Summer sunset

Here’s a view from our dorm at Castleton University in Vermont, where New England Yearly Meeting of Friends is gathering for its 359th annual sessions. The clouds stretch back into Upstate New York and Lake George.

They sound like happy fireworks

The street drum band aNova Brazil joined us last fall to help celebrate the cleanup of the Charles River two decades earlier. Here they are warming up for the Boston Revels’ equinox RiverSing last fall at the Herter Park amphitheater along the Charles River in Allston. They later fired up the procession down to the stage and performed several unbelievably complex and infectious numbers. They’re a hard act to follow, but we did it. Boston Revels hosts events throughout the year to enhance community through folk traditions.

Bradley Commons

Not all of the development around our downtown is aimed at luxury housing.

Back in the sixties and seventies, apartments for subsidized renters were erected along the river and a steep slope on Central Avenue. A few years ago, the Woodbury Mills transformed a boarded-up warehouse into a lovely affordable housing apartment a few blocks from where I live, and a mill along the Bellamy River also underwent similar rebirth.

More recently, the three Roman Catholic churches in town were merged into one parish headed by a single priest, and one of the houses of worship, St. Charles, was facing serious structural water damage. It was sold and demolished, making room for the newest entry, Bradley Commons, about six blocks from the waterfalls downtown.

Most of this site was a parking lot, a stretch that could feel intimidating to pedestrians at night. The new Bradley Commons attempts to break up the sense of being a single building.
I am curious to see how the red facade weathers.

A few miles downstream

The Seacoast region of New Hampshire is dominated by a large estuary, collectively referred to as Great Bay. The waters include Little Bay and eight municipalities all pouring into the Piscataqua River with a continual strong tidal current. If you could harness that energy, you’d be a billionaire.

The bay essentially creates a peninsula with Portsmouth on the ocean side and Dover closer to the mainland. Population growth and the thriving Pease Industrial Tradeport have made the bridge linking the two sides quite congested at peak hours, especially when ski traffic or vacationers are added. One Friday afternoon in February, we got stuck in what’s too often normal these days. It took us an hour to go five miles. Look, we’re not big city. That chokes real life.

The bridge, which carries the Spaulding Turnpike and U.S. 4 before they split just beyond the northern end, is being doubled from four lanes to eight. The approaches are also being raised up to six feet as a precaution against climatic instability. Yes, storms are getting more turbulent, no matter the naysayers occupying the White House.

The bridge will make Dover more accessible to Interstate 95 in peak hours, and thus more attractive to people who hold jobs at Pease or in Portsmouth or in Massachusetts just to our south. In other words, it’s a factor in the city’s booming downtown construction to address a pressing housing demand.

Transportation, after all, is a major element in community existence.

The newly expanded bridge at Dover Point, seen at low tide from the Pisacataqua River. 
Four lanes in each direction.


On the waterfront itself

The bluff has been carved back to make room for a riverfront park by moving a road back.

After leaving the waterfall, the Cocheco River makes a sharp loop around the Washington Mill. Henry Law Park borders part of that sweep, but its public frontage is about to become three times longer.

Environmental cleanup of the river itself gave the city one more reason to move the public works department’s yard, which was around the bend, to another site, opening a choice piece of real estate at the Knuckle, where the river turns again. A marina sits on the opposite bank. Get the idea? You can sail to the ocean from here.

However, until the Tommy Makem traffic bridge was built a few years ago (any Irish music fans reading this?), the site was pretty isolated, connected by a narrow lane at the foot of a wooded bluff. The new bridge has allowed a bypass around a stretch of busy Central Avenue, but the sidewalk along the river feels pinched. That’s about to change.

The bluff has been removed. Yup. It’s been carved away to allow the street to be moved back away from the river to make room for a more pedestrian-friendly Waterfront Park at Dover Landing. Think of casually strolling or walking your dog or taking a stroller and a toddler for a walk. Maybe even just going out to sit with a book or catch a few rays on a blanket.

At the far end, down by the Knuckle, a mostly residential development will go in – behind the end of the new riverfront park. Say hi to your neighbors, that kind of thing.

The project has an additional touch. Our 29-acre Maglaras Park sits atop the slope, but getting there has required a circuitous route. That will change with the extension of Washington Street, directly linking that park to the waterfront and downtown across the river.

It will all redefine the city. Think what Central Park is for Manhattan or, closer to us, Piscataqua Park is for Portsmouth.

I’m impressed. What does your location have to offer?

Washington Street passes between two large mill buildings on its way to the new park. The stone building, upper center, is on Lower Square, where the Foster’s Place and Orpheum are rising.

Chapel Street

Corner view toward downtown. The windows are a common style in my town.

Two blocks east of the waterfalls, more residential units are going in on a hilltop site overlooking the river, at least from the rear units. This project does fill in the skyline as seen from the river and eliminates an eyesore.

Again, the emphasis is on pedestrian-friendly and the look is traditional New England. Note the “two-over-two” windows so common in my part of the state.

The development opens out at the back, where apartments will have views of the river below.