Toward the end of 1996, I was unnerved.
Management here at the Union Leader had offered me a job as a nightside reporter. I was living in a town on the outskirts of Keene, and the job would necessitate a move to the big city.
I was, to put it bluntly, scared. Looking back, it seems kind of silly. I had grown up in Syracuse, N.Y., and lived for seven years in Columbus, Ohio, two cities much larger and much more urbanized than Manchester.
But I had been sleeping behind unlocked doors long enough that Manchester scared me. I’m not the only one. People who don’t live or work in Manchester are afraid of the city.
Manchester and its sidekick Nashua are the young, hoodie-clad youth that nervous out-of-towners confront on a dimly lit city street.
They cross the street to avoid us. They think the worst. And they concoct all sorts of hyperbole to reinforce their misconceptions.
For example, eight days ago, New Hampshire Sunday News columnist Patrick Hynes wrote that all of Manchester except the North End’s Ward 1 is “feeling left behind in various stages of neglect and decay.”
He’s not even sure of Ward 1 and writes it is “mostly professional, affluent, and still aspirational.” In the future, it seems, Ward 1 may lose its aspirations.
The column was basically a critique of incumbent Mayor Joyce Craig by a conservative. I’m not writing to defend her; she has lots of money and capable people to do that.
But Hynes’ misconception of Manchester is almost laughable. By his account, Ward 2 residents such as Richard Girard, Ted Gatsas (both conservatives) and I are struggling to survive among the neglect and decay.
Victoria Sullivan must have it even worse, since her Ward 9 is about as far as you can get from Ward 1, geographically if not mathematically.
“The biggest problem for Manchester is it has the two largest media organizations in the state,” said Andrew Smith, a pollster who runs the UNH Survey Center. “When people see things about crime, they see Manchester.”
That’s not to say Manchester and Nashua are as safe as the rest of the state.
Using FBI Uniform Crime Reporting numbers for 2019, I’ve calculated a rate of 22 violent or property crimes for every 1,000 people in the state’s two largest cities.
That’s almost twice a rate of 12 crimes for every 1,000 New Hampshire people who live outside the two cities. Is that the only reason for the fear?
Smith said he knows of no survey that asks people statewide how they feel about Manchester or Nashua. He once conducted a poll about people moving to New Hampshire from Massachusetts. The three top reasons: lower housing costs, less traffic and congestion, too many liberals in Massachusetts.
“People don’t move to New Hampshire to move to a city,” said Smith, who moved to New Hampshire from the Cleveland area.
My hunch is that people are afraid of Manchester because we are different.
A few more statistical comparisons of Manchester and Nashua to everyone else in New Hampshire:
We are younger: 22% of Manchester/Nashua residents are 60 or older; 27% of New Hampshire outside those two cities — let’s call it Old Hampshire — are 60 or older.
More come from far away (much farther than Massachusetts): 15% of city dwellers are from outside the United States; 5% of Old Hampshire is.
We are darker-skinned: 75% of Manchester/Nashua residents are white, non-Hispanic, compared to 92% Old Hampshire.
We aren’t as smart: The percentages of adults without a high school diploma are significantly different for the two cities: 12.7% for Manchester and 9.1% for Nashua. Without the two cities, Old Hampshire dropouts number 5%.
I calculated all these using data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey for 2019.
Of course, race, age or education should have nothing to do with fear. But the more different people are and the less exposure someone has to them, the greater the likelihood of fear.
Here’s another Manchester fear statistic, courtesy of a Google search.
Manchester is home to five firearm dealers. Towns that border us have more than twice that number — 11.
People who emigrated to Manchester think it is safe compared to the countries they come from, said Eva Castillo, a Manchester police commissioner and activist in the Hispanic community. People of color from Manchester have their own fears when they venture north of Concord, she said.
“It’s the way people look at you,” she said.
As for Manchester, she sees the city trashed all the time on Facebook. For example, someone posts they’re moving to Manchester and receives a torrent of sympathy and warnings from friends.
She said crime and homelessness are problems all cities wrestle with, and she thinks the city is safe.
It didn’t take long after I moved to Manchester from Spofford to realize it was nothing like I had thought.
Most people are generally good, even if they speak a different language, didn’t go far in school, have a different skin color or even live in Manchester.
I’d like to show that to Hynes. So consider this an invitation to dinner in Manchester. We’ll find some nice little out-of-the-way neighborhood spot. Anywhere, except Ward 1.