Place-making: The Results Are In

Which location would you target first if you wanted to make downtown Portsmouth a better place?

After hearing ideas and seeing illustrations by landscape architect Robert White , there was a clear audience preference at a PS21 event: the Vaughan Mall.

More than 70 people attended the presentation and discussion at the library Feb. 1. The vote tally (estimated by PS21) was:

  • Vaughan Mall ~50%
  • ‘Spring Hill Square’ (Hanover and Market streets) ~ 35%
  • State Street – 10%
  • Market Square ~ 5%

Vaughan Mall supporters cited the need to improve the pedestrian walkway and the ease and relatively low cost with which it might be done.

The Feb. 1 session was a follow-up to PS21’s fall workshop on “place-making.” Place-making is a philosophy and approach to creating better public spaces that focuses: uses and activities, access and linkages, sociability and comfort and image. From the workshop, ideas for the Vaughan Mall, ideas included

  • Add a children’s play area
  • Provide more seating and a variety of seating options
  • Add a water feature
  • Bring back the stage
  • Consider expanding into the Worth Parking Lot
  • Provide better wayfinding for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Offer better lighting
  • Vary walking surfaces and textures
  • Improve maintenance of facades and storefronts
  • Add more vegetation

ADU Event Draws Full House

Nearly 90 people came to the Portsmouth library Feb. 22 to hear Ben Frost of the NH Housing Finance Authority and Rick Taintor, Portsmouth planning director, discuss accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and the city’s new ordinance governing ADUs.

The video includes both presentations and the Q&A afterward. Slides from Frost’s entertaining presentation on ADUs and the state law and Taintor’s detailed look at Portsmouth’s ordinance can be downloaded by clicking on the links. Portsmouth’s zoning changes also are available.

Accessory Dwelling Units in Portsmouth: What, Why & How

PS21 Event February 22 at Portsmouth Library to Learn More About the Possibilities and Impacts of ADUs

Are you wondering how the new Portsmouth Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance could impact you and your neighborhood?

On Wednesday, February 22 at 7 PM in the Levenson Room of Portsmouth Public Library, PS21 will present an event featuring Ben Frost from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority and Rick Taintor from the Portsmouth Planning Department to discuss the law, its possibilities and impact.

New Hampshire’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) law was signed last year by Governor Hassan. An “accessory dwelling unit” is defined as a residential living unit that is within or attached to a single-family dwelling, and that provides independent living facilities for one or more persons.

The fundamental requirement of the new law is that every municipality with a zoning ordinance “shall allow accessory dwelling units as a matter of right or by either conditional use permit….” To comply with the ADU law, which takes effect statewide in June, the Portsmouth City Council passed an ordinance last month.

Frost of New Hampshire Housing will talk about ADUs, show examples, and explain how they can help ease the affordable housing crisis in the city and state.

Portsmouth Planning Director Rick Taintor will follow with a discussion of Portsmouth’s new ADU ordinance, and there will be an opportunity to ask him questions.

This PS21 event is free and open to the public, and presented by Portsmouth Smart Growth for the 21st Century (PS21) as part of its series to stimulate discussion about policy and planning issues affecting Portsmouth.

Season Sponsors: Piscataqua Savings Bank, Geoffrey E. Clark and Martha Fuller Clark Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Coruway Film Institute

Event Partners: Seacoast Media Group, The Sound


Adding Appeal to Portsmouth Public Spaces


Discussion at Portsmouth Library to Identify Locations and Priorities for Placemaking Project

We love Portsmouth, but there are still many ways to make our city even more appealing and walkable. On Wednesday, February 1 at 7 PM in the Portsmouth Public Library’s Levenson Room, PS21 with the assistance of landscape architect Robert White will lead a discussion on potential changes to four locations in the city: Market Square, Vaughan Mall, State Street and “Fat Belly Square” (the intersection of Market and Bow streets).

The event is the third PS21 event to focus on “placemaking” as a way to enhance walkability, retail life, traffic flow and social interaction. Last fall, PS21 sponsored a film and then a workshop on placemaking and how locations can be reinvented as unique and more appealing public spaces.

To follow up the fall sessions, Robert White will bring illustrations showing how Vaughn Mall, Market Square, State Street and Market Street might be transformed by some of the ideas generated. PS21 will lead a discussion, and participants will decide how to prioritize the suggestions and move forward.

Noted New England planner Jane Lafleur led the workshop last fall. She described placemaking as a process with community-based participation at its center, which capitalizes on a community’s assets, inspiration and potential, and results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people’s health, happiness and well-being.

“Everyone has favorite places in the downtown area,” said Doug Roberts, chair of the volunteer group Portsmouth Smart Growth for the 21st Century (PS21). “Placemaking helps us learn why these places are pleasing, and how we can replicate their appeal.”

Please sign up at to help ensure sufficient seating. This event is free and open to the public, and presented by PS21 as part of its series to stimulate discussion about policy and planning issues affecting Portsmouth.

Save the date for the next PS21 event: Accessory Dwelling Units: What Are They and Why Build Them

Wednesday, February 22 at 7 PM at Portsmouth Public Library’s Levenson Room.

Ben Frost of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority will talk about ADUs and affordable housing in the state, and Rick Taintor from Portsmouth’s Planning Department will explain the ADU ordinance recently passed by City Council.

Islington Street Update & Happy Holidays

What’s Happening with Islington Street?

Islington Street crosswalk being removed

  • Portsmouth’s Parking & Traffic Safety Committee is expected to hear an analysis of the City’s two-month-long pilot project on Jan. 5.  Transportation Engineer Eric Eby told the PTS in December that a preliminary review suggests the bumpout and crosswalk made the street safer for both motorists and pedestrians.(UPDATE: Eby said the final evaluation report has been delayed and now will likely be presented in February.)

    (UPDATE OF UPDATE: A further pilot project to test the crosswalk will be done by the City in June, July and August per vote of the parking and traffic committee in February.)

  • Two images of Islington Street are featured prominently in a cheeky WIRED article on tactical urbanism.
  • Mike Lydon’s new book, The Tactical Urbanist’s Guide to Materials, uses Islington Street as a case study. (Page 96. The guide is impossible to read online. Look for the download.)

Please Donate

Would you help us with a contribution of any size? PS21 is run entirely by volunteers. Your donation supports community discussion around planning issues in our city.

Over the past two years, PS21 has brought speakers to Portsmouth to talk about and discuss walkability, architecture, affordable housing, climate change, and tactical urbanism. All PS21 events are free of charge and open to the public. Thank you for your support.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

The Board of PS21
Doug Roberts, Chair; Joe Caldarola; Emily Corbett; Grace Lessner; Effie Malley; Tom Morgan; Steve Pesci; Peter Vandermark

PS21 Report on Place-Making in Portsmouth

According to participants in a PS21 workshop, inexpensive measures like better seating, food trucks, planned activities, better lighting and basic landscaping could transform under-utilized spaces in downtown Portsmouth and enhance popular locations.

More than 40 citizens took part in ‘walkability audit’ and ‘place-making’ workshop in late October that focused on four downtown Portsmouth locations:

  • Vaughan Mall
  • Fat Belly Square (aka Market and Hanover streets)
  • Market Square
  • State Street (main between the Unitarian Church and Fleet Street)

Participants asked: Were the places welcoming, cooperative and neighborly? Did they have vital uses and enjoyable activities? Were the locations walkable, convenient and accessible? Were they safe, clean and attractive?

Ideas from the brainstorming session and the ‘place-making’ principles that informed it are summarized in a newly released report from PS21 (Portsmouth Smart Growth for the 21st Century) and Jane Lafleur, the workshop leader from the organization Lift360.


The workshop, which followed a showing of the classic film on place-making, “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces,” generated dozens of ideas for enhancing downtown locations. PS21 plans a public session in January to discuss ideas.

ADU Ordinance Heads to City Council

An ordinance allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs), as required by a recently passed state law, goes to the Portsmouth City Council on Dec. 5. The proposed ordinance can found on

For a primer on ADUs, see Accessory Dwelling Units: What they are and why people build them?

Season Sponsors: Piscataqua Savings Bank, Coruway Film Institute
Event Partners: 3S Artspace, City of Portsmouth, Seacoast Media Group, The Sound

ps21.infoFacebook | Twitter

ABOUT PS21: Portsmouth Smart Growth for the 21st Century presents ideas and encourages discussion and policy development around planning issues in Portsmouthh, N.H. and the Seacoast. Our goal is to support a vibrant, sustainable, livable, and walkable community compatible withthe principles of smart growth, the historic nature of Portsmouth, and the context of the 21st century. PS21 maintains a blog and e-newsletter at, and archives video recordings of many events

Islington Street Lab Video & Report Published

islington street lab

Islington Street Lab, a community-based tactical urbanism project that spanned five weeks in May and June 2016, culminated with the temporary transformation of a block of Islington Street from Albany Street to the Bartlett Street intersection in the West End of Portsmouth.

Read the Report

Read the comments

Mike Lydon of Street Plans gave a great presentation on “tactical urbanism,” explaining what it is and why it works, on June 1 in Portsmouth. His talk also covered the process and ideas involved with PS21’s Islington Street Lab, which made changes to Islington Street for four days.

Survey closed, results being tabulated

More than 250 people responded to survey about PS21’s Islington Street Lab,  a “tactical urbanism” experiment done in with the cooperation of West End residents and businesses and the City of Portsmouth. The survey closed Friday afternoon.

The project tested ideas for improving walkability and calming traffic over a one-block stretch of Islington for four days, June 2-5.

PS21 is working to compile the results, which will be published soon.

Crosswalk installation

Two events of note

Information & Comment on NH Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission Draft Report

Wednesday, June 1, 2016, 7:00 PM – 8:45 PM
Seacoast Science Center,
Odiorne Point State Park
570 Ocean Blvd., Rye, NH 03870

A public meeting to provide information, answer questions, and receive comments on the draft report Preparing New Hampshire for Projected Storm Surge, Sea-Level Rise, and Extreme Precipitation. To register, please visit:   Written comments can also be e-mailed to by June 30.

Citizen Review of Portsmouth’s Draft Master Plan

Small groups organized by Portsmouth Listens will deliberate on the city’s draft master plan Wednesday, June 1 and Tuesday, June 7. The first night will establish initial ideas regarding what participants like, what needs improvement and what might be missing. The second night the groups will share priorities. The informational kickoff session May 26 can be viewed online. Register at