Friday, May 20, 2011

History on a Bus

A local bus has a picture of our city's old mills with the statement "Moving Manchester through Past, Present and Future." I see it as I sit and write in a local coffee shop every week. It attracts my attention because of its clever use of a historical theme, but at the moment it seems incongruous with this New Hampshire city that I have said is missing a true sense of local identity. Manchester seems to usually look forward without looking back. It does not seem to value how its history can help propel it and make it a more desirable destination.

I love visiting cities that use their history to promote themselves. A palpable appreciate for history seems to give life to many New Hampshire towns. Nearby Nashua, for example, uses its history to good advantage. Its renovated downtown has a small town feel with neatly kept old fashioned brick sidewalks. There are local art shows, an annual library history fair, and organizations actively trying to save historic buildings (with an emphasis on preserving history rather than solely on re-use.) Signs dot the Nashua landscape in strategic places. They promote sites such as the old ballpark. Even the Nashua town web site prominently "advertises" their history through a tab labeled "Living Here" that leads one to a detailed timeline and history of the City. Unfortunately, to me, Manchester has a different feeling. In the 15 years I've lived near this city, I've been waiting to see something like the Manchester bus that keeps passing by my Bridge Street Cafe window.

So I decided to do a little quick Internet research. The Manchester Transit Authority received a grant to run this free hybrid shuttle bus. It's a welcome sight. Our beautiful old brick mill buildings, our small local museums, the beautiful Manchester City Library, our slowly growing selection of good restaurants along Elm Street, our local colleges, a fine world class art museum,  and all of the other wonderful things that Manchester has to offer can truly benefit from this bus that cleverly links area hot spots. So much more than a vehicle that takes people from one location to another, this bus has the capacity to raise local pride with its reference to Manchester's sense of place. Manchester has an interesting history about which it should be proud and which it should more visibly celebrate. I have noticed in the past that the local government hangs images of the area in City Hall. I hope the bus is a tentative step that further moves the City toward trying to incorporate its cultural heritage with its public face.

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