A Sustainability Plan for East Central Vermont

The East Central Vermont Sustainability Consortium has wrapped up a three-year research effort by issuing a comprehensive report, East Central Vermont: What We Want, that lays out planning goals for a “vibrant, healthy and equitable region.” The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and spearheaded by two regional planning commissions representing forty towns.

While the 127-page report is intended to be a guide for public officials and some relevant nonprofit and business groups, it is important for all citizens in our region to be familiar with the goals that the report says “we” want for our future. Sustainable Woodstock was involved in the Consortium and supports these goals, and we urge everyone to consider whether you can support them as well.

These are the elements of the vision spelled out in What We Want:

1. A thriving, equitable, resilient economy rooted in the landscape and villages of the region.
2. A diverse mix of housing options affordable for all residents.
3. Energy usage that is economically secure and environmentally sound.
4. A transportation system that is more comprehensive and energy efficient.
5. Communities that promote health and social connection for people of all ages.
6. Economic, social and natural systems that are resilient in the face of unpredictable climate challenges.
7. Conservation of wildlife habitat.
8. Protected public access to plentiful and clean water.

The report acknowledges that “we find ourselves increasingly facing the consequences of our past choices”; patterns of settlement and infrastructure did not have to address the environmental limits and higher costs of today. Now, however, we need to make some fundamental changes in how we do things: “We should not simply continue our historically destructive behavior.” Instead of thoughtlessly sprawling across the landscape, we now need to meet our housing, transportation, energy and employment needs in more carefully planned and integrated ways. The report asserts that these goals are interconnected and should be addressed in tandem (as my column last week emphasized, we need to “think in systems”).

The report makes recommendations for coordinated planning at state, regional and local levels. But the vision here is not a top-down imposition of centralized management—it is an invitation to communities, and to all of us who comprise communities, to work together for a common good. What We Want invites us to care beyond our own private interests.

Thinking in systems shows how we can sometimes be “penny wise and pound foolish,” maximizing short term advantages while damaging the natural and community assets that are the long term source of wealth and wellbeing. We are understandably concerned about things like property values, taxes, and the freedom to consume or build or commute as we wish, yet unless we also recognize a common good, exclusively private concerns by themselves can perpetuate our “historically destructive behavior.”

To work for a common good might include, for example, welcoming people of all income levels to our community by supporting affordable housing. It could include voluntary decisions about our own energy use that collectively add up to a significant impact. It might mean reaching out to youths and seniors, patronizing local businesses, and getting more informed about and involved in local issues.

So take a look at this report (it’s posted online at ecvermont.org) and see if these goals of long term sustainability are what you want for your community and future generations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *