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 develop environmental master planning rules. This combined vision is a statement of our shared identity.

How to improve livability in the City?

The Council has committed to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, and I’d like to see more energy saving measures taken, increased bus service, safer bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks, and the conservation of areas around our waterways and forest blocks 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 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 through dense mixed-use development in our city’s core, in our business and technology parks, and along our main thoroughfares. As we continue to grow, I am mindful of the warnings of our Fire Chief and Director of Public Works 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.

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 and along our main thoroughfares, near public transportation, services, and amenities.

How to meet our pledge to meet the Paris Climate goals?

Conscientious, step-by-step planning: To this end, I joined colleagues on the Council to approve amendments to our Land Development Regulations, unanimously recommended to us by the Planning Commission, that will allow for market-based parking standards for new commercial development. Since the 1980s we have been relying on arbitrary national standards that have needlessly increased our impervious surfaces and, therefore, stormwater runoff and pollution in our waterways and lake. The market has proven to be a more effective regulator and has the additional advantages of reducing development costs (both soft and hard, i.e., in the planning phases and at the time of construction), which makes it easier to meet our affordable housing and economic development goals. It has been shown throughout the country that this market-based approach lowers the economic bar and facilitates the entry of smaller or local businesses and creation of housing. It also promotes business growth. This is in our interest here as we work toward continued prosperity through economic and environmental sustainability.

A dense urban core: 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. Our new LDRs provide that residential development there will be accessible to different income levels so that families, working or retired individuals, and couples can settle here. With this in mind, 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.