People change places. This may seem obvious, but it bears repeating when you’re trying to assess the trends and the expectations of a small state like ours — one that has undergone substantial growth in just a decade or so. And places change people. This is a fact that I can attest to personally. While I haven’t adopted a flinty Yankee accent in the 16 years I’ve called New Hampshire home, I have found myself to be much more flinty in other ways. My sense of humor has become a bit drier, my sense of community less casual but somehow more solid, more tightly bound to place than the “Southern hospitality” I grew up with.
The dynamic relationship between people and place is explored this month in a story we call “Farewell, Cow Hampshire.” While interviewing the seven local experts we picked, we were a bit surprised by the lack of sentimentality they expressed for the “old” New Hampshire. Truth is, I’ve noticed that even some of the state’s crankiest curmudgeons secretly enjoy the cultural and recreational perks of an increasingly upscale populace.
Of course, along with population growth and “gentrification” come a tendency for urban sprawl and a host of issues that no one would wish on our state (nor even on Massachusetts), but here the power of place kicks in. No matter how much newcomers hanker for Starbucks, need a 24-hour Home Depot nearby, or yearn to attend a local ballet, they probably chose to live here for some core values, for scenic bliss and a gritty charm that they knew they couldn’t find elsewhere. And soon they work to defend those qualities. I saw this in small towns I once covered as a reporter — like Dunbarton, where even newcoming gentry attended town meeting, ran for office and put “Keep Dunbarton a Secret” bumper stickers on their shiny new pickup trucks.
This magazine finds itself right in the middle of this dynamic, wanting to somehow celebrate the change and revere the traditional character of our state at the same time. It’s a tricky balance, and to do a better job we want some help from both newcomers and old-timers. I’m assembling a “focus group” of subscribers who read the magazine each month and who would be willing to receive a monthly e-mail from me. They’ll just need to answer a few questions on what they did and didn’t enjoy. There’s no compensation, but there will be prizes for those who carry through. Drop me a line if you are interested (firstname.lastname@example.org).
With enough enlightened involvement, I trust the New Hampshire we know and love will be around for another generation, in spite of the cell towers in the North Country, the political wrangling in Concord and the moaning from the southern tier as yet another Kohl’s or Home Depot rises from the ground.
Change happens no matter what we think of it. But the more we think about it, the more likely it will be change for the better. NH