Students Assess Downtown Dover using First Impressions
By Tyler Quinn Smith, Community & Environmental Planning Major, UNH 2018
Last week marked the pinnacle of the First Impressions project as the Key Findings were presented at the Dover City Council Workshop. Thirteen students from the UNH Planning Student Organization (PSO) have participated in UNH Cooperative Extension’s First Impressions Program this school year. We completed the downtown assessment for the City of Dover in October using ArcGIS Collector and analyzed data and compiled a final report. Five other PSO members accompanied me for the presentation in the Council Chambers: Madeline Murphy, Ben Touchette, Jade Long, Anna Bannon, and Monique Duchesne. We were nervous and excited to share our findings with the City’s top officials.
We arrived at the workshop session after a long day of class. We observed a legislative briefing, a status report on the Cocheco Waterfront Development, and an update on the storm water improvements to Berry Brook. It was late and we were tired, but it was finally show time!
The final reports were distributed to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, City Manager, and City Councilors. I began by introducing the First Impressions Team and thanked everyone for giving us the opportunity to present. After a quick explanation of the First Impressions program, it was time to expose the key assets and opportunities we had identified in the downtown.
We each took turns describing the highlights of the downtown: landscaping, public facilities, historical character, decorative signage, seating, public art, and placemaking. This was the “feel good” point of the presentation as I watched many of the officials nodding and smiling in agreement. It was then time to transition to the opportunities we found for Dover. These areas were pedestrian safety, a lack of shopping/activities, lack of connectivity, functional signage, waste/recycling, and vacant buildings. This was when I started to feel like we were walking on eggshells as I worried about offending the City. It did not take long to remember that this was the most important aspect of the report and we were only assisting Dover by reiterating many of the opportunities for improvement they had already recognized. We concluded by familiarizing the officials with the interactive ArcGIS Story Map that includes all the data points. This map helps users understand the dataset spatially, and allows them to click on individual points, read comments, and view photos.
We successfully acknowledged many of the downtown’s strengths and weaknesses Dover officials had previously understood. We were assured that our presentation would likely turn many of the documented opportunities into action. This outcome is undoubtedly the most important to us – future improvements in Dover will consider our work and lead to investment in the downtown.
Dover officials congratulated us on a professional presentation and final report. They praised the fact that students had completed the assessment and we discussed how important it is for New Hampshire communities to attract a younger population. This is an aspect of the project that I have come to appreciate. As a UNH senior, I recognize the need for the University to connect with nearby communities more often. I also find myself more and more passionate about retaining a young population that Seacoast cities, like Dover, deserve.
The First Impressions project has created an extremely valuable experience for members of the Planning Student Organization. We have thoroughly assessed a downtown using our planning knowledge and as young adults who are considering where to settle in our professional lives.. We observe how local government functions and understand the amounts of work needed to create change. This real world involvement has led to real world outcomes and we look forward to following the progress in Dover.