Inspiring progress: Reimagining development in Vermont

Smart Growth America partnered with Community Workshop LLC to work with Vermont decision makers as they reevaluate and reimagine their state’s Designation Programs. The recent Designation 2050 Design Summit helped advance this project to improve climate resilience and housing affordability.

A landscape photo of Rutland, Vermont with tall, red, brick buildings and trees.

Last month, planners, state and local leaders, and business and property owners came together to consider the future of the State of Vermont’s Designation Programs, which guide development and state investment priorities for revitalization. These programs work together to provide incentives to both the public and private sector, align policies, and give communities the technical assistance needed to encourage new development and redevelopment in compact, designated areas. Our September event, the Designation 2050 Design Summit, was part of a statewide project led by Smart Growth America and Community Workshop LLC to evaluate, reimagine, and redesign these programs for the next 25 years.

This effort was authorized by the Vermont Legislature and will ultimately provide recommendations for making the programs more impactful, more accessible to diverse communities, and simpler to manage and use. Along with the Summit, the project team engaged stakeholders across the state via surveys, focus groups, and other conversations about how the programs are working now and what can and should be improved.

On the morning of the event, the SGA and Community Workshop LLC project team first addressed Vermont’s priorities as well as the current housing supply crisis and climate change impacts. This topic was of particular importance following the destructive flooding in Vermont over the summer. The project team also shared some early findings from the survey evaluating the programs, as well as some key data points on housing production and growth over the past ten years. Participants were then asked to brainstorm individual statements that speak to their vision for the future of Vermont communities. “Connected and livable Vermont communities,” “we are land caretakers, not owners,” and “more than flannel and maple syrup” were some of the ideas shared.

Similarly, everyone in attendance was challenged to envision “headlines of success” they would want to see in the year 2050. Some of the narratives participants identified during this exercise were “Vermont Villages are ‘to’ places and not ‘through’ places,” “Vermont grows with housing that meets the needs of all,” and “1,000,000 Vermonters are safe and sound following record-breaking rains.”

SGA and Community Workshop LLC collected critical input on what is working well and what needs major overhaul. There were ideas for how to better align the intended goals of both the state and municipalities. These included defining areas in which smart growth, development, and investments are appropriate for maintaining and strengthening the pattern of compact settlements—while protecting natural landscapes.

Overall, the event generated some wonderful ideas and goals for reform. The project team has been hard at work synthesizing tremendous input from both the event and other engagement channels to define a key set of recommendations, all aimed at reforming the programs to ensure they are powerful tools for addressing key issues like climate resilience, housing access and affordability, equity and opportunity, and more.

The project consulting team is led by Smart Growth America, with community engagement by Community Workshop.

Land Use and Development Technical assistance