Littleton, New Hampshire

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POPULATION: 6,000 // MEDIAN AGE: 39 // MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $153,000 // AVERAGE COMMUTE: 17.7 min.

It would have made a dandy plot line for a Frank Capra picture. Act One: Sleepy North Country burg nestled in the rugged White Mountains reels when 800 shoe-factory jobs vanish. Act Two: Plucky villagers—a mix of blue-collar workers and doctors, lawyers, and teachers—band together to breathe new life into struggling Main Street. Act Three: Vacant storefronts fill, Sunday farmers' market draws crowds, downtown goes WiFi, and the place not only survives but prospers. What makes the story so compelling is that it's all true—and it's taken 30 years and a cast of hundreds to make it unfold. Among Littleton's recent improvements are a walking path and bridge gracing the Ammonoosuc River, a high school project that brainstormed a way to heat downtown sidewalks in winter (by mixing furnace exhaust with water and glycol, then pumping it through underground tubing), and an effort by pragmatic downtown merchants to zero in on niches that the big-box retailers on the edge of town can't fill. In short, it's a cutting-edge model of economic revival overlaid onto a postcard setting.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // Littleton's unofficial motto seems to be "It takes a committee." Past and present ones include the Economic Development Task Force, the Riverwalk Committee, Envisioning Littleton's Future, Littleton Main Street Inc., and—no doubt—more to come. But from those seeds have sprouted plenty of tangible assets: a 200-acre industrial park that accounts for upwards of 1,200 local jobs, a recent push to create more jobs for young people, one of New Hampshire's top recycling programs, and 145 units of new or refurbished affordable housing. Sprawl is minimal, but so are open-space initiatives: Littleton's still recovering from double-digit unemployment in the early 1990s, so—at least for now—development tends to win out over conservation.
LIVABILITY // Crime is low, and state sales tax and income tax are nil. The hospital was recently rebuilt, attracting M.D.'s and others from along the I-93 corridor between here and Boston, three hours south. Outdoor playgrounds? Take your pick of flatwater paddling on the Connecticut River, whitewater on the Ammonoosuc, cragging and hiking in the White Mountains, road and mountain biking in every direction, and skiing at Cannon Mountain—where World Cup ski champ Bode Miller learned to bomb.
YOU'LL LOVE IT IF // You don't mind looking elsewhere for cultural diversity and, well, culture.

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