Franklin, New Hampshire, like many post-industrial communities, is seeking ways to bolster employment opportunities and revitalize its downtown. In addition to finding ways to spur economic development, Franklin wants to ensure the availability of affordable housing options for seniors, who often leave the city to find housing elsewhere, robbing Franklin of vital civic, economic, and cultural resources. "Franklin for a Lifetime" focused on creating a healthy and vibrant community and a reinvigorated downtown for all ages to enjoy. The workshop, held on April 9 – 11, 2015, was hosted by the city of Franklin in partnership with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Community and Economic Development Program (UNHCE CED) and Plan New Hampshire. The National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Department of Agriculture supported the workshop through the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™. Leading up to a the workshop, the Franklin Team facilitated a number of community events including a series of storytelling events entitled “Franklin Voices,” from January to March. There was also a post- workshop city council meeting featuring a presentation by Mayor of Perry, New York, Rick Hauser. Overall, the two-and half day event featured over one hundred participants.
The goal of the workshop was to explore how communities across the state of New Hampshire can begin to plan for their aging populations through economic development, innovative housing options, planning and community design. Over the course of the workshop, however, attendees discovered that broader quality of life concerns lack generational divides. Research has shown that millennials (those who were born in the 1980s and 90s,) and seniors prefer walkable communities close to shops, restaurants and community services. Franklin was selected as a case study for exploring this statewide issue with the findings from the CIRD workshop made available to communities around the state and region and hopefully replicated.
Franklin, NH, also referred to as “The Three Rivers City,” is a small rural community (pop: 8477) that was first incorporated in 1828 and became a city in 1895. The city is located at the junction of the Pemigewasset and Winnepesaukee Rivers, approximately twenty miles from Concord, and covers 27.3 square miles of land and 1.8 square miles of inland water area. Franklin is defined by a strong cultural and historic identity grounded in its rich industrial manufacturing past. Historic mill buildings, while vacant, remain part of the fabric of Franklin’s downtown streetscape.
The city has an active arts community including the Franklin Opera House, located in the City Hall building, and features community and high school theater programs. The recreation department offers classes in jewelry making, bead weaving, music, Irish step dancing, ballet, and tap. During the workshop, the arts community was strongly represented. On Friday night, the Main Street was busy with families and friends enjoying dueling acappella groups, three floors of art and sculpture displays in one of the downtown buildings, and watching one act plays at the Opera House.
UNH Cooperative Extension's Community and Economic Development Program (UNHE CED) offers assistance to communities in New Hampshire to help them increase public participation in community decision-making. UNHE CED provides assistance in the following areas, including; outreach and engagement, needs assessments, community forums and visioning processes, facilitator training, action planning and local leadership development. UNHE CED played a critical role in the Franklin for a Lifetime workshop, providing staffing and support throughout a three-part engagement series for the residents and decision makers of Franklin, NH.
Plan NH's mission is to encourage good planning, design, and development because they believe what we build, where we build, and how we build has a significant impact on the health and vitality of a community. Plan NH works with organizations throughout the state towards realizing a vision of an economically, environmentally, and socially vibrant New Hampshire.
In addition to UNH Cooperative Extension, Plan NH, the City of Franklin, CIRD, and the NEA, “Choose Franklin,” a citizen’s group established in 2004 with the intent to promote the city by building on past achievements and facilitating future success for Franklin, was invaluable to the workshop planning process. The group is also committed to taking the project forward post-workshop. The structure of the Franklin resource team, which brought in federal, state, and local partners as well as nationally renowned professionals, will serve as a model for future CIRD workshops.
The Workshop Presenters included:
*denotes the CIRD sponsored Resource Team Members
Overall, the workshop did an excellent job in unifying the Franklin community around a core vision and mobilizing participants to tackle a set of actionable goals. Franklin defined livability as the need for smaller and more efficient homes that are affordable and accessible to downtown without an automobile. Developing affordable and desirable housing is key to stimulating business and retaining both young and elderly population in Franklin.
Based on the feedback and information collected during the pre-workshop engagement activities and during the small group discussions held on Friday April 10th, the Steering Committee created 5 action committees to begin to implement a series of identified projects. Participants felt that downtown revitalization and mobility improvements would contribute most to the overall health of the community, while also making Franklin more appealing to both senior and millennial residents. To tackle these challenges Franklin established five action groups:
1. Marketing: “Champions for Franklin” (to promote Franklin and its image through newsletters, speaking to community groups, press releases, communicating with community members/businesses, etc.)
2. Community events and recreational opportunities
3. Housing and infrastructure
4. Arts and culture
5. Volunteerism and civic life
“I want to note the energy that is evident in the city around their future. We can’t quantify that energy, but it is truly there. I have had folks thank me for coming to Franklin and doing the workshop and associated work. While the City has been working on projects even before the workshop, community residents are aware that this workshop has infused energy into the City, which CIRD and NEA made possible.” -Sharon Cowen, UNH Cooperative Extension
With respect to business development, the workshop advocated for the diversification of business to include a mix of people Franklin wants to support (eg older people, tourists, young people, etc). To do this, Franklin hopes to attract small, incubator-type businesses, like rotating pop-up stores, while supporting existing small business owners.
To enhance overall quality of life, the action committees pledged to follow through on their plan to create more public spaces downtown, like an outdoor movie theater, a farmers’ market, and expanded gardens. The committee also stressed the following:
The workshop successfully demonstrated that addressing the issue of aging in place is a community-wide challenge, and one that is not limited just to housing or healthcare, but includes developing a more livable community for all.