Meet the 3 New Hampshires: north, south and middle

For several years I have been involved in many volunteer and pro bono efforts to better understand the “built environment” in New England. My work puts me in front of many organizations and firms developing real estate for living, working, education, health services and recreation.

Recently I was asked to sit on the New Hampshire Department of Transportation Long-Range Business Plan Advisory Committee. I was tasked to be the real estate and development sector representative familiar with the entire state. In such forums, we are often surprised to learn that what we have observed and take for fact is a revelation to others.

Transportation is largely roads in New Hampshire, and I drive over 35,000-40,000 miles of them every year. I am always excited to drive down a road that I have never been on before (it happens about once a month).

Subliminally we all understand that there are differences between Salem, Nashua, Manchester and North Country communities such as Berlin, Littleton and North Conway. In fact, communities in the middle part of the state, such as Keene, Concord, Laconia and Dover/Rochester are significantly different from their denser, busier and more expensive neighbors to the south. At the same time, these middle-tier communities seem just as dense, busy and expensive to their North Country counterparts.

What’s the point? Bill Norton’s thesis is that New Hampshire is not one homogenous cohesive collection of communities. Instead, I see the state in three distinct tiers or regions.

Only a handful of communities in the Northern Tier do not have a state route as their main street. There are economic challenges in these communities. The low-density rural environment is both a benefit and a challenge. The Middle Tier is more suburban. The cities are slightly larger. There are more stores and services, with more colleges, more people, more density.

The Southern Tier is more urban than suburban. Nashua is twice the population of Concord on half the land area (32 square miles vs. 64). Manchester is three times the population of Concord on half the land. Concord’s day time population doubles (80,000 vs. the nighttime population of 42,000). There are more students, immigrants and refugees in these communities. There is more traffic and congestion, and therefore there is more opportunity for transit and other alternatives to single-occupant vehicles.

As New Hampshire looks to plan its transportation future, the focus is on mobility — walking, biking, auto, trucks, buses, trains and planes. Many, maybe most of us, will not be getting to work in 2025 the way we do today.

There are lots of things we can do to reduce traffic and better manage volumes on our roads allowing us to fund other modes of mobility and better repair and maintain the roads and bridges we already have with the limited dollars allocated to transportation which are in competition with education, health care and other public services.

Looking at the state as three distinct regions allows us to think about transportation in different ways. As a planning model this is very helpful. The boundaries defining these regions are purposely “thick” lines. The borders or edges are soft not hard. In many places the region’s transition from urban to suburban or suburban to rural is impossible to discern. This planning concept is more art than science but intuitively it allows us to acknowledge what we value in each tier as well as what challenges reside there.

Bill Norton is president of Norton Asset Management. In addition to his active brokerage work, he is a Counselor of Real Estate. He can be reached at

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