NHARPC CORNER: Growing Younger: What are Communities Doing to Reverse the Aging Population Trend?

By Kyle Pimental and Cameron Prolman

Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world." – Dr. Jane Goodall

Over the course of the last several years, one would be hard pressed to find a planning professional who is not keenly aware of the issues that New Hampshire faces due to its aging population. According to the 2017 American Community Survey, the Granite State has the second highest median age in the country – trailing only our neighbor to the east – Maine. Roughly 20 percent of the state's entire population is 60+. This means there are approximately 300,000 older residents living in New Hampshire; however, new estimates show that from 2013-2017 a modest net inflow of younger people have migrated into New Hampshire from other states.

Chart of Young Adult Net Migration

In a research publication released by the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy titled, "More Young Adult Migrants Moving to New Hampshire from Other US Locations" the new US Census estimates were analyzed to compare young adult migration between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. According to Ken Johnson, professor of sociology and senior demographer for the University of New Hampshire, the annual domestic migration gain was 5,900 between 2013-2017 – with the primary increases among those in their 20s and 30s. Southern portions of the state including Strafford, Rockingham, and Hillsborough counties have experienced the most considerable growth, largely as a result of their proximity to Massachusetts.

Younger communities, like Manchester and Dover, are coordinating with their regional planning commissions to implement policies and practices including affordable housing options, complete street projects, urban parks, mixed-use development in downtown areas, and using third places[1] as community amenities that are designed to attract and retain young people.

Dover, NH

With an estimated total population of 30,901, the City of Dover is the fifth largest municipality in New Hampshire behind Manchester, Nashua, Concord, and Derry. In conjunction with being recognized as one of the fastest growing communities in the state, it is also one of the youngest. According to the 2017 American Community Survey, the City boasts a median age of 36.6 with nearly 28 percent of the total population between the ages of 20 and 34.

Not only are young people living in Dover, they are working for Dover. According to Assistant City Manager, Christopher G. Parker, a quarter of the 280-full time City employees are under the age of 35; a third are under 40; and half are under 45. The City is also benefiting from young volunteers, many of whom are recent graduates from the nearby University of New Hampshire, seeking out opportunities to improve and shape their community or neighborhood by offering their time and perspective. Local volunteerism levels, which have often been associated with retirees, are at the highest they have been in years with nearly all current boards and commissions being full.

When asked for his thoughts on a younger generation moving to Dover, Mr. Parker said, "It is important to stress that we value the demographics we are seeing move to the community and be involved in the City. To be competitive, we need to embrace that demographic and make it a core strategy to continue to be a place that evolves and grows, by encouraging policy makers and decision makers at the volunteer and employee level to be in that demographic. In other words, to attract millennials, think like millennials, and the best way to do that is to hire and engage that demographic on boards, committees and commissions."

Dover has worked with Strafford Regional Planning Commission (SRPC) on several efforts recognized as points of emphasis for millennials including climate adaptation and resilience planning, promotion of local businesses, community art projects, and recreational trail mapping. Other projects aimed to attract younger people and families are affordable housing options, transit and walkability advocacy, and grass roots initiatives such as CommuteSMART Seacoast, bike/walk-to-work day, and the farmers market. In addition, there a handful of SRPC staff members that currently volunteer on local boards including the Open Lands Committee, Planning Board, Cochecho Waterfront Development Advisory Committee, and the Community Trails Advisory Committee.

Manchester, NH

The City of Manchester, with an estimated population of 111,196, boasts the largest population in the state. With about 39 percent of its residents under the age of 40, the Queen City is also home to the largest population of younger residents.

The Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission has worked alongside partners in Manchester, such as the Manchester Transit Authority, Bike Manchester, QC Bike Collective, UNH Manchester, Manchester Connects, the Manchester Health Department, Manchester Public Works, AARP New Hampshire, and many more to create a place that is attractive for younger generations.

In recent years, the City has seen an explosion in activity necessary for retaining younger generations. From quality tech jobs in the Millyard, to renovated affordable and micro-apartments, younger folks have been talking advantage of what the City has to offer. Manchester is not only offering housing and employment opportunities for the city's younger residents; it's been investing in Third Places – or places where people spend time outside of work and home. Walking along Elm Street, it's not hard to find an abundance of community-centered spaces. Coffee shops, parks, farmer's markets, outdoor concerts and events, a theater, a baseball stadium, a board game bar and café, bars, breweries, and countless local restaurants provide spaces for people, young and old, to interact with their community, and contribute to building a sense of place.

The City has also seen a growth in alternate modes of transportation for younger residents looking to ditch their cars. Bike Manchester, a local bicycle advocacy organization, worked closely with private and public officials to open seven bike-share locations throughout the city. In 2018, Manchester residents took over 1,500 trips on the city's bike-share system. Bike-share, coupled with the city's public transit, along with a new pedicab service are offering valuable options which help to attract employers and younger residents.

It's not very difficult to make the argument that a community will benefit from having a healthy population of younger people. Ongoing research has shown that communities who engage with younger demographics often receive new perspectives, enthusiasm, and creative approaches to solve key issues or problems. As the state continues to grow older, communities may wish to replicate some of the innovative planning and policy initiatives that Dover and Manchester have implemented to retain and attract younger individuals.

Kyle Pimental is Principal Regional Planner with the Strafford Regional Planning Commission. He can be reach via email at kpimental@strafford.org or by phone at 603.994.3500. Cameron Prolman is Regional Planner with the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission and can be reached via email at cprolman@snhpc.org or by phone at 603.669.4664.

[1] Third places is a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg and refers to places where people spend time between home ('first' place) and work ('second' place). They are locations where we exchange ideas, have a good time, and build relationships.