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. Hundreds of residents have already participated in dozens of workshops to envision our future City Center and enhance our parks/nature areas (some of our best kept secrets), and their combined vision is already at work in preliminary designs, the Comprehensive Plan, and the City’s new land development regulations — all a statement of our shared identity. Finally, our schools have always been a source of pride for this community and given us a solid identity base. Were the School Board to propose the closure of one or more of our neighborhood elementary schools, per the School/Community Task Force’s recommendations, I would ask that the public have ample opportunity to weigh in prior to the vote. Also, as a Councilor, I would work to protect the public’s assets. Tax dollars are invested in each of our three elementary schools, and precipitous closure without ensuring that taxpayers be held harmless would be regrettable.

How would you improve livability in the City?

I’d like to see more and safer bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks. I’d like for our parks to be enhanced and our open space conserved. Bread and Butter Farm is a working farm in our City limits and provides local produce — what a gem in our growing city, and its intangible value will only grow. But open space and local produce also have tangible value. I know and our Fire Chief and Director of Public Works have confirmed for the Council that unlimited growth risks putting the development/demand of City services balance into jeopardy. Therefore, as Councilor I will keep an eye on this balance. 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 explorable areas for us and future generations.

Regarding economics, this is key to livability. Please check out my tab on affordability. We need to find a good balance in our growth so that tax rates remain affordable; and we need to protect and enhance our affordable housing as well as build more, particularly in our City Center, near public transportation, services, and amenities.

City Center likewise should be a place for everyone: a place to do business, live, dine, play, or sit and daydream. I would like the focus to be on pedestrian usage, with a mix of building types and green space. Our new LDRs provide that residential development there will be accessible to different income levels. Building for families, working or retired individuals and couples, will, I hope, be a priority. With this in mind, one must also consider municipal infrastructure. Depending on what voters pass, of course, I am in favor of having the new Community Library close to Dumont Park and a town green. It would be lovely for the Friends of the Library to sponsor outdoor concerts in the adjacent park, and this would bring a unique municipal space with some cache to our City. I also like the idea of having a performance/program/exhibit space, proposed as a joint venture between the Library and our Recreation and Parks Department. Having the Library combined with some kind of “Family Room”/Senior/Community and Cultural Center seems to me not only a plan consistent with current recreation and library programming but also conducive to richer programming for our children, teens, and young and older adults.

How could resident participation in local governance be improved or enhanced?

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 that more directly involves citizens in the City’s decision-making processes. I think that this type of forum has the potential to bring neighbors together to work collaboratively on finding a solution to an identified problem.

Regarding meeting protocol and processes, I think that we as a Council do try to give time to residents who attend our meetings, either to address something on our agenda or another topic. But we could do better about informing the public of upcoming action items that concern, for instance, public assets (bought with taxpayer dollars) or neighborhood planning. This would perhaps bring people together earlier in the process, hence nurturing the trust that is essential in local governance.

I also think that that formally recognizing citizen volunteers and businesses is something the Council could do. For instance, one resident, Bernie Paquette (the author of many of these questions), has been a huge advocate for keeping South Burlington green and clean. Thanks to his activism, a number of residents are already on board with the Adopt-A-Block program he set up (Thank you, Bernie!). In addition to Green Up Day, the City could also promote and heap due praise on this program and any other program that would encourage litter-free roads, green spaces, storefronts, etc.