MANCHESTER, NH – A pair of back-to-back community meetings convened Friday at Central High School, asking three key questions about safety and quality of life issues in the neighborhoods nestled between Beech and Maple streets:
- What do you see?
- What do you want to see?
- What else do you think we should know?
The “we” in question No. 3 refers to the organizers – Conservation Law Foundation in partnership with the city and Plan NH, a non-profit founded by planners, designers, builders and others who help cities and towns visualize a more vibrant version of what community can look like.
It’s a task accomplished by brainstorming sessions known as charettes in which attendees break into small groups to tackle the issue at hand. The information gathered is then distilled into a report containing recommendations that, ideally, can be the first step toward action, and change.
Plan NH’s North Sturtevant said they have done bout 75 such charettes across the state, from smaller communities with different issues, to Manchester – including one five years ago on behalf of Families in Transition.
This particular pair of meetings was focused on the study area that is bordered by Bridge Street to the north, Valley Street to the south and framed by Beech and Maple stress on either side.
“That’s the area we toured this morning and we met with stakeholders in the city,” Sturtevant said, including elected officials, transportation officials, and others with technical knowledge of what exists. “But the richest information comes from residents.”
And with little further ado, the groups at the second of the two meetings began brainstorming on the three questions, as answers were written down, distilled and integrated with answers garnered from the earlier meeting attendees.
Among those in attendance were Rafael Calderon, who said one of the things missing that he’d like to see are more recreational spaces where families can gather to relax – green spaces that might include tables for playing chess or dominoes.
Sandra Almonte, owner of Don Quijote Restaurant and a strong advocate for improving this particular area of the city around her business, said beautification efforts would go a long way to elevate a sense of pride among residents, many of which are renters. Through NeighborWorks, there are initiatives to assist tenants in feeling more connected but landlords must also be involved.
Altmonte also mentioned the issue of trash – lack of trash receptacles, or the presence of trash cans that don’t get picked up by the city in a timely fashion. She said she has recruited youth from the neighborhood to help keep a lot across the street from her Union Street business tidy. More attention from the city is needed for this area, which her focus group agreed feels “forgotten” when it comes to allocation of resources and services.
Resident Owen Westover, who reported on the ideas generated by his group, said characteristics of this neighborhood include speeding traffic on both Beech and Maple, which are used as thruways, issues with snow removal, lack of trees and green spaces and the absence of Hunt Pool, which has always been a summer recreational refuge. His group said they’d like to see more bicycle lanes – but designed with more safety features than the bike lanes that were created in the North End, and more “traffic calming” mechanisms.
His group also talked about lack of affordable housing and accountability among landlords.
“Affordable units shouldn’t have gray water coming down from ceiling and holes in the walls,” Westover said.
After more than an hour of deliberation ideas were gathered and added to those expressed by attendees of the first meeting. Recurring themes included:
- Affordable rent
- Housing density
- Speeding traffic
- Lack of sidewalks
- Need for crosswalks
- More traffic control
- More walkable grocery stores
- Need to address homelessness and drug use
- Better snow removal
- Bike lanes
- More green space, benches and family recreation
- Ways to connect residents with city services
Following the meeting Andrew Morin, who is a teacher in the school district and resident of Bridge Street, said he came because quality of life issues that affect his students are important to him.
“I recently moved to Bridge Street so I live a little bit up from the highlighted area, but it’s really important for me to have students at our schools getting not only the education they deserve but the livability they deserve,” Morin said. “It’s a very densely-populated area of Manchester and I think it’s something that needs to be focused on to improve, not only the lives of the people in this area, which is very important because they’re forgotten about a lot, but also the lives of everyone in the city in general.”
Overall, Morin’s reaction to the charette was cautious optimism.
“Everything in Manchester seems to move slow but I think this is something that’s needed – and the whole city deserves this stuff – things in the North End seem to happen a little faster, so there’s a bit of inequality and defacto segregation occurring in the city. When you look at what the difference is, the simple answer is money,” Morin said. “I rent, so that’s why I wanted to contribute to this. Renters deserve to have a voice on this because they’re the ones living here.”
A final “wrap-up” meeting to present conclusions from the July 21 sessions was scheduled for July 22 at 3 p.m. at Central High School.