Unwrapping Rutland's future
By JIM SABATASO | December 18,2008
The holidays (yes, I said holidays) are upon us. However, this year won't be all wassail, mistletoe, and ugly sweaters. After a year where our country's financial and manufacturing institutions (and even some state governments) are so far in the red they'd blind Rudolph, it's hard to get into the spirit. Unemployment is skyrocketing, and the economy looks worse than our sidewalks. The season marches on, but this year, many of us are faced with desperate and dire situations that make the prospect of putting presents under the tree look pretty daunting. We all must learn to live more simply and, in this time of great need, do whatever we can to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
Still, this is the season of receiving as well as giving, right? So with that in mind, I've drafted my own holiday wish list of some gifts that I think would benefit our whole community. While some of these requests might be shooting for the moon, there's no harm in at least entertaining a discussion.
1) Broadband municipal Internet. Of all the infrastructure upgrades we need, this may not be at the top of most people's lists; however, it is essential if Rutland is ever going to make positive step forward in the 21st century. Being a wired community gives us a competitive edge that will encourage economic development and radically change the way we do business. Imagine taking our municipal services online — bills, invoices, permits all submitted without paper.
Additionally, we need to bridge the digital divide that currently exists between the rich and poor when it comes to access to information. All citizens deserve Internet access. To that end, I would encourage free wireless Internet throughout the city.
2) Sidewalks. Contrary to popular aldermanic belief, people do use them — the disabled, the elderly — people for whom the current condition of many of our sidewalks is simply unacceptable. In a community that is so easily walkable (and bikeable), the fact that our sidewalks (and some streets) are in such poor shape is disappointing. How can we encourage people not to take their car to work when we are unable to provide them with a safe alternative?
3) The Food Hub/Community Kitchen in Rutland. For those of you unfamiliar with this project, it essentially is locating and installing a large food-processing facility to be used by our local farmers and food producers. Organizations like RAFFL have been instrumental in promoting this project and have been working hard to make it a reality. This facility would be a boon to local agriculture and our local economy.
While the location of this kitchen is currently being debated, I argue that it is imperative it be located in Rutland. As the largest urban center in southern Vermont — surrounded by an abundance of available and fertile farmland — it only makes sense that this project be located in our city. I believe that the future of economic development in Rutland County is dependent in part upon our ability to return to our agricultural roots. We are a farm-to-city community, and we need to once again embrace this asset.
4) More community gardens. Staying with the agricultural theme, I can envision the vacant lots throughout the city being converted to gardens maintained by neighborhoods. The community garden on Woodstock Avenue is a start, but we need to think bigger and more creatively. An initiative like this would serve to get fresh, healthy food in the hands of those who otherwise might not be able to afford it. Being a community effort, it would strengthen relationships and give people a sense of pride and ownership in their neighborhoods.
5) Recycling. Did you know that there is no recycling ordinance in Rutland County? While the Solid Waste District does a great job providing information and support, it is entirely voluntary. For a city this size, that is intolerable. Despite the fact that the market for recyclable goods is almost nonexistent at the moment, we must remain vigilant and committed to this cause.
6) Better food in our schools. When was the last time you had lunch at you child's school cafeteria? The quality of food is at sub-par at best — enriched flours, complex carbohydrates, high-fructose corn syrup, frozen, processed foods. And for many children, this is the best meal they get all day. While the meals are mandated to meet federal nutrition guidelines, they do so on paper only. Our children deserve better.
Fortunately, there are organizations and resources in our state that feel the same way (and even a group of local parents working to this end). Vermont FEED is one of them. Through education and implementation, this organization provides schools with fresh, local alternatives to the frozen, processed menus students currently have. Indeed, a component that I have been championing lately is the planting of gardens on school grounds. An initiative like this gives kids a personal investment in the food they eat (and who knows, we might get our next generation of farmers out of it, too).
7) The merger. You know the one I'm talking about. City + Town = 1. While there's no love lost between these two entities, their ugly relationship needs to be resolved. How can there be any forward progress or growth in our community if you two can't get out of each other's way? Save for a few persistent curmudgeons, we are one community. The growth of one should not be at the expense of the other. The sooner we can resolve this dispute, the sooner we can move forward together. But if you continue to breed divisiveness and contempt, this community is going to wallow in municipal and economic limbo for another century. And for what? The pride of a few stubborn old men holding a decades-old grudge? On a personal note, I have a request for the Rutland Town Select Board: Can we be friends? It's the holidays, guys.
I could go on, but I think that's enough to think about for now. If any of these issues are important to you, by all means speak up. There are many great forward-thinking organizations in our community that are working to make these wishes a reality, but community support is crucial — let them know you are behind them, get involved, and together we can finally move this community in a positive new direction.
Jim Sabataso is a local writer, musician, and editor of ThePlaidCrew.com. Contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.