I’ve been learning a lot about Montpelier since deciding a few weeks back to run for City Council. In these last few days before Town Meeting, I’d like to share some ongoing thoughts. Please do write back, especially if you think I’m wrong about something.
Throughout the campaign, my core issue has been engagement. I have friends in city government; I have other friends who feel city government is harming them; and I have still other friends who are barely aware that Montpelier has a government, much less who’s in it or what they do. I want to work on that-- connect my friends to each other, meet more people, and pull everyone together. My experience with The Front, Montpelier’s cooperative art space on Barre Street, has been all about balancing needs and wants without making anyone angry enough to leave. The first step is hearing as many voices as possible. On City Council, I’ll do that however I can-- online, by mail, on the phone, and in person. I’ve started that work canvassing in District 3, and gathering downtown on Thursday mornings to talk over coffee with whoever shows up. I like talking with people even (sometimes especially) when we disagree-- I learn things that way.
So here’s an opportunity for friendly disagreement. I think Montpelier ought to be more densely settled, with more houses and apartments. Montpelier’s the best place I’ve lived in, but I’d like it even better if more people lived within five minutes’ walk of downtown, even if that means more 4-story apartment buildings in the center. I’d also like to see more houses and businesses in other parts of town, for instance along Barre Street toward the Pioneer Street bridge. On City Council, I’ll look for ways to support that kind of development.
The cities around the world I’ve liked best have been dense mixes of shops and apartments, mostly built before cars. I’m a pedestrian: I walk to work, to shop for groceries, to visit the hardware store and the bank. If the only autos in downtown Montpelier were delivery vehicles, and the streets were open to walk, or set up cafe tables, or turn into parks and markets, I wouldn’t miss the cars. That degree of change won’t happen soon-- if at all-- but I think I’m part of a growing cohort of people who choose to avoid driving when possible. To encourage that, I’d like to see updates in the street design-- for instance, I can hardly wait for a new Barre Street/Main Street intersection-- and more efforts like parklets and the State Street farmer’s market. Montpelier is already a good walking city for me. I think it could be a great walking city.
Vacant storefronts make me wince, and also make me daydream about what ought to be in them. I’ve had a lot of daydreams walking around Montpelier. During the candidates’ forum a couple of weeks back at the Senior Center, we talked a little about the possibility of a small fee to landlords for leaving storefronts empty-- I like that idea. Meanwhile, I’d love to see more pop-ups like the design competition last year, or the Arts Fest that temporarily filled several spaces for a couple of years before that.
I think it’s too bad that we walk and drive along these beautiful rivers all the time and pay so little attention to them unless they flood. Rivers have always been sources of food, drinking water, energy, transport, and recreation. But in Montpelier these days, the rivers seem mostly to be a hazard and occasionally an overflow dump. I’d like to see less pollution in the rivers, and more people having fun. On city council, I’d pull for better stormwater management and more opportunities for kayaking, rafting, or just walking along the riverbanks.
BACK TO ENGAGEMENT
Running for office over the past few weeks has been a real learning experience; I think you should all try it sometime soon. Montpelier’s a small and mostly friendly community-- but a lot of people seem to feel ignored or disconnected. I don’t think that’s necessary. One idea I heard while canvassing: neighbors already get together for parties and barbecues. We can encourage that, and ask those gatherings to spend a little time-- if they want-- talking about city issues, and have them send a letter or a friend to the next council meeting so that the city hears what’s going on.
A willingness to start conversations, and to listen and work through disagreements, could go a long way. With your support, I hope to bring those qualities to city council.