Mark Hayward's City Matters: Reclaiming Manchester's parks
The monument to winged Victory and World War I soldiers remains as is. And the lawn is a healthy green, accented by a scattering of fallen leaves and a person or two sprawled on the lawn in these August-like days.
To most, the change is welcome.
"They would either give you weird stares that are not very comforting or make remarks," said Katie Jerge, a student at New Hampshire Institute of Art. The college has spent the past dozen years buying and rehabbing buildings within the park orbit.
"I've got pepper spray," Jerge warned, "and I will use it."
"There was a lot of riff-raff here. It's better without them," said Paul, 46, early Wednesday evening.
"Don't confuse homeless people with vagrancy," O'Keefe said. The vagrants, he said, park their cars beside the park. They don't work, and they are dependent on drugs. Sometimes their groups numbered more than a dozen.
Trees and the monument are silouhetted in the lowering sun, while the lawn clings to a rich spruce-like hue of green. The four Beaux-Arts styled, granite-faced buildings to the east and south makes one expect a Mozart quartet in the wind.
Art students walk through the park, some with portfolios beneath their arms. A few companions of the homeless Paul linger on benches and speak quietly.
While she welcomes the change, she doesn't like to see a cruiser idling in the middle of the park, which she thinks telegraphs "crime scene."
Yes, she acknowledged, their language was rough, but they toned it down when she asked. She was only hit up once for money. And although she's seen them use Spice, she hasn't seen hard drugs used at Victory.
"You can't get away with saying 'they' anymore. You can with this one," she said. Yet, she acknowledges the fears of students and said the changes are good for the park. She said many of the denizens suffer from drug addiction or are mentally ill and can't get treatment.
Mark Hayward's City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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