Man about town Manoian to lead tour of city's Tree Streets



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NASHUA - Before it was dubbed "The Tree Streets" some years ago, the inner-city neighborhood where industry, retail and residences exist side by side was the key hub of activity for a growing community that thrived by reinventing itself several times over. Today, while most observers might see it as a crime-ridden, deteriorating asphalt jungle that should be avoided, a prominent urban planning and design expert has a far brighter outlook for the future of what he calls "Nashua's most historic, most ethnically diverse, most studied, most maligned, and most misunderstood neighborhood." Alan S. Manoian, the city's former downtown development specialist and assistant director of economic development from 1994-2003, is indeed plenty excited about the possibilities for the neighborhood, which is generally defined as the area from the Millyard south to Lake Street, and from Main Street west along Ledge Street to roughly the eastern end of Woodlawn Cemetery. On Saturday, Manoian will be sharing his vision for the Tree Streets' future with city officials and anyone else who has an interest with an event he's calling a "New-Urbanist Development Expedition" through the neighborhood. Starting at 10 a.m., under what he calls the "Great Bell" in front of Clocktower Place apartments, Manoian will lead a roughly 90-minute foot tour focusing on the traditional "criss-cross" street-grid, the connectivity of sidewalks to buildings, the consequences of Urban Renewal, on-street parking functionality, and a tour of the proposed Broad Street Parkway connection at the 1881 Boiler House and Pine Street Extension. Manoian, a certified urban planner who recently founded his own business, Manoian Traditional Town Planning & Design, has also become part of a fast-growing movement in urban planning called "new urbanism," in which planners place great emphasis on neighborhoods' original design and early history as they study ways to return them to relevance and vibrancy and make them economically sustainable for the future. "Everyone is invited," Manoian said last week. "I've had a lot of calls on this. . . . I invited all the aldermen, and I really hope the general citizenry as well as the city's decision-makers come out and take part. It will be an interesting day - I really think people will be surprised to learn things they probably never knew about this neighborhood." Many will recall Manoian's historical walking tours, which he led during and right after his tenure at City Hall. But, he stresses, Saturday's event will be much more than a walking tour. "I want people to understand that this is all about discovery, not just a tour," he said. "That's why I'm calling it an expedition, it's an in-depth look at a neighborhood that has so many features important to the Nashua of the future." As someone whose passion lies in promoting the understanding of preservation and its important role in the future of America's urban areas, Manoian said his recent experience as part of a team charged with redeveloping the South Weymouth (Mass.) Naval Air Station was the catalyst for planning Saturday's expedition. "I was wonderfully exposed to the whole new-urbanist movement while working there. . . . I met a number of very active and engaged urban architects and planners and transportation engineers," he said. While in South Weymouth, Manoian said, he and several others founded a New England chapter of the Congress of New Urbanism, which got its start in California and the Southwest and has been making its way East over the past couple of years. "My experience gave me a new appreciation of the work we were doing to revitalize Nashua's downtown area when I worked here," he said. "A lot of that was actually new urbanist-style work." Manoian said he thought specifically of the Tree Streets, with which he formed a strong bond in his old walking-tour days. "This is a very resourceful place," he said. "It's compact, highly connective, and retains many of its best features, best of all its functional design, which is a big part of new-urbanist planning." The Tree Streets neighborhood was laid out in the early and mid-1820s as part of a giant "social utopian" community connected to the startup of Daniel Abbot's Nashua Manufacturing Co., the expansive campus of textile mills that ran from where Clocktower Place apartments are now into the city's Millyard. Mill workers, among them the much-heralded Canadian "mill girls" who ventured to the big city from their northern family farms, occupied the multiple-family homes that lay at the feet of the great mill complex. Their lives revolved around a giant bell mounted in the mill's clock tower, which tolled to wake them, send them to work, announce their lunch break, send them home, and tell them when to go to bed. Years of wear and tear eventually ran the buildings down, and a dozen years after the mills closed for good, most had fallen into dilapidation, especially those nearest the mills. In the 1950s and early '60s, the area took on an unfavorable reputation as the city's "Negro ghetto," sparking charges of racist housing practices that led to hearings by the Federal Civil Rights Commission. Just about all the homes in a square bounded by Factory and Central streets and Walnut and Pine streets met their demise in the 1960s as part of what Manoian calls "catastrophic Federal Urban Renewal." Several streets were reworked, the Walnut Street Oval was installed, and the Bronstein Apartments - the city's first federal housing project - were built between Central and Myrtle streets. "Over the years, I've gotten to know intimately every street, every building, and how traffic circulates in this neighborhood," Manoian said. "Yes, it's easy to characterize this area in a negative light, but I'm looking forward to showing people that it's one of Nashua's most misunderstood neighborhoods." As someone whose passion lies in promoting the understanding of preservation and its important role in the future of America's urban areas, Manoian said his recent experience as part of a team charged with redeveloping the South Weymouth (Mass.) Naval Air Station was the catalyst for planning Saturday's expedition. "I was wonderfully exposed to the whole new-urbanist movement while working there. . . . I met a number of very active and engaged urban architects and planners and transportation engineers," he said. While in South Weymouth, Manoian said, he and several others founded a New England chapter of the Congress of New Urbanism, which got its start in California and the Southwest and has been making its way East over the past couple of years. "My experience gave me a new appreciation of the work we were doing to revitalize Nashua's downtown area when I worked here," he said. "A lot of that was actually new urbanist-style work." Manoian said he thought specifically of the Tree Streets, with which he formed a strong bond in his old walking-tour days. "This is a very resourceful place," he said. "It's compact, highly connective, and retains many of its best features, best of all its functional design, which is a big part of new-urbanist planning." The Tree Streets neighborhood was laid out in the early and mid-1820s as part of a giant "social utopian" community connected to the startup of Daniel Abbot's Nashua Manufacturing Co., the expansive campus of textile mills that ran from where Clocktower Place apartments are now into the city's Millyard. Mill workers, among them the much-heralded Canadian "mill girls" who ventured to the big city from their northern family farms, occupied the multiple-family homes that lay at the feet of the great mill complex. Their lives revolved around a giant bell mounted in the mill's clock tower, which tolled to wake them, send them to work, announce their lunch break, send them home, and tell them when to go to bed. Years of wear and tear eventually ran the buildings down, and a dozen years after the mills closed for good, most had fallen into dilapidation, especially those nearest the mills. In the 1950s and early '60s, the area took on an unfavorable reputation as the city's "Negro ghetto," sparking charges of racist housing practices that led to hearings by the Federal Civil Rights Commission. Just about all the homes in a square bounded by Factory and Central streets and Walnut and Pine streets met their demise in the 1960s as part of what Manoian calls "catastrophic Federal Urban Renewal." Several streets were reworked, the Walnut Street Oval was installed, and the Bronstein Apartments - the city's first federal housing project - were built between Central and Myrtle streets. "Over the years, I've gotten to know intimately every street, every building, and how traffic circulates in this neighborhood," Manoian said. "Yes, it's easy to characterize this area in a negative light, but I'm looking forward to showing people that it's one of Nashua's most misunderstood neighborhoods."

 

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