Belden Paulson: The New Vista project not right for Vermont

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Belden Paulson, a part-time resident of Vershire, who is a retired professor of political science and futures studies at the University of Wisconsin. He is cofounder of the High Wind intentional community in Wisconsin committed to sustainable living.

To: New Vista Foundation

As a part-time resident of Vershire and a neighbor of such surrounding towns as Strafford, Tunbridge, Royalton and Sharon, and after reviewing your proposed plans for this area, I feel a need to offer several comments.

I introduce myself as someone who respects your interest in intentional communities and sustainable development. I am a retired political science professor from the University of Wisconsin who for years taught courses related to community development. I also have practical experience in creating planned communities around the world, and with my wife co-founded an intentional community in Wisconsin committed to sustainable living. I am well informed about the kind of project you are proposing in Vermont.

After reading and thinking about your material, I strongly oppose your going forward with your project in Vermont, although I commend you for your vision and could see significant benefits were you to implement your ideas in appropriate locations. Here is my reasoning:

• The towns and their surrounding areas that you have in mind have histories that go back centuries. They developed organically, and over the years have maintained their unique character as small, cohesive communities. Inserting, over a short time, a population of hundreds coming in from outside — even thousands of new residents — plus an array of new buildings alien to the existing environment, would radically and negatively change these towns.

Suddenly, with an influx of businesses and direction from the outside, and a sizable population with little or no background and knowledge about how these towns “work,” the precious qualities that make our communities so attractive would be dramatically jeopardized.

 

• The economies and civic culture of these towns have evolved gradually, with home-grown small businesses and democratic governance based in indigenous local leadership. Suddenly, with an influx of businesses and direction from the outside, and a sizable population with little or no background and knowledge about how these towns “work,” the precious qualities that make our communities so attractive would be dramatically jeopardized.

• Sustainable living in the existing culture of these towns emphasizes simplicity, low consumption, sensitive stewardship of natural resources, holistic values built up over many years that emphasize cooperation and interdependence. The history of most planned communities, even those guided with good intentions, is that they inevitably take on today’s values of “modernity” — fast paced action, heavy use of social media rather than in-person communication, a materialistic ethic, and importation of the latest equipment and assets for today’s comfortable living. This lifestyle, even when guided by competent planners who have mastered the “sustainability” rhetoric, would completely change the prevailing traditions and values that give these towns their special character and flavor.

I urge you to take your enthusiastic energy and sizable resources elsewhere instead of threatening the qualities that make these Vermont communities unique.

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