Commentary

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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  • Michael Roosevelt

    “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.” This sounds just like the arguments opposing the “back-to-the-landers” who ironically are the ones now running the state. When the last “native” Vermonter dies and is stuffed and on exhibit somewhere, who will remember such arguments? Vermont needs young, educated, working individuals. Not that I believe that this project will ever get off the ground, but the state could do a lot worse than to have 20-30,000 new, law-abiding, tax payers miraculously appear on its doorstep.

  • Annette Smith

    Nice to hear from someone with academic and practical experience. This planned community housing development is similar to the model used by renewable energy developers, quarries, landfills, large farms — often out of scale for Vermont, little or no relationship to the local community –what I call the “plunk it down” model. As you point out it disrespects the historical connections that people have to the existing communities and also the land. Wind development is especially hostile to the locals, benefitting a handful of people including large landowners getting leases for the use of their land, at the expense of the people who live in the area whose lives are degraded without compensation or even acknowledgment.

    With this new community proposal, there is one aspect of it that is at least intriguing to contemplate (not that I am advocating population growth or this project, quite the opposite) that is not like other types of development with few jobs or new voters. If this fantasy were to come to pass, it would reduce Chittenden County’s power and create a central Vermont political force in Orange County based on population.

    Perhaps this kind of huge development proposal is what is needed to open the discussion about two Senators per county, or something more fair that mirrors the Congress, so that Chittenden County does not skew all political decisions due to their large influence in both the Vermont House and Senate.

  • Sorry. I view, askance, the opinion of any academic from Madisonikstan, WI. Better to spend some time in Lewis County, NY and learn how to make excellent Cheddar cheese, instead of the junk made in VT and WI.

  • I have met Paulson, and he is a very impressive person. He occasionally comes to events in Strafford, where I live. We are fortunate to have his views, with which I agree. My wife and I have been in Strafford for almost a decade now, and I believe the NewVista initiative is a truly existential threat to our communities. Gus Speth

  • Bruce S. Post

    If Yogi Berra were an environmental historian, he would say, “It’s deja vu all over again!” But, he wasn’t and he is no longer around. So, I will say it for him, “This is deja vu all over again.” Right now, I am doing some work on what was going on in Wilmington, Dover and the Deerfield Valley in the 1960s and 1970s. One development that had been planned there to span West Dover to East Dover would have had the population of Barre and Montpelier combined.

    Of course, New Vista is not the only threat. The economically-gated community at the Hermitage Club is an affront. The cities on the hill being built in our mountains as ski areas morph into amusement parks and high-priced real estate. And, of course, the destruction of ridgelines and hillsides for industrial wind turbine emplacements. Could be the wave of the future unless we doing something about it.

  • There is a simple, low-impact self-sustainable method already in use in various forms.
    One such combination looks like this: Tiny Houses ringing the perimeter of an organic farm,
    solar panels for simple electricity, compost toilets that are closely monitored, spring water, grey water, catchment tanks, bio-generators. This community grows their own food and then some for local CSA and various specialty products such as wool, cheese, herbs, kambucha, non-thc hemp production, etc.
    Local, small scale, simple.