Sense of Place, Livability, and Community

DSCF6340How can we enhance our sense of place and community?

DSCF5914IMGP5133Our individual neighborhoods already have strong place-based identities, and I think most of us have a strong sense of belonging because of the social fabric of our neighborhoods and our schools. Key to our sense of feeling at home in South Burlington is our sense of living in a community. For instance, a vibrant City Center, our network of parks, and recreational programming are things that everyone can enjoy. Our quality of life is also enhanced by the City’s careful planning in order to protect and enhance our neighborhoods, ensure that our businesses and technology parks thrive, and conserve our natural resources, which, when combined with our affordability objectives, lead to lasting prosperity.

Hundreds of residents participated in dozens of visioning workshops for our City Center, which is coming to life before our eyes, participated on task forces to enhance our parks/nature areas (some of our best kept secrets), and advocated for the expansion and improvement of our biking and walking trails. Since January 2019, citizen committees working toward the careful balance of planning goals set out in our Comprehensive Plan have identified our city’s most important natural assets, reviewed our Transfer of Development Rights program, and are seeking to establish environmentally responsible master planning rules for new development in South Burlington. This combined vision is a statement of our shared identity.

How to improve livability in the City?

Affordability is key to livability and economic development. Please check out my tab on affordability. We need to find a good balance in our growth so that:

  • Tax rates remain affordable
  • Growth will not put the development/demand of City services balance into jeopardy
  • The quality of life in all of our neighborhoods is protected and enhanced
  • Development is concentrated in our City Center and along our main thoroughfares, near public transportation, jobs, services, and amenities
  • Residential development is accessible to different income levels so that families, working or retired individuals, and couples can settle here

The Council has committed to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, joining with other communities throughout the country to work toward limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade to avoid catastrophic disruptions to our way of life, and therefore extreme financial hardship due to disaster response. Climate action and conservation of our natural resources are intrinsically linked to our affordability and livability. To that end, we have been working toward community resiliency by doing the following:

  • Supporting energy saving measures such as the replacement of incandescent lights with LEDs, upgrading our HVAC systems, investing in our LEED-certified public library and municipal building in City Center, supporting expanded bus service, e-bikes, and ride-share
  • Promoting biking and walking by funding safer bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks
  • Furthering our alternative energy goals by installing solar panels, and passing regulations that require new developments meet Vermont Residential Building Standards and include solar-ready roofs
  • Enhancing our existing parks and restoring our nature areas so that our native species can thrive and our natural infrastructure can withstand increasingly heavy rains and flooding
  • Passing rules that will ensure the conservation of ecosystems around our waterways, forest blocks, and wildlife corridors in our remaining open space

Our natural areas are part of the livability balance between growth and affordability, and, in my view, they should remain natural, beautiful, well-kept and managed, explorable areas for us and future generations, and we continue to work to enhance our existing parks and nature areas. These goals can be achieved while increasing our housing stock and expanding our economic base. As a Councilor I will keep an eye on this balance.

How to meet our livability goals? Conscientious, step-by-step planning. To this end, I joined colleagues on the Council to approve:

  • Interim zoning to give the Planning Commission enough time to complete the new draft land development regulations which will provide for both conservation and development by promoting more density in exchange for the preservation of our most sensitive natural resources
  • Market-based parking standards for new commercial development, which reduce impervious surfaces and, therefore, stormwater runoff and pollution in our waterways and lake, and make it easier to meet our affordable housing and economic development goals. Market-based standards lower the economic bar and facilitates the entry of smaller or local businesses and creation of housing, thus promoting business growth.
  • A dense urban core through the passage of Form-based codes and inclusionary zoning, requiring a minimum of affordable housing in our most densely developed areas

All of these are in our collective interest as we work toward continued prosperity through economic and environmental sustainability.

City Center likewise should be a place for everyone — a place to do business, live, dine, play, or sit and daydream. The focus is on pedestrian usage, with a mix of building types and green space. We are fortunate that the public’s now realized vision included a new Community Library, Senior Center, and Municipal Office building close by, along with City Center Park. Our respect for the natural environment can be enhanced by our investment in culture and the arts. It would be lovely for the Friends of the Library to sponsor concerts, both indoor and outdoor, which would bring a unique municipal space with some cache to our City. The new Senior/Community and Cultural Center will also allow us to provide richer programming for our children, teens, and young and older adults. They will now have shared spaces as well as nature’s classroom in our City Center Park.

How to increase resident participation in local governance?

Regarding public participation, during my time on the Charter Review Committee, 2007-2008, the committee reformed the City’s Charter to include Neighborhood Civic Forums, a local governance structure I proposed to more directly involve citizens in the City Council’s decision-making processes. I think that this type of forum has already realized its potential to bring neighbors together to work collaboratively with city officials on finding a solution to an identified problem.

Regarding meeting protocol and processes, the Council has an established record of giving time to residents and other interested parties who attend our meetings either to address something on our agenda or another topic.

Our citizen committees are at the heart of our municipal planning. We are fortunate to have so many volunteers actively at work to help us achieve our planning goals and make South Burlington the best it can be.