Planning and the Arts... Community Drama!
Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth-African Burying Ground

After the unexpected revealing of a more than 300-year old burying ground for African and African-descended people underneath a City street, the City of Portsmouth closed and transformed the street into an evocative public gathering space to acknowledge its past and to return the site to sacred ground. With original works of outdoor public art at its core the site has become a focal point for telling a more complete story of Portsmouth’s history and reflecting on the site’s lessons for our current age. This presentation will move beyond a description of the important story – the rediscovery and presence of Africans in Portsmouth from its earliest days – but will highlight several major ideas and themes relevant to planners and public administrators working to bring art installations and new place making to their communities. Conferees wishing to visit the site and learn more background information, are welcome to visit prior to the session

Building Healthier Communities through the Arts

An investment in the arts does more than enhance our quality of life. It also improves our communities socially, educationally, and economically. Join national arts leader, Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts, for a lively and interactive session about building healthier communities through the arts. Randy will also share new trends in audience engagement as well as his latest public opinion on the arts research. Bring home the knowledge that will enable you to integrate the arts into your community and planning work for years to come.

3 Fascinating Presentations

New Ruralism: What do local foods initiatives, programs to support the challenges of aging in place, neighbors helping neighbors with energy efficiency, employee/entrepreneur cooperatives, and carpool incentives all have in common? They are all examples of successful innovation in our rural communities. With funding from NNECAPA and APA Chapter Presidents Council, several case studies from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have been made available on The criteria for case studies were: appropriately fits rural communities; not dependent on the existence of professional town staff; locally-driven and locally supported; supports improvement in quality of life, livable wage jobs, meeting basic household needs, and/or long-term community sustainability; fosters growth in the local and regional economy rather than leakage of wealth outside the region; and builds thriving communities. In addition, the approach should be sustainable. Following a review of the New Ruralism case study criteria and brief overviews of each of the case studies, this session will feature a facilitated discussion of next steps: What characteristics do the case studies have in common? Do we need to tweak the initial criteria? What are common elements that would contribute to a definition? How would the membership like to see us proceed with expansion of the case study collection? Are we ready to go beyond Northern New England? How do we vet additions? Are there others who would like to join the leadership team?

Climate Change in the Classroom: Young children and parents are audiences that have typically been absent during traditional climate change related workshops and outreach events. This presentation will focus on a process in which staff from the Strafford Regional Planning Commission and UNH Cooperative Extension partnered up with two Oyster River Middle School (Durham, NH) teachers to coordinate a climate change lesson for 5th grade students. Students learned about the potential impacts of climate change in NH, as well as what communities can do in order to adapt. The process culminated with the students presenting their findings to community members, parents, and municipal officials.

Art & Planning: Happening in Brattleboro: A community art project has revealed the role of the Connecticut River in Brattleboro to explore our relationships to place. In 2012 Brattleboro received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town grant to undertake a three-part project which culminated in a juried public art project connecting the community to its cultural and natural heritage. The winning submission, “From the River, To the River,” was realized during the summer of 2016 as a series of events and art installations. This project illustrates the role art in placemaking, an intentional process for revealing community character.


The NH Coastal Adaptation Workgroup (NHCAW) has worked with coastal watershed communities since 2010 helping them to understand the science of climate change and learn about their vulnerabilities to its impacts. NHCAW has also supported community efforts to become more resilient. This session will feature two communities and highlight what motivated them to begin to act and what they have been working on. They will share what was most helpful in making action happen and what is planned for their ”next steps”.

Nurturing Creative Places

Arts and culture is an essential element of what makes places and communities healthy, connected, and vibrant. It provides opportunities for people from different walks of life to socialize, learn, and play; it provides experiences that helps people engage with elements in the past, present, and future; and it creates unique and exciting opportunities for people to understand and interact with their built and natural environments. How can planners nurture innovation and creativity through planning, programming, and policy? Join us for a deep dive into the Arts and Planning Toolkit. Join us for a demo of the new Arts and Planning Toolkit, an innovative new resource for planners and other government staff who are interested in innovating their civic practices through projects and partnerships that engage arts, culture, and the creative community. Learn about how arts and culture can be an effective component of urban, suburban, and rural community revitalization. Hear from leaders who are working on a range of exciting projects from cultural planning to creative economy development and creative placemaking. Learn about real projects that are infusing creativity into the civic life and physical and social environments of communities and walk away with inspiring, concrete examples of ways you integrate build arts and culture into your planning practice.

How and When Do Our Communities Act?

Municipalities have access to a wide range of resources that can help them address a multitude of growth and climate change issues. However, even with this information, communities still face significant barriers bridging the gap from planning to action.  In fact, the US Third National Climate Assessment lists implementation as the number one significant gap in the success of adaptation. This session will present recent research about the pattern of growth and response in our communities and what our Planning Boards are doing. We will also provide guidance on how to effectively engage the general public in order to build the political will and public support needed to implement policies, regulations, design standards, and projects at the local level.

Art All Around

The City of Westbrook, Maine is taking steps to revitalize its downtown and change perceptions about the community. The summer of 2016, city stakeholders launched a community-driven outdoor art initiative called Art All Around to boost civic engagement, pride and connection in the community, increase visibility of the city’s downtown, and spark economic development. Fresh off Art All Around’s success, key partners in the initiative will speak to the elements that made the program a success and a model for other towns across Maine to increase community engagement, improve quality of life and boost economic activity.

Scenes of a Planning Career

Four planners in different roles, who have been active for a while would act as a panel discussing how they've evolved and lasted in the field. The session would be geared towards new professional planners interested in learning about different career paths. Panelist represent those that have worked for the same community their whole career, been in the public and private sectors, worked in various communities and have moved into town management. A Q/A would start with the audience to learn expectations followed by speakers offering overview of their career and 3 lessons learned.

Closing Trail Network Gaps

This panel will introduce participants to out-of-the-box strategies to dealing with challenging gaps in a city or region's trail system. Panelists will highlight recently-completed off-street trail projects along with planning for on-street trail connectivity projects where off-street solutions are only available in the long term. Agency staff from Keene NH and the Portland region will be joined by a planning consultant working in both communities to improve walking and bicycling infrastructure.

Planning and Public Works – Can't We All Get Along

In local government, there tends to be a myth that planning and public works are adversaries. Planning wants an ideal world, and public works deals with nitty gritty reality. In fact, the two can and in many cases do speak the same language (roads can be narrowed, but still plowed). In Dover, NH public works and planning work together on many infrastructure projects, which include planning ideals. From implementing a Complete Streets policy to ensuring that groundwater protection and stormwater management are part of the plan review vernacular, learn how these departments work together and trust each other.

The Arts and a Thriving Downtown

Art is popping up everywhere in Downtown Nashua, leading the revitalization and sustainability of the heart and soul of Nashua. The arts today evolved from grassroots organizations and partnerships among Great American Downtown, City Arts Nashua and the City of Nashua, to name a few. In this interactive session the speakers will explore some of the great projects currently on the ground and their history, including the annual International Sculpture Symposium, Main Street Pianos, ARTventures, murals, chairs to share, and more.

Planning for Healthy and Climate Resilient Communities

Northern New England is already warming and experiencing more frequent and severe storms. These climate changes have been associated with higher risk of heat illness, tick and mosquito-borne illnesses, blue-green algae blooms, allergen exposure, and extreme weather impacts. In this session, learn more about how climate change is increasing health risks, how planning and public health agencies in our region are collaborating to help reduce these risks, and how planners can promote climate change mitigation strategies with immediate health benefits. The session will include discussion with audience members to identify additional opportunities for planning and health professionals to collaborate.

Conservation in Three Acts

Vermont’s working landscape, a beautiful backdrop and part of its visual identity, is influenced by land use policy, personal choice, and various economic situations. In this session, professionals will share challenges to preserving this iconic landscape, such as keeping agricultural land in production, addressing development pressures, and implementing policies that aim to support the agricultural industry. Join four planners from the state, local and regional non-profit world in a conversation about strategies to focus growth in existing centers, support a working landscape, and connect farmers to available land. Attendees are encouraged to contribute tactics to keep farmland available and in agricultural use.

Comprehensive Planning for the Next Generation

Portsmouth is nearing completion of a multi-year Master Planning process.  This session will discuss how and why our Master Plan transformed from a traditional document into an easily accessible design-based plan with a creative structure focused on broad themes and geographic locations.  We will identify challenges and opportunities that arose through public engagement and discuss how this plan is designed to address these overarching principles in a holistic, yet targeted, manner.  Looking forward, we will contemplate the evolving role of long-range planning and its importance in understanding issues at multiple scales and directing incremental improvements through budgeting, metrics and accountability. 

Incorporating an Arts Culture in Planning

Most communities agree that public art adds value to a community, but how do you encourage the arts to really flourish in a community? Steps need to be taken to legitimize the art and a plan needs to be put in place for how you’d like your community to engage in their public spaces. Hear from two people on the ground in their communities fostering the arts in different ways as well as a seasoned architect and urban designer who has helped New England communities develop strategies to embrace art and increase the enjoyment of public space.

Ask the Arts People

Unlock the mysteries of working with artists and arts organizations for economic and community development. How do planners find out what cultural assets are in a community? What are some creative ways to leverage the creative sector for community revitalization and growth? When planners engage with artists, arts administrators and the community in public art and creative placemaking activities it can aid in community revitalization efforts by adding value, building civic pride, and reflecting local culture, heritage and values. In this session we’ll share resources like to help you to find and work with artists and arts organizations.

Expanding the Conversation

In 2014, a small group of Portsmouth residents sought to elevate and expand the community’s somewhat heated public discourse on real estate development. The group organized public forums featuring nationally known speakers with expertise in various urban planning issues. Thus was conceived Portsmouth SmartGrowth for the 21st Century (PS21). PS21 advocates for a vibrant, sustainable, and walkable community. During the past two years, PS21 organized mobile workshops, walking tours, a showing of Jan Gehl’s film “The Human Scale,” and public lectures featuring nationally recognized experts such as Jeff Speck on walkability, Michael Manville on parking, Jennifer Hurley on workforce housing, Mike Lydon on tactical urbanism, Cameron Wake on climate change, and Robert Campbell on architectural design. Without exception, the PS21 events have been very well attended. The conversation continues in local media, social media and at local meetings and gatherings. In this session, we will hear about what has worked well, and that which has not, and lessons learned.

Implementing Your Community Vision with FBC

Across the region, local leaders want to create vibrant communities that support jobs, foster economic development, and are attractive places for people to live, work, and play. What many communities are discovering is that their zoning ordinances are barriers to achieving these goals. Outdated or poorly built ordinances stifle our abilities to build thriving, prosperous communities, and often they even incentivize financially ruinous sprawling development. Form-Based Codes are becoming a more accepted practice in Northern New England and can help you achieve the vision that your community articulated in its master plan. In New England, one-size-fits-all strategies are off the table. Learn how FBCs can be calibrated to the DNA of your own community.

Ethics at Risk

What are your ethical responsibilities as a planner? How should you respond to ethical challenges? Have you ever had a commission meeting veer dramatically into unethical territory? With a commission member leading the way? What is the responsibility of the planner when this occurs? What ethics resources are available to the planner to help right the ethics ship? Explore this issue through the viewing of videos, panel discussion, and audience participation. Bring your own stories of ethically challenged meeting dramas!

Reading the Built Environment

On this walking tour, participants will learn how to spot clues in the streetscape and building fabric so as to identify changes over time, and the period when those changes occurred. The tour will include a brief overview of Portsmouth’s architectural history, and a visit to one of the city’s treasures, the Athenaeum.

Public Drama!

Using the streets and places of downtown Portsmouth as a study area, this session will provide a step by step process on how to conduct a successful site visit or tour.  During the tour, the leaders will demonstrate the good and not so good ways to conduct a n outdoor tour.  Along the way, they will also tell stories about past public dramas experienced during public work sessions or meetings, making sure to explain how they handled the situation and whether there was a successful outcome.  They will invite participants to offer their own stories of public drama and, when appropriate, discuss with the group how successfully the situations was addressed.

A Tale of Three Neighborhoods

Portsmouth has adopted a character-based zoning code for its Downtown, North End and West End neighborhoods. This session/mobile workshop proposes to highlight how the city managed to adapt character-based regulations to the context of three distinct neighborhoods of the city.  Participants will explore the neighborhoods with local planners and character-based code experts discussing and identifying frontage types, buildings types, the public realm and other code elements. See some recent examples of development that was built under the conventional zoning regulations and identify how it would have changed under the new code.

Urban Renewal – The Morning After

It has long been assumed by many that the most difficult challenges posed by the Urban Renewal programs of the 1960’s and 1970’s are well behind us. Well, not necessarily, as we recently learned in Portsmouth’s North End, site of one of NH’s oldest urban neighborhoods. In 1972, planners consolidated the confiscated lots into larger tracts so as to facilitate the construction of large buildings. During the past few years, real estate speculators who attempted to do just that were met with unrelenting opposition from hundreds of Portsmouth residents. In this session, we’ll hear from two prominent Portsmouth citizens as to why building scale continues to be a hot-button issue in a city where residents are justly proud and protective of the community’s historic character.

Downtown Climate Change Resilience

Take a walk around downtown Portsmouth’s Historic District. The tour will highlight where specific sea level rise impacts are likely to occur based on current climate change predictions. Hear about a range of climate change adaptation strategies and see examples of some that have already been implemented. Hear about Portsmouth’s 2013 Coastal Resilience Initiative and the City’s ongoing Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment specific to the Historic District.