By Zoe Chapin,
On a recent overcast spring day in Franklin, New Hampshire, Concord Monitor journalist Elodie Reed visited retired teacher and new business owner George Mansfield as he sat outside his bookstore. Mansfield recently closed his bookstore in Tilton, NH and opted to set up shop in Franklin instead. Surveying Central Street, he said, “I think it’s starting on an upward trend, downtown here especially.”
Mansfield isn’t the only resident to notice the positive changes that have been sweeping the small, 8,000 person town of Franklin. In June, citizens gathered for a walking tour to celebrate one year of momentum and engagement, following the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™Franklin for a Lifetime workshop. Last year’s convening at the workshop brought Franklin to a shared vision: a town that is a welcoming and supportive place for people of all ages. Key action items Franklin for a Lifetime project outlined were: create affordable and accessible housing for all ages, create more quality public spaces, clean up the riverfront, coordinate downtown improvement, and encourage new, diverse businesses to open.
Since then, five action groups (volunteerism, recreation and community events, arts and culture, marketing, and housing and economic development) have met through the course of the year to implement ideas and projects generated by the workshop.
This USDA grant has successfully funded a new economic development expert, Concord-based development consultant Niel Cannon, to further economic revitalization in the downtown. Cannon continues to consult with downtown business owners, while also working with prominent local developer Todd Workman, who has acquired several Franklin properties with the intention of attracting tech firms, and spurring brownfield redevelopment of old industrial buildings.
Another $7,000 from the Franklin Savings Bank contributed to the establishment of the Franklin Studio, a recently opened local coffee shop and arts space that sells local New Hampshire wares. Even better, Franklin Studio is undergoing an expansion to its space and will reopen in August. Additionally, $21,000 from the Franklin Savings Bank went towards helping community partners, PermaCityLife, Franklin Business and Industrial Development Corporation, and the Franklin Industrial Park cover closing costs and administrative fees.
The 5 action groups have created a community newsletter, facilitated citizen-led volunteer projects to enhance the city and collaborated with property owners and developers to expand downtown housing options and repurpose boarded-up mill buildings.
Quality greenspace has also been expanded in the last year. A small lot has been transformed into “art in the park” featuring metal sculptures. Benches designed by high school students have been created, making the park a place to visit with neighbors or host community events. The riverfront has been cleaned and has become a destination for locals and visitors, an initiative that began when young people in Franklin decided to become stewards of the riverfront, volunteering to collect litter and improve the appearance of this valuable community asset. All this adds up to a town whose shared vision has been catalyzed and activated.
It is evident that Franklin’s citizens are successfully leveraging their federal funding resources to create big changes. As workshop facilitator Sharon Cowen from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension explains, “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.” By creating vibrant public green spaces, diversifying amenities and businesses downtown, and expanding housing options particularly for the older residents, Franklin is effectively planning for an aging population, while increasing livability and sense of place for all residents.