Just what is a rural community?
Is it a town of a few thousand residents, hardly any sidewalks or traffic lights, a couple of businesses in the center, and homes on a minimum of an acre or two?
Or is it a community of 20,000 or 30,000, with cul-de-sacs and a sprinkling of working farms, and “plastic strips” of big box and small shop plazas, fast food restaurants and gas stations lining the entrances to town?
East Derry looks rural, as do parts of Londonderry and just about all of Chester. But Routes 28 and 102 are just the opposite as they head through Londonderry and Derry. Rather than rural, many southern New Hampshire towns have a more urban image, although they aren’t ringing a large city.
Yet whenever a Master Plan comes around for revision, or a “visioning” occurs, the residents who bother to participate emphasize the desire to maintain their town’s “rural” image.
Going along with that is the frequent mention of a “walkable/bikeable” community. If you lived in a town like Derry, you could walk the downtown and find places to stop for coffee or buy books or chocolate or shoes. But you’d still need a car and a parking space to get there unless you lived in an apartment or one of the few nearby homes, and you’d likely use that same car to get to the grocery stores on the outskirts. Downtown Derry is decidedly “walkable /bikeable”. But where’s the pedestrian traffic?
Meanwhile, our town’s focus on development in areas where a car is vital like Route 28 in Derry, Exit 5 and Route 102 in Londonderry, and Route 111 in Hampstead and many offerings, from doughnut shops to drugstores, include drive through.
“Walkable /bikeable” communities definitely serve a purpose, and can work well for young people starting out, or older people downsizing. But they come with a definite caveat. You have to want to live close to your neighbors. And it appears that most local residents want a home on at least a small acreage, rather than snuggling up close to their neighbors in apartments or townhouses or condos.
Most of us who moved here did so to live in a rural setting, and many hoped to leave urban life behind. But we took our cars.
Do we want both plenty of shopping strips, and plenty of privacy at home? For me yes, but neither translates into a “walkable /bikeable” community, and we’re not sure the combination equals the rural living we seem to want it.
The traditional labels of “rural” and “walkable/bikeable” may not be the best choice of words. Remember why you moved here? How to find the right words for how we want to live is the question.