Rep. Sara Coffey

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The 2021 legislative session will go down in the history books. This pandemic has revealed the gaps and inequities in our system and has demanded bold action and creative thinking to position our state to recover stronger than we came into this crisis. Centering equity and supporting Vermont’s creative economy will be critical to our economic recovery and community revitalization as we emerge from this pandemic.

This session I was proud to work with community and cultural leaders to champion two bills that aimed to spark momentum, engagement and approaches to economic and community development.

The first, H.159, was a bill I sponsored to create the Better Places Program. With community-based participation at its center, the Better Places Program will support “placemaking” – a process that capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration and potential, to create public spaces that contribute to people’s health and well-being and will support vibrancy and economic activity in our downtowns, village centers and neighborhoods.

Today, the term “placemaking” is used in many settings – not just by citizens and organizations committed to grassroots community improvement, but also by planners and developers. Making a place, however, is not simply constructing a park, designing a plaza, repurposing an alleyway or creating a commercial zone. At its core placemaking is genuinely rooted in public participation. A great public space cannot be measured by its physical attributes alone; it must also serve people as a vital community resource where people want to gather and visit again and again. When people of all ages, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can not only access and enjoy a place, but also play a key role in its identity, creation, and maintenance, that is when we see genuine placemaking in action.

The Better Places program is designed to fund locally driven efforts to engage in placemaking projects to strengthen the connection between people and the places they share. The program is designed to streamline the grantmaking process and democratize community access to grant funds through a nimble, flexible funding source.

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Thanks to a broad coalition of supporters and advocates I am pleased to share that the legislation to create and fund Better Places crossed the finish line and received an appropriation of $1.5 million to start the program. The program will make smart use of our state’s resources, will support community innovation and will provide local leaders and communities with the tools and resources they need to advance local recovery efforts, rebuild local economies and reconnect Vermonters to one another – critical elements that help communities recover quickly and build prosperous and resilient communities into the future.

Vermont’s economic prosperity and vitality is also dependent on our ability to attract and retain BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) entrepreneurs, businesses and visitors to the Green Mountain State. Curtiss Reed of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity has been focused on economic and business development for nearly 20 years. Working with Reed and the findings and recommendations from the Vermont Partnership’s recent BIPOC business survey, Rep. Mike Mrowicki and I developed H.336, and attracted 20 additional co-sponsors. The legislation sought to create much needed infrastructure to provide technical assistance, networking and support to strengthen, grow and attract BIPOC-owned businesses in Vermont.

I am pleased to share that the bill and sparked important conversations in the House Commerce Committee and between the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Office of Racial Equity. The ideas in H.336, along with testimony by BIPOC business owners and thought leaders, informed and shaped the final legislation to create the BIPOC business development project. The legislation includes technical support, better data collection and an investment of $150,000 for BIPOC leaders to incubate these ideas and present their recommendations to the legislature next year which may include recommendations for the creation of a minority business development center or authority.

Achieving vibrant communities and equity in our society across race, class, and gender isn’t the work of only a few leaders in the legislature, this is all of our work. I hope that you will join me in this work by learning and engaging in this conversation with your neighbors, getting involved with a local community organization, contacting your elected leaders at every level and continuing with collective action. I believe that by working together we can address our economic recovery, systemic inequities and to improve the health and well-being of our communities and build back better.

It continues to be an honor to represent the people of Guilford and Vernon in the Vermont House of Representatives. While the session has ended, please know that I am available to help you connect with resources, answer questions and listen to your priorities. Please reach out by phone (802-257-0288) or email ( and read my comprehensive end of session report on my website: I look forward to hearing from you.

State Rep. Sara Coffey, D, serves the Windham-1 District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.