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Vision 2020 should focus on Nashua as destination city

By Staff | Sep 19, 2010

A commendable effort to create a 10-year blueprint for the city of Nashua with input from its residents began last March. One objective was to ensure executed decisions rather than ideas embedded permanently in discussion if not altogether forgotten.

Success requires these goals to be re-evaluated on a regular basis over the next 10 years, and it behooves the city’s leaders to encourage residents, the private sector and nonprofit organizations to work collectively toward them.

One goal Nashua should focus on is becoming a “destination city.” This idea might be met with some reluctance, yet in some ways the city has already moved in that direction, only to a limited extent. That extent is not comprehensive enough to nurture resilience through economic fluctuations.

Many New England residents will shop in Nashua but are not anchoring their travel into our city on anything else. For example:

• An arts district could be a potential draw.

• Increased promotion of our parks could help stimulate tourism and revenue. Few people realize Mine Falls Park is nearly the size of Hyde Park in London. A plethora of outdoor enthusiasts would travel to visit our parks more regularly if properly promoted.

• The growth of Nashua’s higher-education institutions should be encouraged, including efforts to draw more out-of-state students to the area and nurturing a low-tax and low-regulation environment that allows more diverse shops and restaurants to flourish around these institutions. The continued growth of an academic community in Nashua would result in an increase of academic and intellectual activity and capital for our city.

These ideas could all contribute to positive changes in the next 10 years, particularly as residents from neighboring states visit Nashua for more than its retail stores. Improved pedestrian areas to manage the influx of residents and visitors would require investment in parking and park-and-ride facilities and, of course, commuter rail – there’s no question any goals we set for the next 10 years will require investment.

Improving the city’s presentation inside and out is paramount as well. One example: Our city’s website (www.gonashua.com) is practical, updated and informative, but adding emphasis to things that could attract tourism dollars might help as much as improving key areas in Nashua itself, particularly downtown.

Downtown Nashua’s French Hill and Tree Streets areas were mentioned repeatedly during Vision 2020 discussions.

The Tree Streets could improve with the creation of business incubators. The Millyard and Mine Falls Park intersection deserves maintenance; the running trail that should loop from the Ledge Street side to the Spine Road side of Mine Falls Park deserves attention as it amounts to a parking lot connecting the two.

Many restaurants and shops could attract visitors to that corner if the area were made attractive enough to become a downtown gateway to the park.

In the French Hill area, revitalization of Canal Street is crucial. Making the small, culinarily diverse restaurants that have flourished along that road more accessible and visually appealing could have a positive impact on the neighborhood.

Improving park maintenance in the vicinity and supporting efforts to expand historical preservation work into the neighborhood (St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church deserves decisive attention) will make a difference. Although these are not new ideas, a commitment to execution can materialize these aspirations.

Ultimately, both neighborhoods would benefit from an increased sense of ownership among its residents. A pair of studies by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University highlights the importance of home ownership. The studies show that homeowners are more active in civic efforts and more invested in long-term goals – a critical consideration if we are to think in 10-year blocks.

Organizations like Habitat for Humanity are fully invested in helping people become homeowners and in partnering with the city and other nonprofits in revitalization efforts. These are the type of efforts that will increase the pool of residents who are firmly invested in working toward executable goals over the next 10 years and beyond.

The fact that such organizations make self-sufficiency their greatest resource can help assuage concerns over how to pay for the goals we set as residents. Even if self-reliance and ownership are challenges in their own realms, we need to have a vision and a set of milestones to aspire to.

We cannot afford to succumb to inertia because we feel threatened by the need to find resources to materialize these ideas. The wisest among our most fiscally conservative leaders know this. Ultimately, the city will need to turn to its nonprofits and the private sector for the greatest potential solutions.

It will soon be six months since residents gathered in several locations to discuss new goals. It might be time to organize a coalition of entities and citizens who will not give up on seeing many of our aspirations materialize by 2020.

Eduardo J. Lopez-Reyes is president of the board of directors of Greater Nashua Habitat for Humanity in Nashua.

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