Citizen Planners in the Monadnock Region

  • June 18, 2024

Last week at SWRPC’s annual meeting, we shined a light on citizen planners, the many volunteers who shape our communities through planning, policy development, and projects—getting good work done. Many of these citizen planners serve on local boards and committees while others contribute by spearheading a specific project or initiative. We’re fortunate in the Monadnock Region to have many talented, committed citizen planners who care deeply about the places they live and are willing to put in the leg work to make them special.

We were joined by three citizen planners, who have each worked on a planning issue critical to the vitality and well-being of the region. Bonnie Tucker, co-chair of the Peterborough Affordable Housing Committee, presented her group’s efforts to educate and mobilize the community to address the local housing shortage. Susan Peters told the story of her work with the Dublin Transportation Committee, who led the effort to calm traffic and improve safety in the village center. Julianna Dodson recounted the work of the Chesterfield Revitalization Group to rehabilitate, reimagine, and redevelop a contaminated property in Spofford Village.

Their insights were inspirational. They also held many lessons for how volunteers can effect positive change on tough issues, including:

  1. Put people and relationships first. If you’re going to jump into a big community project, then you want to jump in with people you trust, respect, and—ideally— enjoy spending time with. Take the moments and create the space necessary to connect on a human and personal level. It will pay off over the long haul and in ways that extend beyond the project itself.
  2. Welcome people in. It sounds simple, but it’s often not. To authentically engage the full range of community members that have a stake in a particular issue, one often needs to get creative. For example, the Peterborough Affordable Housing Committee organized a bus tour to help educate residents and others about accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Instead of just talking about the value of this particular housing type, attendees got to see with their own eyes how ADUs can create housing opportunities while blending in with the surrounding neighborhood.
  3. Involve youth! When invited to the table, young people have an abundance of energy and talent that they can contribute to local planning projects. They keep things fresh. In Peterborough, high school theater students are dramatizing a comic to demystify misconceptions surrounding workforce housing.
  4. Prioritize, focus, and celebrate along the way. Volunteers’ time is limited and valuable. In order to maximize their impact, articulating clear, achievable goals is essential, especially when dealing with complex, long-term issues like housing or transportation. Also, in order to maintain focus and motivation, it’s important to recognize milestones. Celebrating even seemingly small wins helps keep the volunteers energized.
  5. Align your community. This includes communicating the goals of your group or committee to your neighbors, municipal staff, and local officials. For example, the Peterborough Affordable Housing committee created a mission statement, which it presented to each municipal board or committee with a function related to housing. Alignment can also require the establishment of a common vocabulary. The Dublin Transportation Committee, for instance, worked to add the term “traffic calming” to the town’s shared knowledge base.

In addition to celebrating some successful examples of citizen planning in the Monadnock Region, the annual meeting also featured resources that are available through NH Office of Planning and Development (NH OPD). Heather Shank, Senior Planner at NH OPD, offered a tour of the agency’s website and the wealth of information it contains relevant to the work of citizen planners. Examples include monthly webinars, the Plan-Link listserv, an A to Z subject list, and the NH Housing Toolbox. Check out Heather’s slide deck for more detail.

Incoming Executive Director Todd Horner provided a recap of the staff’s busy year. The SWRPC team continues to work across a wide range of planning issues, assisting local communities on transportation projects, brownfields remediation, energy initiatives, economic and community development, among other subjects. Learn more about the agency’s activities by accessing slides from the staff report here.

Finally, it’s worth recognizing and thanking all the volunteers, staff, and partners who make the work of SWRPC possible. We’re lucky to have engaged commissioners, a committed board of directors, and a fantastic network of member municipalities. The SWRPC team is looking forward to another action-packed year of planning and projects in the Monadnock Region. As always, if there’s a planning issue in your community that you’d like to discuss, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re a phone call away: (603) 357-0557.