I have three suggestions about spending new federal money. And I come in peace with no angst nor judgment about a subject soon to be hotly debated. Now, what I mean by ‘coming in peace’ et al, is my suggestions are more about the processes of spending this money effectively rather than solely about the choice of projects. I believe I risk less criticism and debate this way and hopefully gain more consensus for my ideas. So you can read this entire commentary somewhat stress-free. My suggestions can deliver financial advantages and contribute to the benefit package that will more effectively convince young people to live in our community. The suggestions will also help expedite the biggest financial debate in the county’s history since the Civil War draft regulations.
The state has already distributed 4 million federal dollars to Rutland. The state will also distribute even more once the infrastructure bill is passed. Rutland County can look forward to getting tens of millions of somewhat open-ended budget dollars.
Once it does, everyone in Rutland County and beyond who can walk, run or crawl without help, and can speak a modicum of English, will be clamoring at the gates of the local economic entities for money to pay for a hodgepodge of projects — all pleaded for in colorful life and death rationality interspersed with periods of extreme rancor. This situation is either a grand opportunity to strengthen and enrich our infrastructure or a deep dive into a wasteland of derision, mismanagement and political witchcraft.
So I am offering practical advice via these three suggestions.
One, develop a detailed but simple to understand and easy to implement plan to govern the content and submission of specific projects. Resist the pressure to accept project proposals that have yellowed, contain hundreds of redactions, edits or deletions, or smell funny.
Two, as a first priority, set aside a generous budget to develop a downtown Rutland revitalization plan that includes:
— Ideas to bring lifestyle, entertainment and creativity to downtown.
— Determine in specific terms what kind of “look” will bring young people to downtown.
— Although we welcome all, let’s describe in this plan what type of young people we want to attract.
— With the help of a creative, experienced, city design organization, develop a plan that will add vibe, energy and safety to downtown Rutland.
— Create a team of passionate advocates who will remain committed throughout the years required to complete this plan.
Three, whereas you might have heard many times from me the first two suggestions (pre money infusion), I believe this third one is truly transformative; and is the one that can create an image for Rutland that readily appeals to the complicated desires of young people — if not all people.
Pandemics such as COVID are going to be part of our future. The causes are many and varied, including global warming, newly uncovered pathogens from beneath the melting Arctic ice, and as we continually destroy animal habitat, we are forcing animals to live too close to our neighborhoods.
As space exploration required NASA to protect its astronauts with environmental and personal living innovation, so, too, we will have to develop innovations to protect all of us when we gather for business events, recreate, educate our children, work collaboratively and so forth.
There is an architectural process called ‘Biophilic’ design, which uses natural material to bring the indoors outside and the outside inside. Within this building philosophy are design ideas that combine and deliver comfortable surroundings with necessary health precautions — both without sacrificing the efficacy of either.
Swedish architects and designers have developed and are using innovative building and design principles to protect their citizens wherever they gather.
These two architectural/design processes and several others have proved to be highly effective in commercial buildings, wherein the need is to design safe, large gathering places while maximizing the requirement for pleasant surroundings and a comfortable ambiance.
Other countries, too, are realizing the need and are pursuing building initiatives to protect their citizens as they live their customary and routine lives.
Let me get local: Already there are people in our community pleading to build a new firehouse. OK, build it! But is it safe and healthy for future firefighters who live for long periods together in close quarters — firefighters whose job is to often go to remote, contaminated places to contain fires, who continually go out and be among the people in close proximity? So, to design a new firehouse (or any building) in the traditional way, with the usual environmental and energy conservation parameters considered, the question remains: is the firefighter safe from deadly pathogens 10,000 times smaller than the human hair? Doubtful.
So the third suggestion is essentially as we spend the millions on things we need, let’s make sure we are building into these things environmental innovations that respect the necessity to protect each of us from contaminating each other, without diminishing the human need to connect. It can be done! Some of the methods and materials have already been innovated and successfully implemented.
If we do it, that is, build places that are safer with more enjoyable and entertaining environments, our community has an added benefit that would enrich a new communication campaign. This campaign would emphasize living, working and playing in our community offers a greater understanding of what matters in this life after COVID. The use of these protective environmental innovations will project a more favorable impression to young people seeking to live a life that is, as they term it, “greener” (and health safe is a part of it).
A recent study among youth reveals 59% consider their ‘green dream’ whenever they make life decisions, including everyday product purchases, employment opportunities and where they want to live.
As I said, “just suggestions,” hoping for consensus and transformative solutions.
Louis Scott Scotellaro lives in Chittenden.