I’ve been struck by census data on rural communities that shows that some rural towns across the country are rapidly urbanizing and others are losing population, especially young people. Vermont is ranked as one of the two oldest states in the nation and one of the two most rural states in the country. The two go together. If you ranked Vermont against rural parts of western states which have rapidly urbanized over the last 20 years, however, you’d find that Vermont is actually doing much better than many other rural parts of the country in attracting and retaining youth.
As a state we’re a net exporter of young adults, and there are towns 40% below national averages in the number of young people between the ages of 20 and 35. This marks a devastating loss of the energy, innovation and initiative that come from youth.
But Vermont is a net importer of college-aged youth, and Vermont towns have an enviable vitality compared to small towns in many parts of the country. There’s a strong sense of community, neighborliness and innovation that makes rural Vermont a dynamic place to live, work and raise a family.
Everywhere VCRD goes to manage town-wide conversations or to convene public policy discussions, these issues are front and center for everyone thinking hard about their town or the future of Vermont. Manchester this week set priority goals for the future of their town: they will work to incubate new young businesses, advance biking and outdoor recreation, reopen the town’s riverfront as a dynamic and beautiful place for stimulating activities, and attract higher education opportunities. There is a fundamental dedication to the future in all these directions that intelligently and systematically will make the town a vital place for the next generation. Similar conversations are happening in Cabot, Poultney, Bennington and Swanton…probably they are happening at one level or another in every town in the state.
I have to say that with all the challenges in the world, I’m convinced we have a creative edge and a down home power of community that will keep Vermont strong and green for the future.
In Manchester they talk about becoming even more authentic to their place and as a gateway to Vermont. We have the capacity to deepen the Vermont identity and to renew it with a new generation of creative Vermonters.