Over the past few months, we’ve been writing about our Community Visit process that is underway in Vergennes. Through this signature program of VCRD, we are bringing together local prioritization and community engagement with state, federal, and regional experts and resources to help Vergennes define the projects that will sustain the city and make it more vibrant.
In February, we announced that Vermont’s smallest city (and one of the smallest in all of the United States) was selected to be part of the Community Visit process. Then, we organized and facilitated Community Visit Day in March, where scores of community members came to 9 different topical forums to share their concerns and ideas with a large Visiting Team organized by VCRD. In mid-April, everyone in the area was invited to participate in the Vergennes Community Day, to discuss opportunities and choose 3 priorities to take action on in the months ahead.
In between the March and April community gatherings, much work was done by an extended team to digest and synthesize the inputs discovered in March into a list of 12 opportunities for the community to discuss and choose from at the April 16th Community Day meeting. VCRD Executive Director, Paul Costello said, “The 12 ideas put on the table -- ranging from stepping up local communications to advancing the Vergennes economy and expanding the river basin and creating a river walk -- represent what the Visiting Team heard from the Vergennes community one month ago. These ideas are not a platform from VCRD or anyone else. They come directly from the people of Vergennes.”
It was humbling to be part of the Visiting Team on Community Visit Day and to pitch-in to help document the decision making process, one month later on Community Day. It’s interesting to find that some things you think will be most important are not, and to see how different each Vermont community is, even while the dynamics of the meeting are often similar from town to town.
After different community member volunteers took turns reading the 12 opportunities out loud, several folks made suggestions to combine ideas together. This tends to happen in every town, as the group works through the process and tries to avoid having to pick the most important from a list of very important and impactful initiatives. In the case of Vergennes, the community voted to combine two separate ideas – “advance the Vergennes economy” and “expand the community and economic development capacity of the city” – into a single priority. And, this priority made it through the two rounds of community voting and was ultimately selected as one of the top three initiatives to move forward with a strong local task force.
On behalf of VCRD, I live-tweeted during the discussion, as dozens of community members each stood up to speak in support of the initiative that they held most dear. Many of these thoughts are captured in the tweets to the right.
When two rounds of discussions and voting were over, two other projects were selected to move forward, in addition to the initiative to advance the Vergennes economy. These projects were: “improve transportation and parking” and “develop the falls basin and open a river walk.”
We worked in Vergennes because the City Council invited us to come, and it was clear that the City was ready to have earnest community conversations to set future directions. Vergennes Mayor Bill Benton is the Community Visit Chairperson who is coordinating efforts on the ground. Immediately following the session, Mayor Benton had this impression: "The public response to the project prioritization meeting was thrilling. We had 100 citizens sharing positive discussions on topics that are sure to increase the livability of the City of Vergennes. The community can now focus on specific work plans and resources to bring these ideas to fruition.”
Mayor Benton will also oversee the three task forces over the next year to help ensure that things move forward. Things are already off to a great start. More than 50 of the community members at the discussion on April 16th have signed up to take an active role in moving the three initiatives forward. VCRD will come back to Vergennes with a smaller visitor team on May 21st to kick-off the three task forces. More about the May visit can be found here.