Sunday, June 26, 2016

Response to Dan Jones on Revitalization of VT

Dan Jones in a think piece on Vermont in June 23 Vermont Digger talks about more housing and density among other elements in revitalizing Vermont "To revitalize Vermont: lsiten to the young people."

Here is my response posted today:

Some good ideas here, some incomplete. First, regardless of what we do the die is cast--the graying of Vermont is real and nothing can change the slow but steady decline (in many cases severe) of under 65 population.  This graying of Vermont (doubling our senior population share from 12% to 24% between 2010-2030, or over 90,000 more 65--and-over residents is being repeated to a lesser extent throughout the northeast and the nation). Second, while good transportation (rail, public transit, etc. and we have a long way to go to make it so) makes sense, the lack of walkable (first) and bikable (second) downtowns and village centers remains widespread--one good example of how the U.S. went from first worldwide in highway safety in 1990 to 19th today.  First and foremost we need safe intersections for all modes--roundabouts--and bikable lanes, i.e. sidepaths and cycle track.  (As an aside Montpelier and Manchester Center both well on their way to walkable downtowns and Montpelier with its east west Winooski Transportation Plath [lighted and plowed in winter] show the way on bikable--both have Main Street corridors partly or fully roundaboutzed, the absolute necessity for both walkable and bikable.)

A lot of baloney being circulated about both need for more housing and increased densities.  Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington--source of northwest and north central Vermont spike in rents since the mid-1990s (another story)--has over 1,400 units built or through key steps in development in last two years, enough to already double its vacancy rate to 3% and expected to grow, and its primary demand for housing--student population at UVM--now down over 700 from its peak of over 13,000 in 2010 and sure to continue declining as the statewide college age population 18-22 drops.  The State's official projection, a reduction of 22% during the current 2010-2030.

Since Vermont escaped the last century--as did a handful of states including Maine--the extreme ravages of both population growth and sprawl (thanks in great part to political leadership symbolized by Act 250), to use the claim of a density issue in Vermont downtowns and village centers borders on oxymoron when our statewide population grown a robust 300 residents since 2010 and no significant population growth (other than the senior demographic) is expected in the future.  So in the face of little or even negative population growth we can easily accommodate additional housing in large amounts in our existing built up areas with three-to-four story structures, new or rehabilitated.  Barre Street in Montpelier and Old North End in Burlington provide examples of both private and non-profit additions of major housing upgrades and added units easily maintaining both existing and needed increased densities. With a strong non-profit housing community housing affordability needs to be seriously addressed in terms of incomes policy and housing subsidies at both the state and federal levels.  

Remember not only the young need to be accommodated in downtowns and village centers with quality and safe walking cycling facilities, but so do seniors who also seek to access grocery stores, coffee shops, churches and community meetings and events--and the seniors are truly a growth opportunity for Vermont with most bringing with them practically guaranteed retirement incomes!

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