February 15, 2007

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Manchester Publisher's Note: To be a successful satellite
By†Jody Reese

Rising rents and home values in Boston could be a major boon for southern New Hampshire and Manchester in particular.

In an opinion piece this week in the Wall Street Journal, think-tank wonk Joel Kotkin argues the high costs of living in cities such as Boston, New York and San Fransisco have fueled the growth of secondary cities, including Charlotte, Houston and Atlanta. Based on that argument, itís reasonable to conclude that the high costs of the New Yorks and Bostons of the country have helped push growth into smaller satellite or suburban areas, such as Manchester, Providence or northern New Jersey. Another problem for expensive cities like Boston is that younger people are choosing to live in other places, places they can afford to live. Providence has been lucky enough to get some of that youth spillover.

Southern New Hampshire, on the other hand, hasnít seen as much of that spillover. And thatís a shame because, according to Kotkin, younger workers ó who plan to have families ó are key to an areaís economic growth.

Manchester and the greater southern New Hampshire region need to do more to attract students and workers fleeing the high rents and home values in Boston. The recent growth in nightlife, in terms of restaurants, bars, shows and sporting events, has helped in recent years, as have groups such as the Manchester Young Professionals. But more needs to be done. There are other things that help a region grow, but these are a big ones:

ē For starters we need jobs. The Manchester region is blessed with a number of small to medium-size businesses that continue to grow. However, more large employers, such as Fidelity, would do wonders in attracting younger workers to the area. Thatís why it was such a mistake to use the Hackett Hill area for a school instead of using it to attract a large employer. We should use our proximity to Boston, and that educated workforce, to lure big employers up here. Itís been disappointing to see how this areaís economic development officials have failed again and again to attract these types of employers.

ē We also need more of an entertainment infrastructure. That doesnít necessarily mean nightclubs, though they are an important component. Restaurants, parks, museums, the arts, cafes, colleges, skiing and other lifestyle attractions are necessary to bring up those Boston workers.

ē Property values and apartment rents need to be reasonable. As it is now, rents and home values are far lower here than they are in the Boston area. Without more building, however, prices could outrun incomes, making it too expensive to live here. Area towns could encourage denser developments and cluster housing that conserves more forest and field areas but still allows for residential growth.

In the end it will take a concerted effort for our leaders, state and local, to take advantage of Bostonís loss. As it is now, there is little of that leadership.