How Somersworth, NH’s smallest city, allows us to think big

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

Somersworth is New Hampshire’s smallest geographic city, and I grew up knowing about it mostly for being the home to General Electric (GE) and to my stepfamily, and for the WalMart that was seemingly the only place open late during my years attending high school in Dover. Later, I’d learn that, just like the city of Portsmouth where I was born, it’s also a mill town on a river, with a working-class legacy and lots of brick in it’s beautiful historic downtown. I lived in and around Somersworth multiple times in my life, and most recently relocated back here just under three years ago, just as it was starting to develop a new reputation — as New Hampshire’s “Rainbow City.”

I’d dug deep and built lots of community in the City of Portsmouth after moving back to New Hampshire in 2009, but after rising rents forced me (and lots of others) out of Portsmouth, I had to look elsewhere for a home — at least temporarily. I was lured to Somersworth with the promise of cheap rent, no security deposit and a month-to-month rental agreement — so maybe if I couldn’t handle living “this far” from Portsmouth, I could simply leave. It only took a few weeks for me to fall completely in love with the Hilltop City. I’d take nighttime walks around my new beautiful neighborhood up on “the hill.” I’d walk seven minutes down to Teatotaller for coffee and wifi. I’d go for runs down Rocky Hill Road and sometimes stop just to fully take in the gorgeous views.

Not long after moving here, I attended a Teatotaller variety show and was totally blown away at how cool and different and talented the local artists were who showed up to perform — in Somersworth! I remembered this feeling of cultural wealth from Book and Bar and The Press Room and The Coat of Arms in Portsmouth — but it wasn’t something I expected in this still somewhat sleepy city. “Do people know what’s happening here in Somersworth?” I thought. I was developing a deep sense of pride for my Rainbow City, and continued to get more involved.

I attended a community charette for the downtown Plaza redevelopment project and was surprised to hear a narrative vastly different from city meetings I’d attended for years in Portsmouth. Instead of Portsmouth’s concerns of scarce parking and reigning in explosive development, Somersworth residents and businesses were strategizing how to get more folks to come here, to discover our incredible historic downtown, open more businesses and take advantage of our plentiful free parking! What a shift — to be collectively considering, as a community, how to think bigger.

This shift in mindset encapsulates perfectly the shift moving to Somersworth makes for young and young-at-heart folks like myself moving to Somersworth from Portsmouth, Dover and other areas. We are reignited with the possibility of being a part of a new chapter in a really special city. That possibility — along with our still relatively affordable housing — is part of why more and more people and families are moving here, making Somersworth one of the youngest cities in the state.

This vast possibility of future directions of our city is also why I am running for City Council. I’ve seen up close what rapid new development can do to a city — both good and bad. At such an exciting time, the city needs leadership and representatives who have a shared vision for what our future can be, and who will put smart policies in place to protect what is working and prepare for the coming growth. Municipal policies do exist that both improve the quality and resilience of our communities and keep property taxes low; that increase per-student funding and decrease municipal payroll; that offer incentives to businesses and senior citizens and maintain city benefits. It takes leaders who are willing to learn from other communities, seek creative solutions and foster smart coalitions to keep our city moving forward.

I’m so proud to be running for Somersworth City Council alongside several other inspiring candidates, some young, some young-at-heart, some lifetime Hilltoppers and other more recent transplants like myself who chose Somersworth as our home. We’ve got lots of bold ideas and are committed to doing what’s right for Somersworth. This November 5th, I hope to earn a seat on our City Council and continue to connect Somersworth, neighbor to neighbor, community to community, as we build our city’s future together.

Crystal Paradis is a candidate for Somersworth City Council, At-Large. She is an activist, organizer, business owner and dog park enthusiast. Learn more at