Manchester and Nashua both are in the beginning phases of remaking their downtown sidewalks. In the end, which city will have the better look?
Manchester's new city budget dedicates $380,000 in previously bonded motor vehicle funds to Elm Street sidewalk work. The project, to redo sidewalks from Bridge Street to Merrimack Street, could start before the end of the summer.
In Nashua, a $2 million sidewalk reconstruction already is under way.
Both of these former mill cities, their waterways and downtown streets lined with brick buildings that can date back a century or more, have faced pressure from downtown businesses and their chambers of commerce to redo cracked and crumbling sidewalks. Both of them have plans to replace old, brick sidewalks with concrete. What a shame.
Concrete sidewalks are cheaper to maintain than brick ones. They survive New England winters better. But they have no charm. And charm counts for something.
Portsmouth's brick sidewalks complement the city's colonial buildings beautifully and add a certain romance to the old center of the city. Without them, downtown Portsmouth would lose a considerable amount of its character, which draws residents and out-oftown tourists. Portsmouth recently completed a $4.5 million downtown renovation, which included brick sidewalks and period lighting. (It was funded in part by state grants and federal stimulus money.) Imagine if the city had cheaped out and replaced its brick sidewalks with concrete to save money.
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas says that one option for the new sidewalks is to stamp the concrete with a brick pattern.
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau seems to have the right idea: Make the sidewalks as attractive as possible without breaking the bank. She hopes to use brick to accent cheaper and more durable concrete, while adding more attractive lighting, The Telegraph of Nashua has reported.
When these projects are finished, Manchester could be the one city of the three without brick on its main downtown thoroughfare. The city should reach out to downtown businesses, as Mayor Gatsas suggested earlier this year, to see if they are willing to pitch in to upgrade the sidewalks from concrete to brick, at least in some sections. It would be a real loss if the city replaced its lovely brick sidewalk sections with utilitarian concrete without at least trying to find a way to maintain the old mill-town charm.