Communities & Consequences team, from left: Lorraine Stewart Merrill, Jay Childs and Peter Francese. Courtesy photo.
More than a decade after Peter Francese and Lorraine Stuart Merrill published “Communities & Consequences: The Unbalancing of New Hampshire’s Human Ecology, & What We Can Do About It” in 2008, warning what would happen if NH communities did not change policies to attract a more demographically balanced population, they have published a new book showing those warnings have come to fruition.
In “Communities & Consequences II: Rebalancing New Hampshire’s Human Ecology,” the authors once again show how state and local policies contribute to the lack of affordable housing, a workforce shortage as well as the high cost of higher education that drives young people to look elsewhere for opportunities.
“At the time the first book came out, we were doing forums and people were so angry; at least now people do see that there’s a problem,” says Merrill. “I see it in town selectmen and people who are concerned that their kids or younger generations are not able to live in the towns they were raised in.”
Merrill wrote about agriculture and land use in NH for more than 30 years, and also served as commissioner of agriculture for a decade.
Francese, who founded American Demographics Magazine and wrote several books on demographic trends, says the real challenge in 2008 was that people just didn’t believe there were any consequences to trying to keep children out of their communities. For the sequel, the authors decided to present positive examples of communities getting it right rather than focus on the negative consequences.
“We felt it is better to tell stories of the really positive things happening in communities where they love children, where they value children, where they do things specifically to attract families with children and the positive effect is the revitalization of the community,” he says.
As with the first book, the sequel is paired with a documentary by Jay Childs in partnership with NHPBS. He says filming has been delayed by the pandemic though he continues to follow the communities and is inspired by each response to the pandemic, quickly shifting to tackle immediate needs.
Merrill says much of the new book is focused on the desperate shortages of essential workers, and points out the pandemic has highlighted the stresses that shortage causes.
“It has been a long time since we have seen truck drivers, grocery clerks and delivery people exalted as heroes, as they should be. They are essential workers performing under very difficult circumstances,” she says. “I am hoping we will be thinking more warmly about allowing them to live in our communities.”
For more information, visit nhpbs.org/communitiesandconsequences.