AFFILIATE SPOTLIGHT: New Hampshire Planners Association
The Affiliate Spotlight is a column designed to give readers a closer look at affiliate groups of NHMA. There are over 30 such groups comprised primarily of municipal officials serving a particular position, such a city and town clerks, assessors, health officers, road agents, etc. In this issue, we introduce the New Hampshire Planners Association.
TC: What is the mission and goals of the New Hampshire Planner’s Association?
NHPA: The New Hampshire Planner’s Association (NHPA) promotes, assists and supports the professional Planner in the goal of achieving planning excellence to improve the quality of life today and tomorrow in New Hampshire’s communities.
TC: What is your biggest challenge in performing your duties?
NHPA: NHPA’s biggest challenge is to ensure that municipalities and the State continue to manage and support smart growth. We understand services are lean in this low tax state. We strive to make sure decisionmakers understand how land use affects the many factors of community success, including the transportation, housing availability, natural resource preservation and economic growth.
TC: How has NHMA helped you to do your job?
NHPA: NHMA is a huge resource most directly for legal and legislative assistance. Many of our members are from small towns that cannot afford a staff attorney. Part of our job is assisting volunteer boards, whether Planning Board, Zoning Board, Conservation Commission or Historic or Heritage Commissions interpreting state laws regarding their powers and applicable land use Law. NHMA’s legal services is an invaluable resource for our volunteers and us as staff. NHMA’s Legislative services also help to inform municipal staff and volunteer board members of changes to the state laws that inform their actions.
TC: What is the public perception about your job and how does it differ from the reality of your job?
NHPA: Often times when I tell folks that I am a Planner, they automatically think wedding or event planner. The amount of work and people behind “community growth” is often a new concept to people. Once you explain all of the work that goes into a new residential development or commercial marketplace, people are amazed!
TC: Has your job as a Planner changed the way you look at the role of government?
NHPA: The NHPA brings together Planning staff across the state often for case study seminars or trainings. One thing that is evident after years of putting these trainings together is that the needs and desires of our communities vary so much and its important to respect those differences. The needs of a larger community such as Nashua differ so greatly from the needs of a smaller rural community like Lee. It is a disservice to the residents to create a uniform code or apply a single planning practice to both scenarios. A good example of this is pedestrian facilities. We all agree that we should provide walkable spaces in our communities. But the elevated, curbed sidewalk you see in downtown Nashua will not work on Town Hall Road in Madbury. Road right of way, drainage and maintenance must be taken into account… Madbury doesn’t have catch basins and drainage pipes in town center. Nor should it. And so what you get is your classic city sidewalks in more urban areas and a series of trails and walking paths in more rural areas. Both perform the ultimate goal a planner is looking for but the design specifications are tailored for the specific community and its needs.
TC: What advice would you give someone who would like to follow in your footsteps as a Planner?
NHPA: The ability to help a community grow into what its residents desire is very fulfilling. The ability to make sure all voices are heard and the community is knowledgeable regarding smart growth practices and techniques is something that can leave a lasting mark in a community for centuries. To know Planners had a part in that is very gratifying. It’s a hard job, a stressful job, often an infuriating job but it is always worth it in the end when you see happy people and successful families enjoying a community.
TC: Do you dislike any aspects of your job? Which ones? Why?
NHPA: What Planners often find is they because of our lean government, our job has a very sharp dichotomy of helping and assisting residents in one aspect and enforcing zoning rules and regulations in the other. This is a difficult transition for folks that are often trained in the technicalities of urban design, transportation or economics.