Livable MHT interviews Bill Fulton on smart growth and prosperity in Manchester, NH

This scene on Elm Street is the sort of livable community that Boomers and Millenials are looking for – photo by Nicholas Erwin
Crossposted from LivableMHT.

Boasting the Millyard and an accessible downtown, Manchester has a beautiful built environment that most cities would love to have. The city’s challenge now and in coming years, said Smart Growth America Vice President for Policy and Programs William Fulton, is how to best take advantage of our built environment and other assets.

In his keynote talk, “Pursuing Prosperity: Smart Growth in Manchester,” delivered Wednesday, June 6, as part of the 2012 Intown Manchester Annual Luncheon, the former Ventura, Calif., mayor said New Hampshire’s Queen City is positioned better than most cities to capitalize on our assets, but that we must focus on creating a quality of place where people want to live if we want to attract the high end talent and capital necessary to thrive new economy.

“Money and talent can and do go anywhere. The key is to create a desirable quality of place that can’t be moved and can’t be easily replicated,” he said.

Boomers and Millennials — the two groups driving both the housing and the jobs markets — are trending away from suburban living, he said. Cities that want to attract them must create environments in which it is possible to live in close proximity to all aspects of their lives — work, recreation, shopping, etc.

“Boomers, especially, and I’m among them, don’t want to spend the rest of the weekends of their lives on a riding mower. There’s too much else interesting to do,” he said.

Proximity and ease of getting from Point A to Point B is also important in attracting Millennials, who unlike Boomers, will often first choose where they want to live and only then determine how they will support themselves once there.

“You are in an enormous competition for your kids,” Fulton said.

For Manchester, a blessing in disguise, he said, is downtown’s glut of empty commercial space. With productivity gains seen in recent decades in both manufacturing and office environments, the amount of space needed per worker has been halved from 300 square feet to 150 square feet. While bad in the short run, he said this should be seen as an opportunity in the long run.

Case in point from my perspective is Tower Mill at 300 Bedford Street. This five-story former industrial and warehouse space is currently being converted by Brady Sullivan Properties to house 110 apartments. Located in the middle of the Millyard and all of its diverse mix of businesses (read: employers), this location is a stone’s throw from downtown’s dining and entertainment options, as well as Arms Park and the Merrimack River, Fisher Cats Stadium and the River Walk/Hands Across the Merrimack Bridge.

Of course, Fulton noted, as have many before him, that work still remains to better integrate the Millyard with downtown proper.

“The Millyard was designed to be totally separate from the rest of the city,” he said. “That’s a challenge.”