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Where we live

by Robin LeBlanc | May 22nd, 2017 | Leave a comment

Where we live – and how our home is designed, including layout and quality of materials impacts out health and well-being.

Most of us take it for granted that our homes are safe and healthy havens at the end of a day.  But for many, it is not so simple.  We may be able to afford the space, but getting to work is expensive, and our stress levels rise.   We may live in the home we have lived in for many years, but now we find stairs difficult, if not impossible.

We just heard a short story from a pediatrician:  she was treating a young girl who had asthma.  They thought it had cleared up, but suddenly it returned with a vengeance. As you probably know, asthma is not just a “breathing problem,” but is extremely serious.  This young girl was in a grim situation. What had changed?  Turns out, they had gotten a cat. Why? there were mice in the bed.  We can imagine the quality of the home they were living in.  She said, “I consider a safe, affordable and decent home a vaccine.”

Our communities as a whole are not healthy if parts of it are not, especially our homes.  What challenges are some of your community members facing regarding where they  live, and what can you, as a community, do to overcome them?

 

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!

cc-tiny-house-1cc-tiny-house-3

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

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

stuart-head-shotadg-logo

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]

Walkability 101.4

by Michelle McDonald | 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 McDonald | 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.

Jen_drawing
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 McDonald | 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.

Dover Resident Interview

by Michelle McDonald | Feb 26th, 2016 | Leave a comment

So, we heard from the our Plan NH Member, City of Dover, but what about a resident? Meet Tina Corbett, Dover resident for the past 5 years.tina corbett

Plan NH: What have you seen change over the years? 

TC: I’ve seen a lot of improvements to downtown, a lot of restaurants and stores. It’s a really nice city. Where I live, I can walk to downtown.

Plan NH: What is your favorite thing about living in Dover?

TC: One of my favorite things is the Dover Long Hill Dog Park. I go there every day with my dog, when weather permits. If the park wasn’t there, my dog wouldn’t have anywhere to run! I have met so many great people there, too. Residents, and others from other places, love the park. Also it is great to see some residents playing Cricket games there in the summer.

Plan NH: One thing you’d like to see change? 

TC: Well… there is a lot of dog poop left on my street and the kids go to play in the park nearby! In the dog park, everyone is fine with picking up, but I wish everyone would pick up after their dogs in town. I hope they know it doesn’t go away and it’s gross!

Plan NH: What makes your community a vibrant village?

TC: The old mill downtown, the waterfall and the river with the trail. It just is a vibrant village. It’s very nice and very clean. The Children’s Museum and the Henry Law Park are great.  The whole area down there [downtown] is so nice. The Children’s Museum was a great addition to Dover.

other mill

Thanks Tina, it was so fun interviewing! Do you want to tell us about your community? contact us: [email protected]

 

Interview with Plan NH Member: The City of Dover

by Michelle McDonald | Feb 26th, 2016 | Leave a comment

Member Highlight- Interview with The City of Dover| Chris Parker is in his 19th year of working for the City of Dover. After working in various roles he was named City Planner in 2007 and serves as Assistant Manager now. But, Chris doesn’t think of Dover as is work place, it’s his home. 

Plan NH: What’s been happening in town? What’s changed over your time here? Dover_mural

CP: I have lived here for a long time. I don’t think about what has changed since 97, while working, but I look at what’s changed since I’ve been a kid. The community volunteerism and engagement have been the same [in a good way]. But, there is more opportunity and more diversity now–diverse community in economics and homes. We have the Liberty Mutuals as well as the Mom & Pop shops. We have the “McMansions” and unique apartments in the mill. And, over the past 5 years, people have embraced multi-family housing, and have embraced that housing being on top of coffee shops and businesses.

Dover has been leveraging the market and bridging the gaps, and has made decisions that took hold in 2007 chapter master plan, to embrace the downtown. We recognize the historical assets and reinforce that downtown is the way and where to build. We promote the idea that if you provide opportunity for people to live downtown, you will provide a lot of opportunity.

Some odd stats, Dover has more mass transit opportunities than anywhere in the state. Before they completed the Downeaster between Portland and Boston, Dover was the only station directly downtown surrounded by full services and attractions. I’m glad my predecessors fought for the station.

We encourage citizen leadership and civic engagement on regional and state level. We do a local engagement series in the fall to involve people with the municipality and on an economic level.

We don’t want to be Portsmouth or other neighboring communities, but looked at what they have and thought about what could happen in Dover.

Plan NH: What else makes your community dynamic and vibrant?

CP: We are unique with high quality amenities. And, there is a very strong sense of community and pride of the downtown. People like how it works. There is diversity in types of business, and there could always be more and more that are different. People like using the downtown, where you can buy a hammer and milk. We have figured out a way to have a tourism draw and a vibrant restaurant scene. And, have a reality check that you can go to the grocery store while downtown.

Plan NH: We have heard from a lot of people, Dover is transforming in a positive way. What would you say helped Dover transform from the old to the new?

CP: There is a very thoughtful, progressive demographic here. One benefit in [Dover’s] planning community is we have an open-minded constituency. People aren’t afraid of density in downtown or Accessory Dwelling Units or electric vehicle charging stations.

Plan NH: We noticed recently you tweeted, calling for opinion of transportation options from community members. What feedback did you get?

CP: We got about 150 responses with cohesive answers. A lot of drivers deal with congestion downtown and congestion at exit 7. The most outstanding aspects of the survey were the very low response on who uses the bus, but the fact people applauded having the bus and are willing to pay for it.

Plan NH: What about the renovation of the mills? How has that impacted community? There are apartment buildings and restaurants. We even noticed Dell. What was the before and after like?Dover Mills

CP: The mill life-cycle is an interesting concept. In the 1820’s it was an economic engine of one sort. In 1943, the City took control of it until the 1980’s. We looked at it from a vibrancy perspective, and thought the only way to have vibrant downtown is to have people living downtown. We looked at density and decided working parameters were needed in the downtown. There is so much character there. The mills have commercial potential, but commercial spaces don’t tend to pay for themselves. If you are a commercial business owner, landlords subsidize it. Mill owner can keep Dell there by offsetting rent cost balance using the economies of scale.

Plan NH: What challenges are faced within the City?

CP: One of the biggest is demographic shift. People who grew up here, who want the past, have different expectations of the community. Also, we face the opioid challenge in the community, like state and federal.

One challenge of being the oldest community in the state is that we don’t have much undeveloped land left. Most parcels have been through development once and will be redeveloped. Pro or con, it’s a challenge.

Also it is challenging maintaining the diversity. We don’t want all mobile homes and we don’t want all Mom & Pop shops. We want diversity, but the market drives so much. We want Dover to remain attractive and affordable.

Plan NH: What advice could you offer to other NH mill towns?

CP: Keep in mind that the shell of the building is most important part. What you see is the active mill, what’s inside is economic. You should be encouraging the adaptive reuse of the mills. There are things that prevent adaptive reuse, like safety, but you need to keep an open mind and relax density requirements. It pays off by adding more people and lowering the development cost, and it gets the tax development increase.

You need to help provide affordable housing. Someone needs to be able to go through all of the “home-changes” in one community. A lot of people in the mills are not fresh out of college they are the adults who had a house and now have downsized.

Plan NH: Is Dover planning for change over the next decades? If yes how?

CP: The biggest way is to continually update and review the Master Plan and Strategic Plan. We constantly keep our longer plan in mind. Also, we try to keep a flat infrastructure budget, keeping our roads maintained and not having financial spikes as we put out fires. Financially, the exception right now is the plan for a new high school. Continually planning long-range helps the impact because the plan is constantly being reviewed.

Plan NH: What would you recommend if someone were to visit Dover? What cultural and social assets are there to visit?

CP: I would tell people to park and go downtown. I think you’ll be able to see something you like. I would tell them to go to William Pond outside of town. More diversity in Dover: there is plenty of rural. The conservation commission does a great job protecting resources. Their work reinforces the importance in concentrating development, much of the rural portion of the community has been persevered.

What does it mean to you to be a Plan NH member? I think Plan NH is a great envoy that the built environment impacts the natural and vice versa. It offers educational opportunities and advocacy opportunities for people to learn about the value of the built environment and mix uses in the “village.” Also, the people in the group are very accessible and happy to talk about issues at hand.

What would you like to continue to see for Plan NH? Plan needs to continue to broaden its appeal. I would like to see APA partnerships or with OEP, and form partnership with other organizations. I would like to continue to see [Plan NH] forge relationships with other natural collaborators. And, be proud of what it does.

What would you like to see for the State? The state needs to invest in statewide planning activities. Due to changing demographic and volatility of the economy, we need to have strong statewide planning advocacy.

streetview

Now, check my interview with Dover resident, Tina: HERE.

New Hampshire “Middle-Child” Towns

by Guest Blogger | Feb 16th, 2016 | Leave a comment

“New Hampshire ‘Middle-Child’ Towns” by Plan NH Board President, Rob Dapice

I recently watched a TEDX talk by UNH Rural Extension employee Geoff Sewake (watch it HERE) on the power of rural attractiveness for small communities like the one where he lives in North Haverhill. I recommend the talk. It got me thinking about my own town.

As Geoff points out, people in the North Country, particularly those in communities with populations that are aging and shrinking, could do well by welcoming young adults who are attracted to those places, or those who have an existing connection to these communities, in order to make them more likely to stay.

He repeats “hey, hello, what’s up” as a means of emphasizing how informal this welcoming approach can be. He discusses how young adults can really contribute and make a difference in these communities that have been so depleted by outmigration. And, how showing up to two meetings in a row, for just about any board or committee, will likely result in their being invited to join.

I have lived for five years in Hopkinton, a town of 5,600 just west of Concord. Hopkinton is somewhere near the middle (demographically and geographically) of state trends. Hopkinton and many other communities in New Hampshire are expected to have approximately stagnant populations. I liken our situation to that of the middle child: not as outstanding as the first born and not as one might think. No explosive growth. No ominous decline. A stable population should make everyone happy. No problem, right?

hopkintonbridge
photo: wikimedia commons

In middle child communities like this one, the question is not so much “will we disappear” or “will we be overwhelmed” but the more complicated and touchy “who are we and who do we want to be?”. This is something that Plan NH Executive Director Robin Leblanc touches on when she says frequently “Communities in our state are so used to planning for growth; they need to start planning for change.”

To illustrate this, observe that certain communities in our state’s southern tier seem to still be booming. For example, Stratham has grown 14% between 2000 and 2010. Then, consider the population of Coos County that has remained virtually unchanged during that same time period and is predicted by the OEP to shrink over the next 30 years. The overall feeling of impending growth or decline makes up an essential backdrop that informs how many citizens are inclined to think about their communities. This shapes discussions and decisions on school budgets, zoning, and economic development.

Hopkintonsdsign
photo: www.hopkintonschools.org

Hopkinton has the seventh highest property tax rate in the state and has historically had higher taxes than neighboring towns which mostly seem to either have a stronger commercial tax base, a less costly school system, or both. Combined with the reality of declining school enrollments over the past decade, this has made the annual school budget rather contentious.

There are lots of good people involved in the perennial debate over school spending in Hopkinton and the details of what might be cut and what should be cut are not important here. I find the ways in which debaters on both sides seem to bypass each other with arguments interesting. They find their personal arguments compelling, but their reasoning can ring hollow among those whom they are trying to convince.

One frequently cited consequence of a high tax rate is that it will result in more people moving out of town. Assuming the high tax rate is the result of an expensive and well-regarded school system, as is the case in my town, it will also attract in-migration among families who move to town for the school system. This group of new residents who are attracted by the schools certainly includes, but is not limited to, families led by wealthy professionals.

Those who favor a higher school budget often invoke the testimony of other young families who have chosen Hopkinton because of the good school system. My family constitutes a data point in that argument. Those who favor a lower school budget in order to reduce taxes prefer to cite examples of people they have known who have left town because of the taxes. I know a few of the people; they are not imaginary. In some cases, they vacate homes that are then occupied by young-professional families whose stories will be used to justify our current approach to budgeting.

Should town policy favor longtime residents on fixed incomes to ensure that the community retains its character? Or should it be crafted to draw enough younger and wealthier people to town so that our town can buck the demographic trends of stagnation/decline? Of course, there is no easy answer.

I grew up in a town that has been so overwhelmed by rich people that I feel like it has become unrecognizable in the two decades since I left; it is not an accident that I chose not to return to it when I moved back to New England. If we continue down the road of high-performance, high-cost schools without restraint, we will become another Concord, Massachusetts in a decade or two; people will come for the schools and will be seen hammering the “For Sale” signs into their front yard the day after high school graduation.

However, the schools are a real attraction for Hopkinton. Like every New Hampshire town that depends on volunteers to keep the machinery working, Hopkinton is a better town for its tireless volunteers. Many of these volunteers were attracted to Hopkinton because of the school system. The School Board and the Superintendent deserve credit, in my opinion, for presenting a conservative and responsible school budget.

But the school budget is not the point here. The point is we all need to listen to each other. If you are preparing to make an argument that is incredibly resonant with you—about how you and your friends all moved to town because of the great schools, stop for a moment. Consider how your argument might sound to someone whose longtime friend and neighbor just moved out. And, to be fair to my demographic peers, if you are getting ready to stand up at a public meeting and tell those of us who want to improve their school system that they should move to Massachusetts, be respectful of the fact that not everyone who loves New Hampshire shares an identical philosophy.

Of course, school funding is an incredibly contentious issue in New Hampshire, especially its middle-child towns; I think that listing the lawsuits over state funding of education in the past 20 years would make for a longer document than this essay. But that is a topic for another day.

HopkintonNH_TownHall