A Granite State Future Depends on Working Together
In New Hampshire, every town receives technical support for making decisions about land use from one of nine Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs). The RPCs were formed by the Legislature to aid and advise municipalities and prepare a coordinated plan for the development of the region. The planning support is used by municipalities for local decisions and to address the many issues that cross municipal borders. With a new three-year, $3.37 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that level of support is taking a major step forward without burdening the state budget.
The project, A Granite State Future, is the only such grant in the nation that has been awarded to all regions within an entire state - the others are concentrated in metro regions. New Hampshire's nine RPCs' decision to collaborate and utilize a consistent statewide approach to identify regional priorities will help guide future federal and state capital investments toward local visions for housing, transportation, and economic development and will create increased efficiency within government.
"All of our communities are in the same boat," said Jessie Levine, Assistant Town Manager in Bedford. "We're struggling to find funds to invest in capital needs, like roads and other infrastructure, and we're hard-pressed to maintain services, or grow them as our communities grow. So a lot of towns have been cutting or deferring long-term capital expenses, which is going to increase costs down the road. Working together, we've already found some ways to save money, for instance, Newbury, Sunapee and New London share an assessing department, with significant savings to taxpayers in those communities. But there's so much more that could be done. This project is a chance for us to discover and consider other intermunicipal solutions. I hear people say, 'Why do two neighboring towns each have their own ladder truck? Isn't that a waste?' Good question. Let's take a look."
Janet Langdell, a nurse and chair of the Milford Planning Board, agreed. "Our towns and our regional planning commissions value the uniqueness of each of the communities in the region. With A Granite State Future, we can find ways to strengthen our local economies and make the area more desirable in each of our towns and in the whole region."
A Granite State Future will be comprehensive in its approach, addressing a range of interconnected issues related to transportation and land use, economic development, resource management, housing, public health, energy, and cultural, historic, and natural resources within a common framework, recognizing how decisions about one affect the others.
"I've served on our local planning board," said Ben Daviss of Walpole, "and you have to focus on the very local, one piece of a highway, or a particular vacant lot. We don't have time or resources to pay attention to state trends, or even to what the people in the nearby towns are doing. With A Granite State Future, we'll be able to unite the broad view that can be taken by a university or a state agency with the local view and get a much clearer picture of where we're headed."
Local goals and challenges differ from region to region, but overall, the objectives of this project are:
- Protect New Hampshire's unique beauty and character
- Capitalize on and incorporate shared values and opportunities included in existing plans and research
- Plan for public infrastructure investment through an open and transparent process
- Direct capital investments toward locally identified needs
- Conserve our natural, social and financial resources
"We need to look ahead if we want to be competitive," said Kenneth Ortmann, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Rochester. "Rochester recently attracted Safran USA, a global leader in aerospace and defense, for a major new plant being built, creating over 400 engineering and high quality jobs. They chose Rochester for this new facility partly because of work our city and region started doing with a then-small Rochester company about 15 years ago. And of course, no city is just one little island that can provide all that's needed for business and others to sustain themselves. We're all interconnected, and we interact with our neighboring towns and regions. A Granite State Future is a crucial help for looking ten, twenty, even fifty years ahead and asking, 'Where are we going and where do we want to be?'"
A Granite State Future is based on the recognition that better public decisions are made when they are an outgrowth of a robust public dialogue about the nature of the problem as well as any possible solutions. The project provides an unprecedented level of support for, and emphasis on, public engagement in the planning process. The staff of New Hampshire's nine Regional Planning Commissions will be working with a range of community and business leaders, state agencies, counties and municipalities, and citizen groups to develop a productive public dialogue within each region. The project is specifically committed to engaging members of communities at the grass roots level and being responsive to the interests of every sector of the community.
"The outreach work that's part of this process is going to be a terrific asset to our communities," said Elaine Levlocke, a selectman in Chesterfield. "We want every person to have the option to give input and help identify the issues facing our town and the region and the whole state. Our population is decreasing, and young people are moving away. We need to hear from everyone and find ways to make it more possible for young families to stay here if they want to."
To start the conversation, A Granite State Future has been inviting public comment on broad questions: What's best about where you live or work? What could be better? In addition to A Granite State Future's website for posting and reading citizen comments, "listening boxes" have been set up in stores and public places throughout the state, collecting comments, like "Not far from city conveniences but easy to find quiet, natural places, when asked, "What's best?" and "More public transportation," in response to "What could be better?"
"New Hampshire Listens," a project of the University of New Hampshire's Carsey institute, will be facilitating community listening sessions as part of A Granite State Future's work. "We are working to create civil, lively, productive conversations about the future of New Hampshsire's communities and the state as a whole," said Bruce Mallory, director of the Carsey Institute. "People of all backgrounds and political views will be urged to participate in this process. I hope that in these conversations both disagreements and common ground will be fully explored so that the final results will represent a broad range of perspectives on the future of our state."
Through 2013, the regional planning commissions will lead their communities in looking at the big picture, considering the impact of land use and transportation on our economic development, health, costs, and natural and cultural resources. Through scenario planning, communities will think through desired future development patterns and identify and prioritize place-based implementation projects that support social connections and cultural values. The plans will identify implementation actions that balance community needs and identify the most efficient use of limited government resources for future infrastructure and community investments, making wise use of limited financial resources.
When the nine regional plans are combined, they will provide a cumulative picture of New Hampshire's current needs, aspirations, and prospects, including a variety of projects for implementation. This should help guide state and federal policy pertaining New Hampshire's communities.
As State Representative Candace Bouchard of Concord sees it, "The impact of economic growth, land use, and transportation does not stop at city and town lines. Planning together will benefit everyone: small business, big business, and residents. At the state level, the information provided in the final report, especially the public comments will be very useful when crafting and funding public policy."
Jen Czysz is Senior Regional Planner at Nashua Regional Planning Commission and the statewide manager of A Granite State Future. For more information about the regional planning program, go to the website
Look for A Granite State Future in Your Region!
Representatives of the state's nine RPCs have organized and attended more than 35 events from July through October, 2012 to interview attendees. These events included races at the Canaan Speedway, old home days, business expos, and the Deerfield Fair. RPC staff has been asking residents across the state what they feel is best about their region and what their priorities are for the future.
Upcoming Events in November and Early December:
November 1, 2012: North Country Plan Public Meeting, Berlin City Hall, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. (NCC)
- November 3, 2012: North Country Plan Public Meeting, Haverhill Municipal Building Gymnasium, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. (NCC)
- November 3, 2012: NH Association of Conservation Commissions Annual Meeting, Concord, (CNHRPC)
- November 7, 2012: Business After Hours, Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, Laconia, (LRPC)
- November 8, 2012: SRPC Granite State Future Open House, 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. (SRPC)
- November 10, 2012: NH Rail Trails Coalition Annual Meeting, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
- November 17, 2012: Country Christmas Craft Fair, Goshen-Lempster School, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. (tentative, UVLSRPC)
- November 29, 2012: NRPC Granite State Future Open House, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. (NRPC)
- December 1, 2012: EVA Hometown Holidays, Enfield, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. (tentative, UVLSRPC)
- December 8, 2012: Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmers Market, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., Exeter High School (RPC)
Please visit the website for a complete and up-to-date listing of events.
Please note that many of the events listed above are run independently of the RPCs and each RPC may be an exhibitor, rather than a formal presenter or host at the event.