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Friday, July 25, 2014

A melting pot off Amherst Street

EDITOR’S NOTE: Neighborhoods by the Numbers is a multipart six-day series profiling Nashua neighborhoods by digging into economic data. To read previous installments, visit nashuatelegraph.com.

According to his parents, 10-year old Josh Jalundhwala is usually a pretty reserved kid. But ask him about the diversity he sees in his neighborhood and he has a lot to say. He knows families who moved to Nashua from Nepal, Spain and Brazil, not to mention from various far-flung parts of the U.S. ...

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Neighborhoods by the Numbers is a multipart six-day series profiling Nashua neighborhoods by digging into economic data. To read previous installments, visit nashuatelegraph.com.

According to his parents, 10-year old Josh Jalundhwala is usually a pretty reserved kid. But ask him about the diversity he sees in his neighborhood and he has a lot to say. He knows families who moved to Nashua from Nepal, Spain and Brazil, not to mention from various far-flung parts of the U.S.

“It’s very friendly,” he said. “There’s a lot of people around here.”

Josh’s family came to Nashua from India in the late ’90s, and his father, Utpal, said the area draws a lot of immigrants from that nation. He said there’s a spiraling effect. People from India helped bring the nation’s traditions and institutions, like holiday festivals, restaurants and kids’ cultural classes, to Nashua, and that, in turn, encouraged more families to come.

“There’s a really strong Indian community around here,” he said.

But Jalundhwala said there are more general reason that his family chose their home on Kessler Farm Drive, just off Route 3’s Exit 8. It’s “basically a safe neighborhood,” with decent schools and easy access to Massachusetts.

This part of the city, Census Tract 102, covers more than 5 square miles in the northwest quadrant of the city. Much of that space is taken up by the Northwest Conservation Land and the airport, but about 6,800 people live in the area, largely on small residential streets off the Amherst Street commercial strip. It’s an area of people with diverse backgrounds. More than one in five residents was born in a different country – the largest portion in the city aside from the Main Street area – and nearly three in four come from outside New Hampshire. Homes here are split about 50-50 between rentals and owner-occupied units, and people move in and out quite frequently, with more than a quarter of residents living in a different home than last year.

Juan Mejia is part of that 25 percent. He’s originally from Cuba, but lived in Miami for many years before coming to Nashua. Mejia and his wife, who’s from Colombia, moved to Bradford Street just a few months ago, after he found a job in the area through an online search. So far, Mejia said, the couple hasn’t found many other Spanish speakers in the area, but they have neighbors from Russia and Poland.

“It’s a lot of people from different cultures,” he said.

The area’s diversity appeals to some longtime residents. Jan and Dean Mottard have lived on Oriole Drive for 17 years. Pretty much everyone on the street has a dog, Jan said, but in other respects they’re all different. There’s a family from India and a couple from Scandinavia, single parents, empty nesters and lots of small children.

“I love the neighborhood,” she said. “Everyone is pleasant.”

There’s also an entirely different sort of diversity in the neighborhood, the Mottards said. With lots of green space and ponds nearby, deer, moose, hawks and even bears sometimes drop by.

Not everyone is so pleased with the area, though. At two condominium complexes near the northern border of the city, Millstone Village and Knightsbridge Arms, some residents said conditions have deteriorated. A rough housing market has forced some condo owners to rent units they might otherwise have sold, and that seems to have created some tensions between longtime residents, who tend to own their units, and new, more transient renters.

Just south from those condominiums, in the Amherst Village apartment complex, Louis Sanchez sat in the shade of some huge pine trees, watching his 6-year-old twin sons play with some other children. Sanchez moved from Puerto Rico to Nashua, where some members of his family lived, at age 16, about 15 years ago.

“I came for vacation and decided to stay,” he said.

He said he moved to his current apartment from West Hollis Street more than two years ago, and he hasn’t regretted the decision.

“This is calm, you know?” he said. “I bring the kids outside all the time.”