The National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals awarded UNH Cooperative Extension’s Community and Economic Development Program Team the Northeast Region Award for Excellence in Community Development Programming for its work on “Franklin for A Lifetime,” a partnership with the City of Franklin, Plan NH, the Orton Family Foundation, and the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™.
The Franklin for a Lifetime project explored how a New Hampshire community can respond to challenges—such as an aging population and a declining downtown—by engaging people to craft a vision and an action plan that addresses housing, infrastructure, social services, recreation, the arts, downtown revitalization, economic development, planning and community design. The goals of the project were to:
- Educate community members and stakeholders about the challenges and opportunities posed by an aging population in Franklin and the state;
- Educate community members about economic revitalization opportunities for the city;
- Engage the Franklin community in developing and implementing a community action plan that reflects residents’ vision for the future of their city.
A community comes together
Franklin for a Lifetime involved roughly 150 community members, stakeholders and volunteers. The project began with three months of community engagement activities with residents and businesses, followed by a two-and-a-half day workshop with state and national speakers and a design charrette in April and May 2015. Engagement included small group discussions, focus groups, storytelling and children’s artwork to elicit input from the community on a vision for the future of the city.
Following the workshop, groups of citizens and city officials met to plan and implement projects suggested by citizen input. Action groups have created a community newsletter, identified and led citizen volunteer projects to enhance the city, collaborated with property owners to develop downtown housing options and repurpose boarded-up mill buildings, and connected with state and federal funding resources. Cooperative Extension is still involved to provide technical assistance if and when needed.
Franklin for a Lifetime, action groups and related projects have generated strong energy and collaborative efforts within the city.
“We know that we have a lot to do in the community, but if we can get people excited about change, we know that it can be done,” says George Dzujna, steering committee member and city council member.
Since the program, 28 participants have reported new leadership roles and opportunities undertaken in Franklin, three new businesses have been created and others are being discussed and more than $82,000 of grants and resources have been leveraged by the community, including a $50,000 USDA Rural Development Grant for creation of a city economic development position to further economic revitalization in the downtown.
Franklin’s successes one year out
On June 23, the community came together to celebrate the achievements of Franklin for a Lifetime one year after the workshop. The event began with a walking tour of downtown, followed by a presentation of current and proposed projects.
As Dick Lewis, city planner, indicated in his summary report, “The successful 2015 Franklin for a Lifetime event laid the groundwork for a variety of projects that can, and are, facilitating initiatives to assist in the overall redevelopment of Downtown Franklin, both from an economic and housing perspective.”
Projects combine the resources, talents and ideas of property and business owners, non-profit organizations and private investors, as well as newcomers and established community members—all partnering with city government.
Examples of new business development in Franklin are many. Two businesses are currently expanding into larger spaces and new full service outdoor outfitter is rehabilitating unused space in a historical building to open a retail store. The store will provide rafting, kayaking and bicycle sales, along with guided tours, to take advantage of Franklin’s rivers and existing bike and walking trails.
A small lot has been transformed into a park with art sculptures. A co-working space and restaurant/ microbrewery are under development. A separate project, spearheaded by Concord Area Trust for Community Housing (CATCH) and the City has enabled the design and financing of 45 units of housing to be developed in the historic downtown Riverbend Mill, currently standing idle.
Also important, relations between local government and property owners in the downtown have strengthened and the two are partnering on redevelopment projects. In sum, the energy and collaboration created by Franklin for a Lifetime continue to empower its citizens and government to work together towards a vision of their community that will meet its challenges