Let’s make Downtown Manchester what it should be: A place that prioritizes people

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

Peter Macone, General Manager of Elm Street’s sister restaurants Republic and Campo Enoteca, recently gained attention for a petition to close down Elm Street to vehicles. It’s a bold effort, but not a new idea — merely a forgotten one.

Two years ago Alderman Tim Baines and the City’s Office of Economic Development created a Sub-Committee to discuss transportation improvements to Elm Street through Downtown — particularly focusing on how to address “events” that close down the street. Several civically-engaged community members were on the committee — including Peter Macone and myself. While discussions focused mainly on short-term considerations like event management, police detail, lost parking revenue, and waste removal, a few of us implored City officials to redirect their energy at incrementally making infrastructure investments that would transform Downtown… to make Downtown a place for people.

Why reduce our focus to hosting special events when, instead, we can make a special place?

Our discussions and efforts were condensed to a memo presented to the Aldermanic Committee on Public Safety, Health, and Traffic in 2018. The. End.

… Alas, the discussion has been reopened amid the public health crisis the world faces and the economic crisis business owners are working to soften the blow from. And as the Manchester community explores this topic, please take in some of these considerations.

Cars do not spend money at businesses — people do.

Parking does not add vibrancy to a place — people do.

Metered garage and on-street parking do not enrich municipal coffers as sustainably as dense, high-performing real estate in a people-centric Downtown via higher assessed property tax collection.

Crowds do not flood London’s West End, New York’s Times Square, or Boston’s Quincy Marketplace because of their spacious parking accommodations. They go because of the exciting, colorful, historic, and culturally-significant places they’ve evolved into and that people have added vibrancy to. To accomplish this, investments were made to their public realm that says, “Yes, you are welcome here. Please, sit on these steps; take a selfie in front of this sculpture; lay under this tree; watch these street performers; smell these flowers; play in these fountains; eat your food at these tables; ride your bicycle on this path.”

There are thousands of examples and models of street transformations that could be implemented for Elm Street.  Burlington’s Church Street; Boston’s Washington Street (Downtown Crossing); Denver’s 16th Street Mall (my personal favorite for Elm); Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade; Dublin’s City Center; Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Rue Saint-Catherine in Montreal has incrementally reimagined itself through that Downtown, adding flush curbs, beautiful pavers, and more landscaping. St. Paul Street in Montreal’s Vieux Carre (Old Montreal) is one of that city’s most economically productive  These international examples are here not only for the models they set, but because their climates are comparable to New Hampshire’s.

“There are thousands of examples and models of street transformations that could be implemented for Elm Street. “



I maintain the same opinion today as I did in 2018: Elm Street can (and should) become a shared street from Bridge Street to Granite Street. Consider having a complimentary bus service along Elm Street from the North End down to Queen City Avenue. Collaborate with businesses like Electric Avenue Arcade, Boards & Brews, The Bookery, and the Millyard Museum to add life to the physical street — make it a fun living room. Designate Downtown as an open-container zone where tourists can flock to weekly bacchanal events throughout the year… removing cars from Downtown for events like these would allay the most obvious safety concerns.

Work at an office or professional service provider Downtown? Sharing the streets benefits you, too. Higher foot-traffic and convenience of proximity to more people increases visibility and access to your business. Study-after-study demonstrate this.

Live in/near Downtown? Consider the acreage of expanded public realm for your family to enjoy playing games, basking in the sun, or having snowball fights in the winter, all at your doorstep.

Closing the street Downtown is not a novel concept — we already do it dozens of times a year with hardly any disruption. Only good can stem from the business community and City Officials embracing the goal to make Elm Street more accessible to more people.

Let’s make Downtown Manchester what it should be: a place that prioritizes people.

Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Your thoughtful prose on topics of interest are welcome here. Send submissions to carolrobidoux@gmail.com, subject line: The Soapbox

Derek Shooster is the Chair of Bike Manchester, a Manchester Connects Initiative Leader, and Transportation Planner. These opinions are Mr. Shooster’s own and not necessarily reflective of the organizations he is part of.

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