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A share of the stake

by robin | Jan 03rd, 2017 | Leave a comment

a blog by John Lavey at Community Builders,  “reprinted” with permission.   An interesting look at our use of the word “stakeholders” when we discuss community planning and development,   John has determined another term that, he believes, captures a truer essence of who those folks are …    Go here for full text

Revitalizing New England’s strip development

by robin | Dec 08th, 2016 | Leave a comment

 

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by guest Bill Flynn, Arnett Development Group (ADG) This first appeared in the December

New England consists mainly of a vast network of small rural towns connected by a web of two-lane state highways and back roads – a dispersed settlement pattern rooted deeply in an agricultural heritage. Historically, a town’s civic, cultural, and economic activities were concentrated in village centers, which in some cases, evolved into small downtown areas clustered around thriving factories and mills. It was a stable and for the most part, prosperous arrangement.

With the decline of New England’s textile industry along with rising energy and labor costs in the 1960s and 1970s, New England’s position as a major manufacturing and industrial center was undercut. By the end of the twentieth century, New England’s once bustling downtowns were deteriorating.

During the past few decades, we have made modest progress in stabilizing our failing downtowns, and now face a new challenge, the decline of the commercial strip, one of the culprits that helped contribute to the demise of downtowns, that is now itself threatened.  It is imperative that we look at restructuring the commercial strip in order to help stabilize and preserve the economic gains that have been made.

The Emergence of the Strip

While it can be argued that the emergence of strip development lead to the demise of downtowns, the root cause for the decline is a great deal more complicated. It takes a profound shift in social, cultural, and economic factors to change prevailing development patterns. This occurred following WWII, when the United States experienced a period of unprecedented prosperity. Programs like the federal home mortgage program and the development of the interstate highway system, helped stimulate a mass exodus from cities to surrounding suburbs. Congress also created massive subsidies for suburban commercial development by modifying the tax code, allowing owners to depreciate new commercial buildings in seven years, in place of the long-standing 40-year requirement. This coupled with cheap land prices stimulated a frenzy of development in suburbia. Towns quickly adopted zoning regulations, encouraging commercial development in a linear arrangement along major transportation corridors, thus giving rise to the “strip,” but ultimately harming downtowns.

Winds of Change 

Dominance of strip development began to erode in the late 1980s and 1990s with the development of suburban malls that thrived on the interstate system. Malls were able to accommodate nearly a hundred stores within a closed, climate-controlled environment. Growing environmental concerns and a subtle shift in lifestyle preferences have recently refocused attitudes toward suburban development. People are moving back to the cities, with urban gentrification bringing new life and economic vitality into exhausted city neighborhoods.

The Internet may be the biggest change that alters the development patterns of the 21st century. A recent survey of online shoppers reported that they now make 51% of their purchases online, up from 48% in 2015. Amazon’s e-commerce revenue rose 15.8% in the last 12 months alone, roughly the same as Walmart. However, Amazon posted $82.7 billion in sales, compared with $12.5 billion for Walmart, and that chasm keeps getting wider. Retail development, still a critical component of strip development, is undergoing  profound change.

Restructuring Versus Revitalizing
Revitalization efforts are slowly beginning to bring new life into many village centers and historic downtowns. Well-built abandoned mills and storefronts provide a viable framework to work with, which is not the case with the commercial strip. The challenge may not be the revitalization of the strip, but its complete restructuring. It will be up to local governments, property owners, and informed citizens to work together to redefine the role of the commercial corridor within their communities.

The Challenges

One of the first challenges to address is the linear arrangement of the commercial corridor. In many cases the corridor is relatively narrow, 200-400 feet in depth, with parcels encompassing one to ten acres, limiting configuration of new buildings. In order to break this mold, communities might consider adjacent land uses. This could offer opportunities to widen or entirely reconfigure the commercial corridor.

The character and quality of the building stock is the second challenge. Very few strip buildings inspire or stir nostalgic emotions, and were not built to last. The vast majority will need to come down, significantly impacting redevelopment costs.

Another challenge communities will face is the connectivity between the restructured strip and the rest of the community. Contemporary planning practices place a premium on walkability and intermodal connections. Maintaining sidewalks, bike trails, and shared-use paths connecting community social, civic, and recreational spaces will be vital.

The most important challenge may be igniting community leadership and nurturing effective partnerships between the local government, property owners, concerned citizens, and local businesses. Preserving downtowns, along with restructuring our strips, is key to saving New England’s economic future.

Plan NH Scholars Go Beyond the Classroom: “Where Are They Now?”

by Guest Blogger | Oct 14th, 2016 | Leave a comment

Written by Guest Blogger Caroline Corriveau, 2014 Plan NH scholarship recipient and current intern with Warrenstreet Architects in Concord. 

cc-tinyhouse-4Plan NH awarded me a remarkable scholarship in 2014 that allowed me the opportunity to complete a Master of Architecture Degree from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. As I graduated with my third degree, I simultaneously finished a 2-year internship at Harriman Architects + Engineers and began a new job as an Intern Architect at Warrenstreet Architects in Concord, NH. I am currently studying for the Architect Registration Exams and have knocked quite a few of my required Architectural Experience Program hours off the list.

But something else has got me very excited this year! In February I purchased a tandem-axel, gooseneck trailer. In April, I began constructing a mobile, timber frame tiny house by my design. A dream of mine since 2007, I finally designated the time to build my dream house with help from my partner, family, and several friends. cc-tiny-house-2We anticipate putting the finishing interior touches on this winter with a move-in date of April 1, 2017.

Living simply is not for everyone, yet it is also not something everyone needs overlook. With a growing society that does not ever seem to slow down, it will be refreshing to live in a small space with minimal belongings that will allow us more time for what is important in this life: relationships and experiences. Acclimating ourselves to the tiny house lifestyle will be our first – challenging but thrilling – experience! I look forward to spending more time with Plan NH after the build is completed!

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Thank you for sharing, Caroline!
Are you a scholarship student? Share your story! [email protected]

Learn more about the Plan NH Scholarship program HERE. The Plan NH Scholarship program is a partnership with the NH Charitable Foundation

The Role Natural Capital Plays in Keeping our Villages Vibrant

by Guest Blogger | Sep 26th, 2016 | Leave a comment

Written by Guest Blogger Shannon H. Rogers, Ph.D. Assistant Professor/Ecological Economist at Plymouth State University.

Harken back to your Economics 101 class and you may recall the concepts of built capital and financial capital as major pieces of the basic economic equation for producing goods and services.  Others may be familiar with human capital and even the concept of social capital (one of my favorites especially when looking at the connection between social capital and walkability –  but that may be another blog post!).  All of these types of capital are key to thriving communities across the Globe.   In this post, I’d like to discuss one type of capital that isn’t always considered but arguably provides many of the benefits we enjoy in New Hampshire’s vibrant villages—that is Natural Capital.

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New Castle

A quick definition of natural capital is:  the assets, such as ecosystems, that humans rely upon for many of our needs, including clean water, food, and carbon capture.   These assets provide a flow of goods and services for all of us called ecosystem services.

Many of us in the field of ecological economics study how we use and value our natural capital.  Ecological economics is still developing, but it has already shown its potential for helping us think about solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing society.  Have you ever come in from a wonderful day at the ocean or the lake or in the mountains and said, “wow, I really benefitted from New Hampshire’s natural capital today?”  If you haven’t, don’t worry, you are not alone. Natural capital is often hidden or taken for granted in the background, and because there haven’t been many ways to value it and incorporate it into decision making, it hasn’t always been considered in our decision making.

We are fortunate to be awash in natural capital here in New Hampshire, and it is arguably part of the New Hampshire advantage.  Some of us are studying how we use natural capital in the region and how we can better incorporate it into our environmental decision making.  My research group at Plymouth State University’s Center for the Environment has been looking at this very question in partnership with colleagues at UNH and Dartmouth with support from the National Science Foundation through New Hampshire’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NH EPSCoR).  One new study we just published looked at the value of conservation land in removing pollutants, such as Nitrogen, before it reaches the impaired Great Bay Estuary.  Yes, you read that correctly, our natural capital (that is forests and watersheds) can help remove some pollutants as part of natural ecosystem functions and may help us save some money compared to building up engineered methods for purifying water and other services.

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Mirror Lake

Flood mitigation is another benefit from natural capital we might have in our communities.  You may have heard of the valuable things wetlands can do for humans:  holding back floodwater is one of those.  For instance, a 1-acre wetland, 1-foot-deep can hold approximately 330,000 gallons of water (see Purdue Extension) and is often more cost effective than building a large flood control dam.  This is not to mention the habitat and water purification services wetlands also provide as well as the copious recreational benefits our natural landscapes can provide, something we would call co-benefits and have tried to understand in another, recent paper.

All of these services contribute to the vibrancy of our villages, so the next time you are thinking about a planning decision in one of our wonderful villages, I suggest taking a second to ask about the natural capital implications.  You’ll probably be happy you did –  because not only will you save money  but there likely will be many co-benefits for you and your fellow citizens to enjoy.   Let me know how it goes!

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Caution: Outrageous views in Gilmanton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos by S. Rogers.

Shannon H. Rogers, Ph.D
Assistant Professor/Ecological Economist
Center for the Environment
Plymouth State University
[email protected]

 

Thank you Shannon!

Have a blog You would like to share? Share it with us! [email protected]

No to “Smarty Pants”: A Defense of Humility

by Guest Blogger | Sep 19th, 2016 | Leave a comment

Written By Guest Blogger, Stuart Arnett of ADG, LLC (and Plan NH Volunteer)

We at ADG just spent some real money on upgrading our web-site, so we can let our potential clients know just how good we are. Additionally, we each take turns blogging as “Subject Matter Experts,” the holy grail of social media marketing. My pix show up on this blog as well as in the web-site and other strategic places. Until recently, my name and the company’s were the same. So a “Listen to me, I’m an expert” blog on humility may seem ironic, if not disingenuous. But here goes:

I don’t know.

There, now that I’ve said that I feel better, and counter-cultural, too.

In my field, I have some pretty good experiences, but some of that is from what did not work. From my good-fortune education opportunities, I’ve retained some knowledge and skills, but they too have a shelf-life. I work with some real smart people, but they can only go so far making me look and sound like I have all the answers. But I don’t.

Is it just me, or does it seem that everyone that blogs, advertises, guest-speaks, or runs for office either says they know-all, or are expected to?  My Mom’s tender upbringing taught me to avoid the word “I” when I spoke (whoops, just did it…). One was not supposed to brag, or draw attention to themselves, and –worst of all – be a know-it-all. Should my mother really be peeved at one of us for this, she might even escalate the rebuke to the now-your-in-big-trouble “smarty pants” label, a sure indication of a dessert-less night.

Humility and its cousin meekness are often confused with weakness, or lack of resolve. I see them as necessary – if elusive – requirements for keeping an open mind to new solutions, encouraging a team-approach and encouraging collaboration. No, I’m not saying I want my doctor to answer my question about some illness with an “I haven’t a clue”; expertise is always essential should you presume to help others in your area of gift. But being knowledgeable is not the same as always being right.

Confidence, yes, but self-confidence that becomes arrogance, no.

And I think I’m not alone. Listen carefully to the reasons why Brexit, or the very-low positives for either presidential candidate, or the angst against mass media and government and you’ll hear the anger about being talked-down to.  This candidate says if you don’t agree, then you are not as smart as they are. The other says that your disagreement derives from their moral superiority. And either drive me –and others? – nuts when they simply conclude that “they know what’s best for me,” and then they are surprised I don’t thank them for their enlightened benevolence!

In my field of economic and community betterment, there are a billion moving parts.  Factors such as the local economy, demographics, real estate trends, new technologies, and local personalities and politics are just a few. We stay abreast of each as well as we can, and try to think and learn about what could work better. But my experience has always been that the expert’s recommendation is best viewed as a starting point; that it where we begin to discuss and learn – and rethink – solutions together. And that when several “I don’t know it all, but some of it, and I care about this community” people come together on a solution, and it is better than mine alone.

Feel free to disagree, as I don’t know it all.

Stu Arnett

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Contact Stu:  7 SOUTH STATE STREET – SUITE 1, CONCORD NH 03301  Phone: 603.219.0043
www.ADG.solutions

Thank you for sharing Stu!

Do YOU have a blog you would like to share?  Tell us: [email protected]

The importance of public rest rooms

by robin | Aug 08th, 2016 | Leave a comment

A recent article in the Conway Daily Sun reported on a discussion about a lack of rest rooms in Jackson, NH.  Where to offer public ones?, the town is pondering.

This is one more of a growing list of stories about the lack of public rest rooms across the country (and indeed, the world).  The reasons are myriad, but the result is the same.

This is not just a matter of “convenience.”  Earlier this  month, the Daily Mail.com had a great article pointing out that for many people, not having a rest room is a health matter.  Different conditions can mean needing to go more often, or more urgently – and not being able to do so can have consequences from embarrassing to even fatal.
We travelled a couple of years ago with someone with prostrate issues.  We went from airport to airport train (no bathrooms while waiting for it) to subway into downtown – another 45 minutes with no bathroom.  Came  out into station and no bathrooms at all.  Up the stairs onto the street – we had to ask and were pointed to a coffee shop down the street, where we had to wait in line to get a key.  It was excruciating for him, and very stressful.  And could have been worse.  It really opened our eyes to this part of life we had never thought of before.

Here in New Hampshire, with a rapidly-aging population, the issue will become more critical in the coming years. Whether visitors to our state are looking, or we ourselves are out and about and find ourselves in need, right now it is often difficult to find a public rest room – including one that is safe and clean.  Yes, there are often restaurants and gas stations that have rest rooms for patrons, but that does not really help a lot of people – especially in small towns that have neither.

Not really hospitable.

There is no easy solution, but let’s think about this:  What can we be doing in our own communities to support those (anyone) who need a rest room right now?   Just one more way to be welcoming.

 

 

 

Walkability 101.4

by Michelle | Jul 10th, 2016 | Leave a comment

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the final lesson on Walkability 101!

We’ve been discovering paths toward walkability while reading Jeff Speck’s Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time. Let’s recap. Walkability (anywhere) requires comfortable and safe pedestrians. Comfort and safety motivate one to walk, especially if the walk is useful (like walking to the post office). What places are you excited to walk? Take a second, remember. Are those places interesting?

 

ARTventures public art display sparks conversation on the street.
ARTventures public art display in Nashua sparks conversation on the street.

The Interesting Walk| Summertime in New England is a perfect time to walk. You walk to join your friends picnicking at the park. You enjoy your café au lait at the coffee shop while watching others stroll past. You and your neighbor seek shade under a street tree on the sidewalk while chatting. An interactive streetscape inspires and engages. Here, people share experiences. Here, niches of community culture blossom.

 

For stories and inspiration about walkable communities (and the steps they are taking) look for sites like these: Walkability Case Studies, Walkable.org and Feetfirst.org.

 

This bench in Franklin is a seat & a place to drink some coffee with a friend.
This bench in Franklin is a seat & a place to drink some coffee with a friend.

Throughout his book, Speck explains reasons why components of walkability- like light rail or “green” buildings- fail at creating walkability when considered independently. These ideas support walkability, however, they must be considered in context. For example, bike racks at an airport only accessible by highway probably won’t encourage anyone to bike to his next flight. Likewise, not everything will work for every place nor is every place destined to be just like NYC ( ie. most walkable City 2015).

Build walkability by starting with what is attainable, logistically and culturally. Just as Speck says, “pick your winners.” Incorporating one basic component, like safety, will lead to more opportunities for everyone and more interesting walks.

If you and others in your community want walkability to happen, participate in discussions, volunteer and be involved. Seek advice from other NH towns and cities, like New Boston or Keene, that have adopted walkability principles. Refer to resources like Southern NH Planning Commission’s Walkability Toolkit for hints, too! Outdated zoning regulations can be changed to meet the changing character of any community.

You can spark the change.

Get out there, New Hampshire. Summer brings community fun and the perfect opportunity to notice if where you walk is truly walkable or not. While you’re out there, pick up a copy of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. We recommend it. The mystery of walkability can be solved by returning the focus to the machines we know best—humans.

What is your community’s walkscore? Find out HERE.

 

 

Reflection: Plan NH Volunteers

by Michelle | Jun 16th, 2016 | Leave a comment

VOLUNTEER: noun |vol-un-teer| vӓl-Ən-tir

There are many definitions of “volunteer.” Here are a few:

1: A person who does work without getting paid to do it (Meriam-Webster).

(Cambridge Dictionary)A person who does something for other people or for an organization willingly.

And, from Wikipedia: Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity…intended to promote good or to improve human quality of life.

Volunteers bring life to Plan NH.

For 27 years Plan NH has been fostering excellence in planning, design & development of New Hampshire’s built environment. With this mission you imagine a large office, alive with heavy conversations about socioeconomic struggles in empty towns overwhelmed by sprawl. You see hazy brainstorming sessions exploding with conceptual maps of the “intersection” of environment, health and social well-being.  Well, I hate to break it to you. This is simply not the case.

Instead, in the quiet Plan NH office, the tireless executive director solely coordinates meetings, studies pressing topics and makes connections with the incredible people & organizations who share Plan’s interests. An assistant helps manage odd tasks, but often works remotely.

How does an organization with a 1.25 person staff continue to operate? Two huge reasons: 1) Financial support from incredible Plan NH Members and Donors 2) Unprecedented dedication from Plan NH volunteers.

Who are Plan NH volunteers?

Erin & Rob Snip
Board President Rob & Committee Member Erin have fun ice skating before the Annual Meeting.

Directors on the working Board who orchestrate activities and programs behind-the-scenes to steer Plan’s mission (Eight Directors are on the Board).

Professionals -Architects, Landscape-Architects, Engineers, Planners, Historians and Others- who assist communities with design challenges in 2-day community workshops called Charrettes (Two decades, dozens of Professionals have volunteered).

Committee Members who select Merit Awards and Scholarship and Fellowship recipients and lead events, like the annual Golf Event.

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Jen sketches with Charrette Volunteers before the team reveals suggestions to Kingston.

They are Organizers who coordinate educational programs and member events. They are Creators, photographers, writers and artists who draw diagrams and draft text for handouts and flyers. And, they are Collaborators and Contributors who compile excel spreadsheets of program registrants, file paperwork and are willing to do anything to help with day-to-day tasks.

These volunteers are people, real people, who have full-time jobs, families and commitments.

Many of you who are reading this are Plan NH volunteers. You probably volunteer for more than one Plan NH activity. Thank you. Thank you for your leadership, dedication and positive attitude.

New Hampshire, like many states in the United States, is facing many design challenges: how can NH plan for an aging population? Or, how can NH recover from the industry days of old? You bring excellence to community planning, design and development by facing these challenges and by meeting the needs of New Hampshire’s people, history, culture and natural resources. You create vibrant villages in New Hampshire.

Just as dictionaries define the meaning of “volunteer,” volunteers define Plan NH.

Together, Plan NH Members, Donors, Volunteers and Staff, we make a difference to New Hampshire communities.

Thank you.

Swanzey snip 2012
The Charrette Team from Swanzey’s 2012 Charrette poses for a picture after a great weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would you like to be part of the Plan NH volunteer team? email Robin for more information: [email protected]

 

 

What is “Community” to Me?

by Guest Blogger | Apr 01st, 2016 | Leave a comment

What is “Community” to Me? by Plan NH Member, Andrew Cushing

Fireworks 2015_Cushing

Growing up in Grafton, community looked like newspaper clippings of classmates in the post office lobby. It sounded like static from my father’s volunteer fire department radio at nighttime or the collective “oohs” and “awws” when fireworks exploded in the dark July sky. It smelled like brown sugar and musty curtains – a combination found only at ham and bean suppers in the town hall.Ham Supper_Cushing (2)

 

As a graduate student in Philadelphia, community is coming home for spring break to vote at town meeting, where my second grade teacher checks my “ID” and my bus driver’s sister hands me a ballot. It tastes like homemade coffee cake at the one room library and feels darn heavy when you deliver roadside tires to the dump.

Old Home Day 1990_Cushing (2)Whatever community is, it compelled me to buy a fixer upper in my hometown so that in the coming years I can provide a longer answer.

-Andrew Cushing, Grafton

Plan NH Member
Multi-Year Plan NH Scholarship Recipient

 

 

Thank you Andrew for sharing!

What does “Community” mean to You? Tell us, [email protected]

Walkability: 101.3

by Michelle | Mar 15th, 2016 | Leave a comment

Welcome back! As you know, walkability has a lot of moving parts.

In Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time author Jeff Speck urges us to reconsider how we interact with the street. Instead of defaulting to the car-crowded, congested strip malls, we can create safe and interactive streetscapes where the pedestrian fits – and fits comfortably. Speck notes, evolutionary psychologists tell us how all animals seek two things: prospect and refuge.1 Increasing comfort and finding the balance between open and enclosed space of a street, shapes sense of place, community identify and the local economy. In what ways can your community get comfy?

Concord 017
image source: Art Concord

Think Main Street| Communities across the country have been investing in “Main Street” programs that revitalize downtown arteries. Sidewalks or crosswalks, pocket parts or community squares, street-side shopping or outdoor dining: there are many options that can bring people together and ensure investment pay-off. According to a PlaceEconomics study on the Main Street Iowa Program, local governments in Iowa gained $10.8 million in revenue every year in property taxes from their Main Street rehabilitation efforts. Check out the Main Street initiatives in New Hampshire like those in Rochester, Ossippee and Concord.

Celebrate History| In New England, we often see colonial architecture and enchanting covered bridges. Why preserve those structures? Historic preservation can attract tourists, create jobs, provide tax incentives and be a great way to relish in your community’s uniqueness. Visit sources like NH Preservation Alliance and NH Division of Historical Resources to discover how your community can support its historic resources for both tourists and locals to enjoy. These active agencies (and Plan NH members!) provide information about grants, historic district tax credits, registering historic districts and more.

bs2bgPlant Trees| Like we mentioned in Walkability 101.2, more street activity means more cautious drivers. Street trees are additional objects that alert drivers and create a buffer for pedestrians. Trees provide a variety of other benefits. Economically, they increase property value. They reduce traffic noise and provide invaluable natural services by reducing air and water pollutants. In fact 1 tree can absorb 48 lbs of CO2 per year, and for every 5% tree cover added to a community, storm water is reduced by 2%. And, BONUS: trees provide psychological benefits by reducing stress and evoking feelings of happiness.

Next time you’re walking at home or visiting another community, notice your place within the built environment. What buildings, sidewalks, trees or opportunities are or aren’t present? Reflect.

Do you feel comfortable?

Stay tuned for the last session Walkability 101. Until then here are additional resources…

Project for public spaces

Main Street Preservation

1 Speck, 213.