Ah, life in our charming little settlement -- what’s not to love about being here in southern Vermont?
As we soak up the dog days of summer in our lush verdant valley, it’s easy to get dreamy while feasting on ripe and delicious crops, encircled by wide-open blue skies, and graced with warm temps and cool flowing waters. Yes indeed, to whoever is responsible for the splendor and bounty of this place, thank you.
After years of living in urban centers such as Springfield, Mass. (my birthplace), Syracuse, N.Y., and Madrid, Spain, while also investing good amounts of time in New York City, San Francisco and Miami, I must confess that small is indeed beautiful! What we may lack in volume and scale of place, we easily make up in quality.
Fortunately, I’ve lived, worked and played in a number of quaint places, each boasting of a unique attribute that sets it apart from other localities. Ithaca, N.Y., is "Gorgeous" and "10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality," Cazadero, Calif., is a "Magical Place" of the "Utmost Beauty" and Dillon, Colo., is billed as a four-season "World-class Recreational Playground." All of them lived up to their bold proclamations.
Which brings me back to here. While nesting in a teeny village at the heart of the Mayan civilization in Belize, my partner and I decided to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) on an organic farm in Halifax, a stone’s throw from "The One and Only" Brattleboro.
Rather than moving on after the harvest like many, we dropped anchor and established ourselves in the community. Over the past two years, Jessica and I have had the pleasure of serving this wonderful borough as the proprietors of Equilibrium, a creative arts/healing arts center on Elm Street, as well as the co-owners of Superfresh!Organic Café! on Main Street. We’ve further engaged ourselves by joining a few local NGO Boards, while I currently sit on both the Town Arts Committee and Skate Park Site Selection Committee.
I’m also BaBB’s new Downtown Coordinator and we’ve just purchased a historic home on Elliot Street -- whew!
To assert that we’ve experienced a radical and rapid transition recently is a tad understated. To many, the rate of speed and degree of intensity in which we shifted our plans, altered our lifestyles, and plunged into our new environment is a recipe for chaos. Unlike the nearly boiling frog hastily leaping into a frying pan to save itself from the rapidly warming waters, however, we had a gut feeling, a strong vision and a plan.
Which brings me to the crux of my script: Intentional evolution. Although I’ve enjoyed the exhilaration of big city living, I now long for a small, vibrant and sustainable place, a supportive, creative and civil "society" and conditions that encourage entrepreneurial activity. Thus, as my inner personality and interests have shifted, and the circumstances around me have transformed over time, I strongly believe that my willingness and ability to adapt with some velocity is what has kept me upbeat, healthy and happy.
Brattleboro, just like the aforementioned communities, is a progressive artsy town enveloped in natural beauty. Whereas they all enjoy an illustrious reputation, the realities of a down-turned economy and uncertain future has them proactively evolving to stay afloat. In order to flourish, each of these small towns is making strides to re-develop at all levels, integrating economic, social and environmental efforts.
Ithaca has Cornell University and Finger Lake Wine Country to lean on as it rebuilds and enhances its famous "Commons" pedestrian mall and plans for more compact housing density downtown. Cazedero, a self-described "Green Town," features towering redwoods and stunning Pacific Coast views while going "all in" as an arts destination that also features innovative farm programs from its Napa Valley roots. And Dillon, in the midst of the mighty Rockies, is working with area resorts to become an eco-tourism hotspot.
Brattleboro, too, must stay nimble and engaged as it manages its next transition. What’s the vision? Where are we going? What are our top priorities? The indigenous people of this land, the Sokoki Tribe, were named as such for doing things "our own way." Fittingly, the "One and Only" Brattleboro has an opportunity to be unique in how it addresses the intentional evolution of this fine town. We already have the natural beauty, abundant food production, clean water, creative citizenry, and proximity to major population centers going for us. So, what’s the next step -- how do we get from here to there?
First, we must articulate a clear vision of what the future Brattleboro looks like, and how it functions. Subsequently, we ought to outline a set of objectives that help us construct a coherent plan for sustainable development which incorporates and builds upon various worldwide evaluations -- including climate change, water, energy, and ecosystems. Ultimately, we can begin to work together toward a shared future that not only enhances our overall quality of life now, but also lays the foundation for future generations.
To this end, as your Downtown Coordinator, I have initiated a number of visioning exercises over the past few months that have produced a multitude of great ideas for our exceptional community. I look forward to sharing much of my findings in the next column and getting to work with you to make change happen.
Jacob Alan Roberts is the Downtown Coordinator for Building a Better Brattleboro. He is also a slow foodie, an artist and environmental activist.