Category Archives: Examples & Precedents

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


Make Manchester weird

LivableMHT’s rendering of a Make Manchester Weird sign adorning Hanover Street

If you’ve traveled around the country, you may be familiar with the Keep Austin Weird slogan and its offshoots in Louisville, Portland and other cities. On the surface, these campaigns are intended to promote small, local businesses, but they also hint at something more fundamental about these cities, about the attitudes and culture that make them unique.

Keep Louisville Weird sign in the Bonnycastle neighborhood of Louisville – photo by W.marsh

Portland, Louisville and Austin are all very different cities, but they share certain things in common: the large presence of colleges and universities, a thriving arts scene, an active interest in local businesses, downtowns built along major rivers, and distinct identities that might be described as weird, in the sense of being different, unique or special in an appealing way.

Now, Manchester isn’t as prominent or as weird as any of those cities, but it does have a growing student population (among the largest in northern New England), an increasingly visible arts community, a vibrant downtown that has yet to tap the full potential of the Merrimack River, an increased interest in local businesses and restaurants, and if you know where to look, there’s even a certain weirdness lurking under the surface. After all, where else do candidates like Vermin Supreme get invited to a presidential candidate forum while a piggy bank rolls through the city center? Continue reading Make Manchester weird


Photo by kthread

According to the Union Leader, Concord has become the latest in a growing number of New England cities to allow residents to keep a small flock of chickens in their backyards. Chickens are an easy way for urban-dwellers to participate directly in local food movements, as chickens require little space and provide fresh eggs daily.

According to The City Chicken, Portland, Burlington, Cambridge, New Haven and Nashua are among the New England cities that already allow residents to keep chickens–though usually not roosters–in their backyards. Unfortunately, Manchester is not one of those–yet.

Last year, the zoning board denied a variance sought by a Queen City man to keep ten chickens at the corner of Amherst and Belmont streets in a fairly dense area of Hanover Hill. Manchester’s current ordinances classify chicken as livestock, not differentiating them from much larger animals, thus requiring residents to have at least one acre to keep a single chicken.

The good news, though, is that granting a single variance is probably not the best way to deal with Manchester’s outdated ordinance on the matter–changing the ordinance is. And seeing Concord residents successfully and unobtrusively keep small urban flocks will hopefully lead Manchester’s city leaders to act a bit less chicken.

Backyard chickens OK’d in Concord

New Hampshire Union Leader
Published Dec 14, 2011
CONCORD — Concord has some newly legalized residents and more may be hatching soon.The City Council approved an amendment this week allowing residents to raise chickens for personal consumption.

Only five chickens are allowed per household and none of them can be roosters, averting noise complaints sure to come up with the sun each morning.

“I’ve gotten a number of phone calls over the last number of years from people asking about this,” said Craig Walker, Concord’s zoning administrator and author of the amendment. “There seems to be significant demand in having small backyard flocks and seems to be a trend across the country, even in more urban areas than Concord.”

The new measure is in effect for 21 months, allowing the City Council to review it after the backyard chickens have roosted long enough for city officials to assess whether the fowl are still welcome within city limits.

The original plan was for 18 months, but the additional time will cover two summers and provide a better gauge on one of the biggest concerns raised by opponents — the smell.

Supporters say homegrown chickens allow them to know the source of their eggs and meat.

According to, a website for homegrown chicken and egg enthusiasts, more people want to take part in grow-local food movements, but lack the resources for much more than a backyard garden.

Site owner Rob Ludlow describes backyard chickens as “the pets that make you breakfast!”

The amendment law does not mean a barnyard blitz for Concord. It eliminated ducks as household pets and requires chicken-rearing residents to keep the birds in coops at least 30 feet from the property line and in a side or rear area, Walker said.

Manure must also be either removed or stored in a covered container.

Before the council voted Monday, only residents with at least an acre of property could keep chickens. The amendment basically provides for a trial run that council members can review in late 2013.

“There may be a number of people that find out that caring for an animal of that nature isn’t their cup of tea,” Walker said. “But there’s a lot of people that may have fun with it, too.”

In Manchester, city officials last fall rejected a request for a zoning variance to allow a man to raise 10 chickens in a small coop at his home at the corner of Amherst and Belmont streets.

Manchester city ordinances classify chickens as livestock, which require a minimum of one acre for one animal and another quarter-acre for additional members of the herd or flock.

While Manchester’s mayoral race is still flying a bit under the radar, Portland is holding its first popular election for mayor in nearly a century.  Until this election, the position of mayor has been ceremonial and selected by the City Council.

There are currently fifteen candidates running for the position, and at a recent debate most brought up different ways to improve and expand the transit system in Maine’s largest city.  Some of the ideas are truly compelling–working regionally, eliminating fares, and building a streetcar line.  Portland’s Rights of Way blog has a take on the various candidates and their stands on municipal transit.

The current political climate at the state and local level seems to preclude much discussion of improving and expanding the MTA in this year’s mayoral race, but hopefully things will be different by 2013.  It’s discouraging to see Portland’s mayoral candidates talking about how to improve a transit system that is already much more robust and better funded than the MTA.

Better transit makes for better cities–better places to live, better places to work, better places to visit, and places better able to attract and retain residents, visitors, workers and businesses.  It’s time for Manchester to rival Portland in that regard.

Sustaining branch libraries in changing times

West Side Community Branch Library - photo by Manchester Library

The mayor and aldermen continue to wrangle over a budget for the city.  Meanwhile, residents and students on the West Side and seniors across the city await a decision on whether funding will be restored for the West Side Community Branch Library, or whether it will be shuttered, as mentioned on LivableMHT back in March.

The aldermen have until the June 9 to approve a budget, or the mayor’s proposal–with a 3.37% increase in local property taxes but drastic cuts from the state and federal levels resulting in overall cuts to transit, libraries, schools and other areas critical to a vibrant community–will go into effect July 1.  Obviously, structural changes at the state level (and allowing greater flexibility at the municipal level) are needed to ensure more reliable revenues and efficiency, and for the city and region to be strong, competitive and attractive places to live, visit, study and work in the future.  The debate over what those changes should entail are a huge topic in themselves, and maybe better left to those with a broader understanding of municipal finance and governmental structure in New Hampshire.

Going forward, though, there are some interesting solutions being employed in other cities to adapt the services and amenities that make a city great to the changes in technology and lifestyle, as well as the economy and demographics.

Continue reading Sustaining branch libraries in changing times