'Monied' city gets some national attention

Try to guess which one of these designations belongs to Nashua: A) industrial metropolis; B) boom town; C) monied suburb; or D) tractor country.

Fine, tractor country was never a serious contender. But if you guessed C, you’d be right. When a group of researchers decided to categorize communities across the nation by their defining qualities, that’s where Nashua fit in.

The Gate City is one of 24 communities nationwide selected to participate in a project called Patchwork Nation, a joint effort by the Christian Science Monitor and PBS News Hour to take a fresh approach to economic reporting. The point is to stop talking about the economy as a national issue and take a deeper look at how individual communities with different defining qualities are affected – or not affected – by the recession. The project also looks at how each of these distinct communities is emerging from the recession.

If you watch

“There is no national economic story. The national economic story is just a bunch of local data aggregated to provide a big picture that may or may not be accurate,” said Dante Chinni, director of the Patchwork Nation project, who has partnered with a professor from the University of Maryland.

“When you get beyond data, you have actual communities . . . Let’s see what’s going on there.”

Still, some generalizations had to be made. The project assigned one of 12 categories to each of the country’s more than 3,000 counties, many of which are diverse in themselves. But Chinni said it provided a more accurate picture than trying to assign a generalized category to an entire state.

In addition to the four designations noted in the quiz above, there are: Minority Central, Military Bastions, Evangelical Epicenters, Immigration Nation, Campus and Careers, Mormon Outposts, Emptying Nests and Service Worker Centers.

For each of the 12 categories, two cities were selected to be studied in further depth as the “real life” examples.

Nashua’s sister “monied suburb” is Los Alamos, N.M. The category describes wealthier communities with a median household income $15,000 above the national average that are highly educated, less diverse than America as a whole and full of swing voters that voted Democratic in the 2008 presidential election, according to the project Web site.

That sounds like Nashua, right?

Blog about Nashua

Project coordinators have also partnered with local public television stations across the country to find local bloggers for the project, and, in some cases, put together local television segments about the project.

On Sunday at 9:30 a.m., New Hampshire Public Television’s weekly show “Outlook” will feature a roundtable discussion on the Nashua region featuring Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce President Chris Williams, The Telegraph editorial page Editor Nick Pappas and restaurant owner Michael Buckley. The segment will be rebroadcast Monday at 6 p.m.

Outlook host Richard Ager said his first thought when he heard about Nashua’s “monied suburb” designation was: “And the last time you guys drove through Nashua was . . . ? If you want monied suburb, try Amherst.”

But what has emerged from the process so far, Ager said, is an increasingly complex picture of what the city has going for it, including a “relative resilience” in the health of the local economy.

“Nashua is too easily judged because it’s got these really fast roads that go through it. People are just kind of zipping through. Then when you do get off, you get through these impenetrable traffic jams,” Ager said. “It takes getting out of there and going through back streets to figure out that there’s more to it than that.”

Patchwork Nation originally began last year as a Christian Science Monitor project to cover the presidential election beyond the traditional “red” and “blue” state designations. It was – and still is – funded with a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Early this year, PBS signed on as a partner, bringing additional funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the project was refocused under the lens of the economy.

On the Net

For more information about Patchwork Nation and to view the map that assigns a category to every county in the nation, visit: http://patchworknation.csmonitor.com.