Portsmouth: Where Do We Go From Here?

Mike Vine Local Activism

The following Letter to the Editor ran in the Portsmouth Herald this past Saturday. It is part of a series of letters written by me and Jason Walls (1, 2, 3, 4) in response to the increasingly authoritarian city planning measures being advanced by partisans in Portsmouth.

April 10 — To the Editor:

We’ll be honest when we say we did not expect the highly nuanced decision to come out of Monday’s controversial session on the future of the conditional-use permit, the HarborCorp project, and the future of Portsmouth. Very rarely does everyone get what they want (more or less) out of a political process.

That being said, a big question remains for us. In most respects, and certainly in the context of municipalities in general, a population of 22,000 is not big. We are a town on the verge of becoming a city. Our town is a gem, and more people around the country are noticing it (just look at the string of recent articles from major news outlets in Chicago and beyond).

The question remains: Where do we go from here? We see three paths.

Will Portsmouth continue to transform into a retirement village for the rich? This is the end consequence of restricting growth, trying to control “historic character” from on high and legislating arbitrarily. High rent is caused by restricting supply — not by development.

Will Portsmouth grow organically to accommodate business of all kinds, artists, foodies, entertainers, and young families? I believe there is a large group of us that want this future. Some of us are starting to discuss organizing on its behalf.

Or, will both the affluent and the enterprising youth abandon the town altogether and cast Portsmouth back to the bad old days of being a rough and depressed seaport? Don’t laugh. There are cities near us that are grappling with these very real problems as we speak. It is a direct consequence of allowing busybodies to run roughshod over the quiet, peaceful, productive majority.

We need a civic organization that defends this productive majority — those often too busy to spend their precious leisure hours attending planning meetings. There was only one side presented at the last City Council election, and developers and entrepreneurs are feeling outnumbered and isolated. That’s exactly what the irate minority wants, but will their revolution achieve even their own desired ends?

Going from a town to a city is like a child growing up: If you try to stifle it, you won’t get to keep your kid small and adorable, you’ll just end up with a very dysfunctional adult. Everyone wants things to stay the same, and they never do. Life is about changing gracefully.

Jason Walls and Mike Vine