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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

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Photo by J. Hutchins

Manchester is falling into a pattern of decisions that are penny-wise, but pound-foolish. The City will be raising the cost of downtown parking, which is admittedly cheap compared to cities like Portsmouth, but Portsmouth already has a downtown that is thriving despite the “hassle of parking.” Downtown Manchester can get packed, but mostly during the workday. Nights and weekends, it’s a much quieter place, even if it’s doing pretty well. Now, a raise parking fee comes just as interest in downtown as a destination is starting to grow again.

Without improving downtown infrastructure and transit, raising the cost of parking just to stay within the tax cap will make it more difficult to draw people to downtown to shop or dine. Any increase in parking fees should direct some additional funding to programs like the MTA’s Green DASH, the free downtown shuttle bus, that could make people more likely to visit downtown outside of 9-5 workday hours. By bowing to the arbitrary (and insufficient) limit set by the tax cap, and relying instead on downtown parking fees, Manchester risks slowing the resurgence of its downtown and, ironically, potential future tax revenue.

Where are Manchester’s neighborhoods?

The darker blue areas represent the core parts of neighborhoods as defined by average people; the lighter areas are less defined. Image from the Boston Globe.

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.

Continue reading Where are Manchester’s neighborhoods?

As part of the kickoff for the statewide Commute Green Challenge, the MTA will be offering free rides all week (May 14-18) to anyone participating in the challenge.

Just register at the Commute Green NH website and email intern1@snhpc.org with your contact information to receive five, one-day MTA passes for free.

Join the 2012 Statewide Challenge to save 4,000 trips by the end of the year!

Are You Up to the Challenge?

The Statewide Challenge is open to anyone who lives, works or commutes through New Hampshire. People can compete individually or on teams made up of coworkers or schoolmates. Employers, schools and individuals compete for awards, prizes and recognition from May 14 to December 31 by carpooling, bicycling, walking, using public transportation or telecommuting in a competition that benefits us all!

Live free… and rebrand!

Part of New Hampshire’s new “Live free and…” tourism campaign.

As you may have heard, New Hampshire now has a new official tourism slogan. Out with the generic “You’re going to love it here!” and in with the open-ended “Live free and…”

The new slogan is part of a branding effort, something that has been elusive in New Hampshire compared to its neighbors in the rolling farmlands to the west (cows and maple syrup), and the forested and rockbound coast to the east (lobsters and lighthouses). New Hampshire is arguably more diverse in terms of geography, activities and maybe even local culture than Vermont or Maine, and it’s been hard to pin down exactly what New Hampshire’s identity is.

Portland’s wordy, but playful slogan. Why doesn’t Manchester have something like this?

As Peter Egleston of Smuttynose Brewing Company explained, “Made in New Hampshire” just doesn’t carry the same weight as “Made in Vermont” or “Made in Maine.” Egleston was talking about his hopes that people throughout the Granite State would adopt the since-retired Portsmouth Lager as a local standby, but that in fact people in Manchester don’t feel as connected to Portsmouth, as people in Brattleboro might feel toward Burlington, or those in Millinocket feel toward Portland. The Seacoast of New Hampshire is different from the mill cities of the Merrimack Valley or the small towns of the North Country in a way that the Green Mountains of southern Vermont and the Green Mountains of northern Vermont never will be. New Hampshire doesn’t bring up the singular imagery of Maine or Vermont, because the state’s simplify too diverse–and too close to other markets, like Boston–to have the same sense of unity, insularity, or whatever it is, as its neighbors.

So we have “Live free and…” and what? Well, as the slogan shows, it’s really “Live free and splash” or “Live free and hike” or “Live free and paddle”. It’s a slogan as open-ended and diverse as the Granite State, itself, yet it does a good job of summing up something special about New Hampshire at the same time. It’s taken a curmudgeonly (and I say that as a compliment) state motto too often co-opted by those who want to clear cut their land or avoid paying taxes, and turned it into something welcoming–that’s good branding.

Rebrand Manchester

Live free and… dance? Manchester needs to promote itself as an urban destination in the state, and in northern New England. Photo by HuTDoG83

And it got us thinking about branding the Queen City. Right now, Manchester’s economic development slogan is “Birthplace of Your American Dream.” That’s almost as generic as “You’re going to love it here!” and it follows the comparatively better “Where history invites opportunity.” But lately, even that seems to have been supplanted by “New Hampshire’s Business Capital.” What does that tell anyone about the city?

Continue reading Live free… and rebrand!

Manchester’s (nearly) 100-year-old ballpark

Gill Stadium from Valley Street, 2004 - photo from LittleBallparks.com

Fenway Park turns 100 today, and baseball fans in Manchester are probably nearly as excited about the centenary as those in Boston. But few people–even in Manchester–may know that the Queen City’s own venerable old ballpark, Gill Stadium, will be 100 itself next year.

Gill–originally called Textile Field–is one of the oldest surviving concrete-and-steel stadiums in the country; only three others, including Fenway Park and Harvard Stadium, are older. But organized baseball was played on the corner of Valley and Beech Streets even before Gill Stadium opened in 1913. Two structures preceded Gill on the same site–Varick Park from 1895 to 1913 and Beech Street Grounds from 1892 to 1895. That name even sounds like Fenway’s predecessor, Huntington Avenue Grounds.

Textile Field was built as part of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company’s benevolence programs, and was intended at least in part to prevent workers from unionizing. It was the principal stadium of the semi-professional Manufacturers’ League, organized the year before among the city’s various manufacturing companies. While the players were officially factory employees, they were actually hired for their baseball skills. The all-star team of “factory workers” managed a respectable 3-1 loss to the 1912 World Series champions Boston Red Sox in a game to dedicate the new stadium in September 1913.

Continue reading Manchester’s (nearly) 100-year-old ballpark

Exec. Council to vote tomorrow on commuter rail study

Potential Capitol Corridor commuter rail route - image from NHBTI

As a UNH survey last year and a meeting in Nashua last night have shown, there is overwhelming support across the state–and from the business community–for the Capitol Corridor commuter rail project, which would run from Concord to Boston.

Support is less clear among the Executive Council, which will vote tomorrow on whether to approve a contract to study the project. The study will not cost the state any money, and it will be conducted by in-state contractors. Commuter rail is essential to the future economic competitiveness of southern New Hampshire, and to ensuring that the area remains a desirable place to live, work and visit. This study is vital to showing that, and to moving forward with commuter rail.

Please contact your Executive Council and urge them to approval this crucial study, reminding them that it will cost the state nothing, and will not commit it to do anything in the future.

If you live in the Manchester area, your Executive Council is former mayor Raymond Wieczorek, but it may make more sense to contact Councilor Daniel St. Hilaire, who represents the Concord area, and has indicated that he is undecided but leaning against approving the study.

Please contact them today–tomorrow will be too late!

Urban Livability Award results are in!

ImageIn celebration of its first year online, LivableMHT is proud to announce the results of its first Urban Livability Awards survey. The survey looked at four areas–Neighborhoods & Urban Landscape, Architecture, Parks & Open Space, and Looking Forward–that define Manchester and determine how livable and attract the city is.

Here are the winners–and in cases of a close vote or a clear second choice, runners-up for each of the categories. We’ve also created a map showing the award winners. An * indicates winners with an outright majority of votes in their category: Continue reading Urban Livability Award results are in!

An ode to Manchester’s Victorian architecture

Former Central Fire Station on Vine Street with its high Victorian tower resembling Pandora - razed in 1971

Several writers and commentators have detailed the Victorian architecture in Manchester, some even describing it as a thoroughly Victorian city. Few have done so as beautifully as Laura Silverman, a comic and actress in her own right and sister of Sarah Silverman, who recently explained to New Hampshire magazine what she loves about her home state:

I spent my formative years in the suburbs of the “big” city of Manchester, on a lively, lovely street, in a ’60s-style ranch house with a swimming pool, nestled in amongst the birth of our country – the massive, Victorian homes, stained in deep jewel tones, spooky and romantic with their endless peaks and gables and enchanting wrap-around porches…

One of Manchester’s greatest assets is its wealth of Victorian architecture–from the high flourishes of the Millyard towers and North End mansions, to the rhythm and repetition of the old Amoskeag boardinghouses and the gentle curvature of the mills, to the simple, restrained forms of countless houses and apartments on leafy side streets throughout the city.

Continue reading An ode to Manchester’s Victorian architecture