area once known as Janeville is a warren of narrow, meandering lanes that unlike almost all others in the city center were not built according to a grid of some sort, and the actual square at the center of the neighborhood is located where one of these lanes (Nashua Street) meets the grid at Lowell and Maple Streets.

Continue reading Envisioning Corey Square: please share your ideas