Category Archives: urban planning

PS21 Hosts Virtual Walking Tour of Islington Corridor

More than 50 residents braved snow drifts and narrowed streets Tuesday evening (Feb. 10) for PS21’s ‘virtual walking tour’ of the Islington Street-West End neighborhood.

aerial view
Islingon Street Corridor

The photo tour, narrated by Joe Calderola, included aerial and street views, photos of historic homes, plans for the Islington Street Corridor, upcoming development, illustrations of the area’s character, and opportunities for the future.

The discussion afterward continued for an hour with participation from Portsmouth Planning Director Rick Taintor and  City Councilors Esther Kennedy and Stefany Shaheen. Karen Marzloff of PS21 moderated.

The tour presentation provided an overview of the area, which will be the subject of  a 4-day public workshop on ‘character-based’ zoning Friday thru Monday, Feb. 20-23.

The workshop will be at the Frank Jones Center, 400 Route One Bypass, Portsmouth, except the final, Monday, which is at City Hall.

During the ‘charrette,’ or design workshop, the public will be able to drop in at any time from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday. Citizens can view maps and materials, talk with zoning consultants,  and leave comments.

In addition, a number of specific sessions are scheduled:

  • Friday, Feb. 20 – Introduction to the Process, 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, Feb. 21 – Roundtable Discussions
    10:00 a.m. – Business, Landowners and Developers
    12:30 p.m. – Building Scale & Design
    2:00 p.m. – Public Realm & Civic Spaces
    (The public is invited to all roundtables, including “Business, Landowners and Developers.”)
  • Sunday, Feb. 22 – Interim Conclusions Plus Review, 5 p.m.
  • Monday, Feb. 23 – Closing Presentation, 6 p.m., City Hall.

For additional details about the design charrette, visit the City of Portsmouth web page about the character-based zoning.

Jeff Speck suggests ways to a more walkable Portsmouth

Jeff Speck Portsmouth NH
Walking Congress Street with Jeff Speck

Renowned urban planner Jeff Speck gave a provocative, idea-filled (and often funny) presentation and workshop in Portsmouth Jan. 22 and Jan. 23. Around 200 people came to the presentation 60 to the workshop. Speck talked about how cities work   and suggested ways  that Portsmouth can become more liveable and successful  through ‘walkability.’

Watch on YouTube:

Read about Jeff Speck’s ideas in The Sound.

Portsmouth Herald: ‘Councilors intrigued by planner’s vision for the city

speck_presentation
Before a full house at Seacoast Repertory Theatre on Thursday, Jan. 22

 

Did you attend? Fill out our 3-question survey.

Primary funding for this event was provided by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and the City of Portsmouth, with additional support from Esther’s Marina, Piscataqua Savings Bank,  and PortsmouthNH.com.

Seacoast Local featured the event as a partner in their “Making the Connection” speaker series. Seacoast Media Group was media sponsor.  Many local businesses and individuals also contributed.

North End Walk Draws 50; Charrette Begins

North End Walk
Around 50 people turned out in chill weather for a citizen-led walking tour of the North End hosted by PS21  (Portsmouth Smart 21st Century) on Saturday. Above, PS21’s Karen Marzloff addresses the crowd.

Participants discussed current and potential development in the neighborhood, and the character of the North End in anticipation of the City of Portsmouth’s Nov. 10-13 charrette on ‘character-based’ zoning.

The charrette begins with a public presentation and hands-on workshop at 6 p.m. Monday in the former Portsmouth Herald building on Maplewood Avenue.  Above, Karen Marzloff of PS21 addresses participants. For more information on the charrette, see http://tinyurl.com/p3ggxs2.

Notes on Oct. 22 Workshop with Plan NH

More than 30 people attended a PS21 event on Oct. 22, a workhop with the statewide nonprofit Plan New Hampshire. Plan NH’s Robin LeBlanc says the workshop aims to “shift” thinking about the future by examining assumptions about life here, conversations that are going on, and questions people have or might ask about the coming decades.

Below are notes on the wide-ranging discussion as recorded by PS21’s Jerry Zelin.

Robin LeBlanc leads Plan NH workshop with PS21A Workshop, “SHIFT,” led by Robin LeBlanc of Plan NH
7-9 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 22
Portsmouth Middle School Auditorium

Notes by Jerry Zelin

Doug Roberts: Announces a North End walk scheduled for 10-11 a.m. Nov. 8, 2014, 10 A.M., starting at on Maplewood AvenueCindy Ann Cleaners, to discuss possibilities for each lot in the North End.

Robin LeBlanc: She has lived in New Hampshire for 30 years, currently Exec. Dir. of Plan New Hampshire.

Audience: Attendees introduce themselves. Most live in Portsmouth. Some live in Eliot, Durham, etc.

Robin: Plan NH develops workshops like this, to trigger shifts in thinking about the future of towns and cities. Not Portsmouth-specific but for any community …

Audience at Plan NH workshop
Why did people move here?

Audience:
Vibrant downtown
Schools
Walkability
Near ocean
Historic character
Creative community
Socio-economic diversity when moved here

Robin: Those are our values. How would a real estate broker describe Portsmouth?
Continue reading Notes on Oct. 22 Workshop with Plan NH

Maplewood Avenue Changes?

Significant changes could be in the offing for Maplewood Avenue, in part because the resolution of issues involving the final phase of the Portwalk development.

Portwalk’s developers admitted earlier this year to making numerous unauthorized changes to Phase 3 of the Portwalk plan, which had been approved by the Planning Board and Historic District Commission.  As part of the approval of their resubmitted site plan, in June the developers agreed to put $250,000 into an account toward Maplewood Avenue improvements.

These could include the widening of sidewalks, landscaping and more. Deputy City Manager Dave Allen also revealed that the city has a conceptual plan that would convert Maplewood Avenue to three lanes. Allen said three lanes, wider sidewalks, and trees could make the street more hospitable to pedestrians despite the relative size of Portwalk III.

During the discussion, Allen and Planning Board Chair John Ricci both commented that their views on ‘walkability’ and building design have changed in recent months, with Allen citing PS21’s events and Complete Streets presentations as contributing factors. Continue reading Maplewood Avenue Changes?

Six Quotes from Jan Gehl

Jan Gehl
Jan Gehl

Cities for People, the 2010 book by Danish architect and urban planning consultant Jan Gehl, is full of insights into what makes successful city life.

Many of his observations at first seem startling, but somehow later seem like common sense.  Here are a half-dozen quotes from Cities for People.

 

  • “In every case, attempts to relieve traffic pressure by building more roads and parking garages have generated more traffic and congestion. The volume of traffic almost everywhere is more or less arbitrary, depending on the available transportation infrastructure.”
  • “More roads invite more traffic [and] better conditions for bicyclists invite more people to ride bikes, but by improving the conditions for pedestrians, we not only strengthen pedestrian traffic, we also — and most importantly — strengthen city life.”
  • “There is so much more to walking than walking! “
  • “A lifeless street is like an empty theater: Something must be wrong with the production since there is no audience.”
  • “Above the fifth floor, offices and housing should logically be the province of the air-traffic authorities. At any rate, they no longer belong in the city.”
  • “It is widely believed that the lively city needs high building density and large concentrations of dwellings and workplaces. But what the lively city really needs is a combination of good inviting city space and a certain critical mass of people who want to use it.”

Cities for People is available at the Portsmouth Public Library or from Riverrun Bookstore.

City Gives Rationale for Bike Corral

The new, large and highly visible “bicycle corral” at the corner of Daniel and Penhallow Streets in Portsmouth has engendered a lot of comment, not all it favorable.

In a letter to Daniel Street neighbors, however, city transportation planner Juliet Walker says that bike corrals “are particularly suited for commercial areas, where sidewalks are narrow and heavily used by pedestrians and / or [there is] outdoor seating or other street furniture.”

She adds that the Daniel Street location has been frequently used for illegal parking,  which interferes with sight lines and creates unsafe conditions at the intersection for pedestrians and drivers.

Memo on Daniel Street Bicycle Corral

Progress on the Bike-Ped Master Plan

An impressively detailed draft version of Portsmouth’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan was unveiled during a session June 5 at the public library. (Watch video)

With perhaps 75 people looking on, city officials and Toole Design Group, a planning firm that specializes and bicycle and pedestrian planning (and was the consultant for Boston’s bike-pedestrian master plan) described techniques for improving walkability and bikeability and displayed about about a dozen maps on the Levenson Room’s walls. The maps showed where people walk and bike today, where there are opportunities for improvement, and where there are constraints on making improvements.  (For a short while, more public input can be added to the city’s Bike-Ped Wikimap.)

Fully implemented, the plan could result a sophisticated walk-bike network for the city. However, absent a sudden infusion of cash, bike-ped improvements will evolve slowly. City planner Juliet Walker and the Toole Design Group plan to rank potential projects by their importance for safety, availability of funding, ease of implementation, public enthusiasm and other factors.

Many of of the master plan materials are available on the the city’s PlanPortsmouth.com website.

 

 

‘Walkable City’ Discussion – June 3

After a group discussion of Jeff Speck’s Walkable City on June 3, participants at the Portsmouth Public Library (about 35) were invited to:

  • write a comment about Walkable City’s ten steps
  • write a question for Jeff Speck that Sean Moundas, who leads the Portsmouth Public Library’s nonfiction book group, might ask in an upcoming interview. (The questions for Speck often were as interesting as the comments. It will be up to Sean to choose which ones to ask.)
  • make a general comment about the meeting or PS21.

The comments and questions are below. Since participants were not asked for permission to use their names, the authors are not shown.

COMMENTS ON THE 10 STEPS TO WALKABILITY

STEP #1: PUT CARS IN THEIR PLACE

  • More free or reduced parking for residents w/in 10 min walk.”
  • “Narrow Maplewood!”
  • “Keep in mind that for many, many people, being able to walk somewhere is not just a nice-to-have, but is absolutely essential. For whatever reason, a lot of people do not drive. We have a moral obligation to support them with public transportation as well as safe places to walk. We spend a lot of money supporting cars – we need to do more (for people who don’t drive).”

STEP #2: MIX THE USES

  • Keep the West End mixed.”

STEP #3: GET THE PARKING RIGHT

  • “Bring back in lieu payments.”
  • “Have parking revenue dedicated to improvements in the neighborhood (downtown) where it is collected.”

STEP #4: LET TRANSIT WORK

  • (Traffic and parking are) not frustrating enough to gain general support for buses —“loser cruiser.”
  • “Do we need more density in neighborhood hubs/nodes to support it? (Also, vibrant retail?”)
  • “Aging demographic (makes transit important).”
  • “Regional transit for the modern commuter will cut traffic/parking problems and address non-driver population needs.”
  • “Frequent (bus schedule is important for transit success.”
  • “Appealing”
  • “Keep buses even if under-used.”

STEP #5: PROTECT THE PEDESTRIANS

  • “Lafayette/Woodbury” (can/should be improved)
  • “Not just walkability, also accessability”
  • “No bikes on sidewalks.”
  • “Brick sidewalks are dangerous.”
  • “Jay-walking: need an ordinance. Need a sign on Market Square.”
  • “‘A-Signs’ can interfere with walking on Congress.”
  • “Trees in grass strip between road and sidewalk give the motorist visual clues to slow down and make the sidewalk feel safer and more interesting.”
  • “Always plant at least a 2-foot green strip next to road with trees.”

STEP #6: WELCOME BIKES

  • “No debris in bike-way”
  • “Wider bike lanes.”
  • “Opportunity on Lafayette/Maplewood.”
  • “Shared bike and car lanes is a problem.”
  • “Problem and need (to improve) Middle Road by high school.”
  • “Education: Everyone knows what side of the road to drive on. Biking rules are much less universally known. A sign would help.”
  • “Explain bike lane laws to residents. Be a little flexible with lane if possible to provide some parking.”
  • “At the High Hanover Parking Garage, there is a highly under-utilized ground floor space that could be bike parking; near the south side entry gate.”

STEP #7: SHAPE THE SPACES

  • Refresh Market Square.”
  • “Consider a building-to-street ratio of 1:1.”

STEP #8: PLANT TREES

  • “More birch trees; (they are) known well in NH; clump the trees”
  • Maplewood and Woodbury, as well as Marcy and South St.”
  • “More birch trees in clumps.”
  • “Why do we cut down the trees when they reach a certain height?”
  • “Encourage private/public grass strip tree planting with residents!”
  • “As we plan to beautify the entrance to the city (Market Street), we should think about preserving something that is natural along the way. I am referring to the sumac (over 200 years old) on the left side (east side) of Market Street.”
  • “I wonder if the grounds of the historic houses might be made accessible to people walking in the city. These would offer beautiful comfortable places for people to visit and pause. Sitting in the gardens would be great.”

STEP #9: MAKE FRIENDLY AND UNIQUE FACES

  • “Build streetscapes for visual interest.”
  • “Not just building but also natural environment, including enhancing natural landscapes. How to harmonize our way with natural environment. Example: don’t pull out natural vegetation or sumac for park on Market Street.”: Good Example: Memorial Bridge as promenade.”

STEP #10: PICK YOUR WINNERS

  • “Area leading to high school.”
  • “West End and Islington: small blocks are good!”
  • “Parking shuttle: keep making more appealing.”
  • “Neighborhood nodes: should we aim for more mixed use?”
  • “More interesting and safe link between Atlantic Heights and Downtown. Increase interconnectivity of all neighborhoods: fix broken links.”
  • “Demand a higher aesthetic in design!”

QUESTIONS FOR JEFF SPECK

How do you facilitate “Making Friendly and Unique Faces” when it’s all privately owned and developed?

How do you get “buy-in” in a community?

What kind of transit is appropriate for a small city with a successful downtown (4-5 stories, mixed use), but surrounding neighborhoods and shopping strips with lower densities (from 10 units/acre down to 3-4 units/acre)?

How does a group interested in, say, getting a sidewalk in, overcome the “it’s too expensive” attitude of those decision makers who could care less about those who need it because they are not part of that group themselves?

In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs wrote that towns, suburbs “or even little cities” are totally different from great cities and need to be studied and treated differently. Do you agree — does walkability, density and street design have different considerations in Portsmouth (pop. 22,000, downtown ¼-mile square) than in, say, Boston or Washington DC? If so, what is different?

GENERAL COMMENTS

“Good discussion. Well-run program.”

“Appreciate the positive/constructive tone of the presentation, of facilitators.”

“Great that this type of discussion is taking place.”

“(This  is a) beginning … Would like to understand where we go from here – who/how do we influence decision- makers, etc.? Who decides what the ‘winners’ are?”

What Is Smart Growth?

One reason PS21 included “smart growth” in its name was because the term was being so loosely used that it had started to mean “growth I think is smart.”

“Smart Growth,” with capital letters, is a set of policies and approaches to development arose over the past five or six decades as a response to the negative social and environmental effects of sprawl and automobile dependency.

Parris Glendening, the former governor of Maryland, is generally credited with being the first to use the term, in 1996.

The Smart Growth Manual (2010) says,  smart growth is “the opposite of automobile-based suburban development.” The book then takes 240 pages to summarize and illustrate dozens of smart growth policies.

Meanwhile, the EPA suggests there are ten principles to Smart Growth.

For additional takes on Smart Growth, see: Smart Growth America, NOAA’s Coastal and Waterfront Smart Growth or “Smart Growth”  according to Wikipedia.

What aspects of Smart Growth apply to Portsmouth? To Portsmouth downtown? How you define “smart growth.”