Welcome to

Vibrant Villages

New Hampshire


welcome to vibrant villages
new hampshire!

The purpose of Vibrant Villages New Hampshire is to inform and inspire citizens to embrace and implement ideas and practices that lead to lively, flourishing communities.

Welcome to Vibrant Villages New Hampshire.

There are many here in the state working on some aspect of realizing a vibrant, healthy future for our citizens, communities and regions around the state. However, we realized that unless you know where to look, you may not know about a lot of it.

Vibrant Villages New Hampshire will be a place you, a citizen who cares about your community, can visit from time to time to read stories and see pictures and learn about ideas and projects happening right here in New Hampshire. And we hope you will see something that leads you to think "YES. I can do that, too!" or "I want that to happen in my town!"

And please, send us your thoughts about the site – what you like, what you do not, what you would like to see. Do you have a picture that tells a story? Or a story to tell? Please let us know. New Hampshire is a place where people share, collaborate and cooperate. This site is for you.

The debut of this initiative has been spearheaded by Plan New Hampshire (www.plannh.org) with funding from the NH Housing Finance Authority. While we at Plan NH had a vision for this idea, it was the generosity of support and belief in our work that NH Housing gave us that really made it possible. Thank you, Ben and George and Bill.

In addition, we wish to acknowledge the contributions of time and energy and wisdom of the following:

  • Roger Hawk, Hawk Planning Resources, Concord
  • Anne Duncan Cooley, Upper Valley Housing Coalition
  • George Reagan, NH Housing Finance Authority
  • Van Chestnut, Advance Transit (Upper Valley)
  • John Corrigan, Safe Routes to School program at the NH DOT
  • Maggie Stier, NH Preservation Alliance
  • Andrew Cushing, Grafton resident and student at Bowdoin College.
  • Jeff Taylor, Jeffrey H. Taylor and Associates, Concord

We hope that you will learn and be inspired.



about vibrant villages

Vibrant Villages New Hampshire is an initiative of Plan New Hampshire, The Foundation for Shaping the Built Environment (Plan NH), a 501 (c) 3 formed in 1989. We are an organization of professionals within the building industries who care about the built environment and its impact on our communities.

Like thousands of others, we have a Vision of a healthy, vibrant New Hampshire that embodies the characteristics depicted in the orange circles to the right.

There are many, many organizations and individuals just like you working on one or more of these concepts, each with a purpose of creating a healthy future for all of us.

Vibrant Villages New Hampshire brings together ideas, stories and projects from the good work going on around the state. For now, we are focusing on

  • Our town centers
  • How we get about
  • Home Sweet Home
  • Historic assets

Two more sections, one looking at NH farms/agriculture/field and forests and another on nutrition and movement will be developed over the next few months.

We hope what you see and read informs and inspires you to think differently about our future here in New Hampshire – and perhaps you will see something that you might be able to take on for your own town or neighborhood.

Vibrant Villages New Hampshire is a partnership of Plan NH and the NH Housing Finance Authority, who directed the Meredith video (which was actually the foundation and catalyst for this bigger initiative) and provided funding to develop and launch this site. NHHFA has also provided invaluable input and feedback in this entire effort – another outstanding example of the collaboration and mutual support that exist in this great state.

Town centers in New Hampshire
  • Towns and neighborhoods balance necessary development with preserving their unique, traditional characteristics and assets

  • Natural resources, open areas and undeveloped land are protected and honored

  • Clean energy for heat and power becomes standard, and infrastructure means greater and more nimble resilience following certain weather events

  • Well-planned towns and neighborhoods, with homes, services, retail and jobs conveniently nearby each other, are encouraged

  • Traditional and creative ways of getting about minimize the need for fossil-fueled vehicles

  • Collaboration and cooperation between and among towns and regions enhance the vitality of life in the Granite State

Town Centers
in New Hampshire

New Hampshire city, town and village centers are the activity hubs of nearly every community in the state. They are usually where people go to register their cars, pay taxes, find information at the library, go to school or work, congregate for recreation and connect socially.

Why? Because for the most part, there is a concentration of people who live and work there. People are naturally attracted to places where they find other people. New Hampshire has a long history of healthy, vibrant village centers surrounded by rural landscapes. Both are needed to maintain the way of life that we all love in the Granite State.

Compact Design, What is it and whydoes it matter?

—With thanks to Roger Hawk of Hawk Planning Resources Concord
  • What is Compact Design in a town center?

    Think of our traditional New England Villages
  • What is it?

    • Pedestrians are FIRST
    • Places to live, jobs, services, retail are all conveniently close to each other
  • Why does it matter?

    • Helps preserve New Hampshire’s rural character and natural setting
    • Makes stronger communities by enriching social capital
    • Reduces energy consumption (buildings, vehicles)
    • Saves money, brings money in to town
  • Why does it matter?

    • Helps preserve New Hampshire’s rural character and natural setting
    • Makes stronger communities by enriching social capital
    • Reduces energy consumption (buildings, vehicles)
    • Saves money, brings money in to town
  • Why does it matter?

    • Helps preserve New Hampshire’s rural character and natural setting
    • Makes stronger communities by enriching social capital
    • Reduces energy consumption (buildings, vehicles)
    • Saves money, brings money in to town

Preserve NH’sRural Character

Building Social Capital

Places to sit and visit encourage and strengthen “social capital”

Reliance on Foreign Energy

U.S. could save up to 30% of its energy use through compact development

Compact Design saves money

  • Buildings are closer to the street, so infrastructure has fewer linear feet (pipes, electric lines, sidewalks to maintain, more) –This is also very important when responding to –power outages in severe weather events
  • Can save on transportation and energy costs
  • Walkability is fundamental to the design – means healthier people

Compact Design
makes money

  • Encourages local businesses –money stays in the community–Local jobs
  • Property values maintained or increased
  • If planned properly, compact town centers a destination, bringing in people who spend their money
  • In the last 50 years –Carroll & Rockingham Counties grew
    by 300%
    –Belknap, Hillsboro, Merrimack & Strafford grew by >200%
  • 30 Towns over 10,000 population –= 54% of NH population but only 11% of the state’s total land area

Compact Design

It comes in lots of sizes and shapes. BUT the design must relate to the community’s sense of itself
  • Crossroads

    A few buildings clustered around a road intersection in a rural town
  • Village

    • A concentration of +10 buildings
    • Usually a mix of residential, institutional and retail uses
    • Buildings are residential scale
  • Town

    • More buildings
    • Mix of uses of land, buildings
    • Some buildings larger than typical residence
  • Small City

    • Full mix of land and building uses
    • Very dense, compact
    • Mostly 1 to 4-story building heights

    • Full mix of land uses
    • Very high density (at least for NH)
    • Many taller buildings (4-6+ stories)

the largest NH
municipality is

282 square miles

smallest is
New Castle

.83 square miles

getting about

Half a million passenger trips in a year. Manchester? Concord? How about the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont? Yes, that’s right! And the service is free!
In an interview with Van Chestnut, director of the organization that provides these important services, Vibrant Villages learned about Advance Transit’s program, which serves Hanover, Lebanon, Enfield and Canaan in New Hampshire and Hartford and Norwich in Vermont.
  • sidewalks
  • walking
  • traffic
  • bikes
  • transit
  • efficiency
  • routes
  • accessibility

getting about (cont)

The origins of the program can be found in the late ‘70’s, when the Upper Valley Senior Citizen’s Council applied for the first funding for the program. However, it soon became clear that although a transit service was absolutely essential to seniors, running it was not within the Council’s mission, and Advance Transit, Inc. was born. In 1987, Mr. Chestnut came in as Director.

Organizationally, Advance Transit is a NH non-profit organization that also does business in VT) , governed by a board of directors, the majority of whom are appointed by the towns served. From Day One, Mr. Chestnut revealed, both Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock (who appears in some lists as the second-largest employer in NH) have been involved with the organization. When the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center opened in Lebanon in 1991, they saw that non-vehicle transportation was a good investment: It reduced the need for parking, and at the same time helped (somewhat) traffic congestion and related gas emissions, time spent waiting in traffic, and so forth.

Ridership represents a broad demographic scope, and since there is no charge to use the system, everyone is equal. Riders may be shoppers or students or going to work - or simply visiting family or friends. In a 2008 passenger survey, more than half the passengers indicated that they had a car available to them for the trip, but chose not to use it. (Ten years earlier, there were 1/3 fewer riders, and only ¼ indicated they had cars.)

The program has no underperforming routes. In fact, noted Mr. Chestnut, the line routes are operating from “very well” to “stellar” in terms of ridership and efficiency. Due to real time passenger information, most money is spent on services during the times when people rely on them most.

In addition, Advance Transit has invested in expanded facilities. The building is energy efficient, and rainwater is collected for washing the busses. Waste oil from these busses is used for heat. A solar powered system on top of the building can be sold at a premium.

The program has no underperforming routes. In fact, noted Mr. Chestnut, the line routes are operating from “very well” to “stellar” in terms of ridership and efficiency. Due to real time passenger information, most money is spent on services during the times when people rely on them most.

In addition, Advance Transit has invested in expanded facilities. The building is energy efficient, and rainwater is collected for washing the busses. Waste oil from these busses is used for heat. A solar powered system on top of the building can be sold at a premium.

Bikes at Portsmouth
Farmers' Market

Safe Routes
to School

A “Moving School Bus” in Littleton. Used with permission.

Many parents would love for their children to be able to walk or ride their bikes to school. However, in many areas, it simply isn’t possible – because there are no sidewalks.

More and more, we are realizing the importance of walking or biking to school – it is healthier physically and mentally, and provides social opportunities that kids miss when riding with their parents. While buses certainly are important, children living within a mile or two of school would benefit tremendously from being able to get there without depending on a car or bus. But they need a safe way to do so.

We have a friend who sees the Moving School Bus in Gorham some mornings. She said that the kids look healthy and awake and happy.

But sidewalks are expensive!

If you are thinking about putting sidewalks in for the kids in your town to get to school, you may want to check out the Safe Routes to School program.

Safe Routes to School (SRS) is a national program, funded by the Feds. In New Hampshire, the money (we get $1 million a year) and program are managed by the DOT. For more information, click here »

Do you have a SRS program in your community? Send us pictures and tell us how it’s working!

On any random day in New Hampshire, 3% of the population over age 16 cannot drive because of vision impairment. 6% cannot drive because they have had their licenses suspended or revoked. How do they all get about – to work, to school, to shop, to family, to services? Who in your town does not drive?

Home Sweet Home

The notion of home means different things to different people.

For most, the structure of what makes home is formed by our needs or wants: an apartment, a small house, a large house, fancy or plain... but where it is located is often something we cannot control.

What we can afford, for example, may not be in the community or neighborhood where we’d like to be. If we are empty nesters who would like something smaller and in town, sometimes we cannot find anything we can afford.

If we are working at a job that doesn’t pay a whole lot, we want something close to work so we don’t have to drive (and have car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance …) but either there is no place to live at all close by or nothing we can afford. This is critical not only for people looking for a job, but for employers looking for people to work for them.

We used to think of a household as a mom and a dad and 2.5 kids. Now, the latest census shows us that right here in New Hampshire, that has changed dramatically. Now, a household has on average .4 kids. And there are many households with just one person. Almost half of households are headed by someone over 55.

So that really changes how we need to think about places to live for people, doesn’t it?

learn more about “home sweet home”

What are affordable places to live?

According to Federal guidelines, an affordable place to live should take no more than 30 percent of a household’s income.

Example of workforce housing from the early 19th century in Harrisville. This house was divided into two parts, as implied by the front doors: one for women, one for men.

A look at the workforce housing law and what it really means.

FALSE: Effective Jan. 1, 2010, New Hampshire’s new Workforce Housing Law requires cities and towns to build workforce housing and allows developers to circumvent the local planning and zoning process.

TRUTH: The new law does not require a municipality to build workforce housing. The new law (RSA 674:58-61) actually codifies a 1991 New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling.

That ruling, now law, requires municipalities to provide “reasonable and realistic” opportunities for builders to create different kinds of homes that are affordable for buyers with low and moderate incomes.

In addition, this law provides guidance for meeting this objective.
The law defines workforce housing as being ownership housing that is affordable to people with middle income or less. Median incomes currently range from $54,800 to $95,200 depending on the region of the state.
For rental housing, apartments need to be affordable to people with 60 percent of the median income. That requirement equates roughly to the current market rate rent in much of the state.

Who needs an affordable place to live?

In general, people in all income levels within our workforce need a place to live that they can afford. When the average home sale in New Hampshire is $205K ($255K in Rockingham County), that is difficult for, say, first year teachers or firefighters or others who don’t make a lot of money to be able to purchase a home.

Everyone - no household should be forced to pay over 30 percent of its income for housing.

Affordable places to live are not just a problem for people on the bottom of the economic ladder - it is a problem for many households – whether young professionals, others with low or moderate incomes, or even retired or otherwise not-working people.

A myth about home price reductions and affordability in New Hampshire—and the truth

MYTH: With the decline in home prices, renting and home-buying are now more affordable for people with low or moderate incomes

TRUTH: Even under current market conditions, the cost to purchase a home (particularly in New Hampshire) has not decreased enough to erase the long-standing affordability gap that has been problematic for those with low to moderate incomes.

Some potential home owners are faced with the following economic challenges:
  • While home prices are decreasing, the drop is not significant enough to benefit those with a low or moderate income. Buyers that could already afford higher-priced homes may now take advantage of the more rapidly decreasing prices at the upper end of the market and enjoy more square feet for a little less green. However, the prices have not dropped enough to have a positive effect on those who have struggled to purchase a home.
  • A 15 to 20% reduction in the median price of a home would result in a level of affordability roughly equivalent to that present in 2001 -- a time when there was already broad concern about increasingly unaffordable costs for where people wanted to live.
  • With the market in a period of price correction, many lending institutions are tightening access to credit by requiring much higher credit scores and higher down payments than in years past. For people with low or moderate incomes, this is usually prohibitive to purchasing a first home.
  • Households earning less than 80% of the median family income face these affordability challenges and are also more sensitive to increases in energy costs, real estate taxes and the general cost of living. In addition, properties affordable for this income level tend to be "fixer uppers," which means rehabbing and/ or higher maintenance costs that further strain already-tight finances.
Renters – and landlords - are faced with these economic obstacles:
  • Based on the 2006 Census data, nearly half of renter households were paying 30 percent or more toward simply maintaining a home (rent, utilities, etc.). People with low or very low income spend the majority of their earnings on costs affiliated with where they live.
  • Statewide median gross rents have increased only slightly. Sounds like good news; however, as renters' incomes have actually declined between 10 to 15% due to inflation, landlords simply cannot extract any more rent from tenants to cover rising energy and utility costs.

Who says we need more housing?

New Hampshire’s employers have repeatedly cited places to live for the people who work here as the largest limiting factor to their ability to compete in the marketplace. The rapidly rising cost of both homes and rental units over the past decade, coupled with the shrinking supply of places to live around where the jobs are, has made the costs of recruitment and retention escalate at a very high rate.

  • Is affordable housing different from supported or subsidized housing?

    Affordable does not always mean subsidized housing.

    There are a number of state and federal programs that give financial assistance for those with a low income to have a place to live. Typically living spaces available to this group have been physically isolated away from other neighborhoods, often with no easy access to jobs or to ways to get to those jobs. This adds time, stress and costs to an already difficult situation.

  • Why is this a problem? should care about?

    Each one of our communities needs teachers, police officers, and childcare workers. Yet the average wages for these professions aren’t high enough to afford a decent place to live in many of our communities.

    In some cases, this is causing many hard-working people to live from paycheck to paycheck, often in substandard living spaces, and to work many extra hours just to pay rent or meet their mortgage.

    For others who find better, affordable places to live but at some distance from where they work, extended hours and long commutes prevent many from participating in the life of their community.

  • Rather than a housing issue, isn’t this a livable wage issue?

    No. Even workers in higher-paying professional positions, such as teachers, health care providers, engineers and managers who earn healthy incomes, often cannot find a house that is affordable to them. The few houses that do come on the market often carry a high price tag.

    This problem is exacerbated for those with lower incomes.

  • I hear some developers complain it is very difficult to build new homes...

    I hear some developers complain it is very difficult to build new homes that are “affordable” for the buyer or renter, but don’t lose money for the developer. Is that a cop-out, or are there valid reasons?

    Unfortunately, this is true:

    1. The cost of land in places where workforce and other affordable types of residences make sense is often higher than, say, out in rural areas (farther from jobs, where cars are a necessity, etc.)
    2. The regulatory process is lengthy and convoluted. As proposals are held up in the process, the developer is responsible for extended carrying costs, while seeing no return on his investment.
    3. Infrastructure and site costs to develop a parcel do not measurably change as a function of the number of units a developer is allowed to build, so the lower the permitted density, the higher the cost per housing unit.

    Many thanks to the Upper Valley Housing Coalition for allowing us to use their FAQ as a basis for the above. For more information about the Coalition and about workforce housing, go to Upper Valley Housing Coalition. To learn more about this issue on a statewide basis, and to find a coalition for your region, go to Workforce Housing NH

  • It used to be 2.5 kids per household. Now, it is .4 kids per household in NH.

  • Almost half the heads of households in NH are over age 55.

  • Only 20% of NH households have a mom, dad and kid under 18.

  • ¼ of NH households are single people.

  • Half of NH households have fewer than 2 people.


The Preservation Alliance’s endangered properties list helps to draw attention and resources to irreplaceable New Hampshire landmarks. Listing provides a range of technical and financial support and helps attract roll-up-your-sleeves help for local advocates and their preservation projects.

For more information about the 2011 Seven to Save:

NH Preservation Alliance
Eagle Square, PO Box 268, Concord NH 03302-0268
603-224-2281 or www.nhpreservation.org

learn more about “historic preservation”

We are so fortunate here in New Hampshire to have such a rich history – much of which we can see in our historic buildings and old bridges and even stone walls. People come from all over the world to view our past and imagine what it must have been like then – whether in the 1600’s, 1700’s or more recently. For us, it is part of our every-day life.

Our towns have stories that are unique, unusual, and that contribute to the fabric of who we are. The structures serve as reminders – or as monuments or memorials to our past. We suspect that there are many, many more stories that have been forgotten.

(And keep in mind – what we are creating today will be considered “historic” in another hundred years. What stories are being told?)

  • The Balsams,
    Dixville Notch

    NH Preservation Alliance’s 7 to Save program

    The Balsams is one of only five surviving grand hotels in N.H., and is currently for sale. The trustees of the estate of former owner Neil Tillotson have seen two recent buyers withdraw their offers. It is hoped that a new owner and new investment would honor the property’s historic and cultural significance, preserve jobs and continue the Balsams important legacy into the future. Contact: Jeff McIver, 255-3400, jmciver@thebalsams.com

  • Farley Building,

    NH Preservation Alliance’s 7 to Save program

    Built in the Italianate style, with a symmetrical facade and tall bell-tower surmounting the gabled roof, this former school has undergone several alternations since its construction in 1877. It has been vacant since 2005 and despite roof leaks, is in sound condition. Advocates hope that this landmark can avoid demolition by finding a new use that will attract funding for its rehabilitation. Contact: David Sullivan, Hollis Heritage Commission, 494-2362; ds.gcsnab@gmail.com

  • Old Town Hall,

    NH Preservation Alliance’s 7 to Save program

    Vibrant murals by itinerant artist John Avery adorn the walls of the former Freewill Baptist church on the second floor, while the first floor serves as meeting space for town functions. Since 1996 when town offices moved to new quarters, the building’s condition has been a concern, and funding even basic maintenance sometimes leads to talk of demolition. Contact :John Mullen, 755-9062; johnandjillmullen@roadrunner.com

  • Old Grist Mill
    on Little River,

    NH Preservation Alliance’s 7 to Save program

    The Old Grist Mill was built prior to 1717, and is the oldest structure of its type in the state. Neglected for many years, it is in precarious condition though all its interior components appear to be intact. Located within a historic district, the mill has many advocates who would like to see it restored and returned to working order. Contact: Judy Rubin, Kingston Historic District Commission, 642-8228; jlsrubin@comcast.net

  • Pearson Hall,

    NH Preservation Alliance’s 7 to Save program

    Pearson Hall is one of three publicly-owned brick structures on the town common. Built as a private academy building in 1816, the unoccupied structure is now owned by the Haverhill Historical Society, but needs to be fully rehabilitated before it can be used for exhibits and collections storage. The exterior has been partially restored thanks to an LCHIP grant, but progress has stalled and significant additional funding is required to complete the project. Contact: Edith Celley, 603-989-5953, ecelley5953@charter.net

  • Wheaton-Alexander
    House, Winchester

    NH Preservation Alliance’s 7 to Save program

    Wheaton-Alexander House will likely be demolished by the present owner and sold for strip-type commercial development if the court fails to uphold the local Historic District Commission’s decision to deny the demolition permit. Standing at the gateway to the town’s historic center, this house’s uncertain future highlights similar needs statewide for direct investment that maximizes both historic character and economic opportunity. Contact: J. Bellan, 239-7206; jennbellan@myfairpoint.net

  • Charlestown
    Town Hall

    NH Preservation Alliance’s 7 to Save program

    The Charlestown Town Hall was constructed of brick in 1873 to replace a smaller town house, and painted some time after 1940. It originally contained a grocery store, meeting and office space and an elegant second-floor theater, but today only the first floor space meets code requirements. The Historical Society and Rotary Club top the list of frequent users, and their volunteers form a small group that is advocating for greater community involvement and investment to return the hall to full use. Contact: Judy Baraly, 826-9943, jbaraly@comcast.net

  • The East Grafton Church

    Originally built in 1785, the East Grafton Church was also the first meeting house in town. However, the congregation started to dwindle in the 1800’s, and in the mid-century the building was moved and renovated. Traditionally it is considered a Baptist church, but it has also been “Union.” Today, the building is empty.

  • The Grafton Town Hall

    Built in 1900 as a schoolhouse for East Grafton, the Grafton Town Hall was closed as a school when the town regionalized with Canaan. Today it serves as the Town Hall.

  • The Pines Schoolhouse

    Built in 1854 as part of the last school district formed in the town (in the town center), the school closed around 1950 and the building has not been touched since. There is still no electricity, and the original bead board is still there. One of the last classes of students carved their names on the clapboards outside, and these can still be seen. The schoolhouse is currently owned by the town and used for storage by the Historical Society.

  • Grafton Public Library

    Not much has changed since Grafton’s public library was built in 1921, with tin ceilings, oak bookcases, and a hardwood floor. “The library is almost always the nicest building in town,” said Mr. Cushing, and he believes that here is no exception.

  • The Tramp House

    Grafton’s last Railroad building, and is believed to be one of three left in the state. Back in the 19th century and early 20th, towns were supposed to provide shelter and food for the “hobos” who rode the rails. As Grafton was a train stop, they provided a shelter – it is unclear how food was provided. This is actually the third structure on this site. Earlier houses had burned, so this one has a metal roof and is also lined with metal.

  • The Carding Mill

    Built in 1823, and operated until the early 1900’s, from which time it has sat vacant. It is owned by the Historical Society.

  • Grafton Murals

    Three examples of murals in Grafton Historical Society

  • The village of East Grafton

    Seldom changed since this photo was taken in 1905. The village center, which runs for about a mile down the Grafton Turnpike, is the area that Mr. Cushing will research in hopes of having it designated an Historic Village District. At one time a mill village, and then (concurrently) a railroad town, it has always also been a farming community, with small farms part of the “downtown.”


past is

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