Whether your 2018 was a year to remember, or one you prefer to forget, the new year holds a lot of promise for Manchester and the people who call it home. This week’s Scene in Manchester shares my top 2019 wishes for the Queen City.
Manchester is really lacking in this department. Of course there are commendable things happening at all our city schools, and in 2018 I devoted many inches of this column to shining a light on them. But the constant theme of dwindling resources, poor services for our children with special needs, overcrowded classrooms and educators getting injured at work really takes a toll on even the most positive of attitudes. Is this the learning environment we want for our children? Is this the reputation we want for our city?
Unfortunately, the addiction crisis and other factors mean city educators are on the front lines of dealing with children who are suffering from abuse, neglect and other trauma. To break the cycle and become successful members of our community these students need more than math books. They need to feel the love and security they are not getting at home. And city educators need extra support to be able to provide that.
The nonpartisan Manchester Proud organization is our best hope for bringing all sides together to put children first and make our schools top-notch. I hope 2019 is the year that leadership on both sides can put aside ego and fear and really listen to their recommendations. Everyone is going to have to give something up so that we can gain as a community.
Let’s hold property owners in the center city more accountable, especially the ones who don’t live here. Some have more interest in their bank accounts than the betterment of the city, collecting rents on dilapidated properties strewn with garbage and old furniture. Is the city’s tax cap making us a haven for slumlords? It’s worth another debate this year.
If all goes according to plan, The Rex entertainment venue will be opening in the fall of 2019. While many supporters think this is an important addition to attract and retain millennials, it’s going to be a treat for us all. The proposed design is flexible to allow for all kinds of live entertainment, public programs and events. It’s just what Manchester needs.
Retail, retail, retail
Have I mentioned retail? I recently wrote about some of the newer bright spots in the downtown retail scene. I neglected to mention some of the more established clothing retailers like George’s Apparel, Statement boutique, Benton Shoe and Runner’s Alley. These stalwarts have made downtown home for decades, and should be an encouragement for other entrepreneurs to take the plunge and put us on the map as much more than an eating and drinking destination.
Perfect our parking
While it makes me sad to see beautiful riverfront real estate taken up by SNHU’s new parking garage, it was a necessary solution to the employer’s parking issues. Unfortunately, it barely puts a dent in the parking problem. If we want to make downtown attractive to businesses and visitors we need to open up more parking and make the existing options more visible and accessible.
It’s a big undertaking. But in the meantime, I have a solution to free up two prime spots right away. There are two spots on the south side of Merrimack Street, at the corner of Elm, right next to the city’s welcome center at Veterans Park. A sign says they are “Parking for Welcome Center Staff Only” between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. seven days a week.
The welcome center is staffed by the lovely volunteers from Granite State Ambassadors. Two of them, Mary and Arthur Lizie, said the primo parking is a nice perk but they would likely still volunteer without it.
They said the center is only staffed when one of the volunteers signs up for a shift, which certainly isn’t 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week. They also told me that if someone without a volunteer sticker parks in the spot, it’s a $50 fine.
“It behooves you to not park there,” said Arthur, as I anxiously peered out the window to see if my car had been ticketed while we talked.
The Lizies said they spend about six hours a week at the center and enjoy telling out-of-town visitors about the history and highlights of Manchester. The Lizies, who met at UNH and have been married for 51 years, have lived in the same home on Harrison Street for more than 40 of them.
I appreciate the Lizies and other volunteers who spend their free time showcasing our city, while also dealing with many of the city’s homeless residents. But, most downtown employees and volunteers don’t get premium free parking. They have to hunt and pay for it like the rest of us. Let’s free up those spots for visitors and add them to the potential parking revenue.
Help for the homeless
Elm Street business owners are fed up with vagrants panhandling, passed out and peeing on sidewalks in front of their establishments. It’s bad for business, bad for the city’s reputation and bad for the health of panhandlers themselves. The city, nonprofits and religious organizations have countless services that provide food and shelter for people in need. But these people want cash to buy stuff they’re not handing out at New Horizons. Panhandling and sitting on the sidewalk isn’t illegal, and if city residents and visitors continue to reward them with money, the behavior will continue.
My welcome center friends definitely have a heart for this population, saying they would like to direct the homeless to available services, but haven’t been able to connect with them.
“They’re homeless and they’re here, but they don’t want to interact,” said Mary, who has her master’s degree as a community health educational specialist.
She recently had to wake up a man sleeping across the center’s entrance so she could get in for a shift. The man ran away, leaving all his warm blankets and other possessions.
“They leave their possessions. They do that very often,” she said, and she hopes the agencies who deal with the homeless can find new ways to connect with them and give them help.
Let’s make 2019 the year that we all educate ourselves on compassionate and healthy ways to help the homeless.
Sure, we could fill an entire newspaper with ways to improve our city. But let’s not forget to be grateful for all the amazing things already happening here. The successful Palace Theatre, public art and many galleries, Mike the Peddl pedicab driver, lively nightlife and live music at Shaskeen and other bars, Noodz and other exciting new restaurants that seem to open every week, and most of all, residents who really care about their city and each other.
Happy New Year, my friends.