• I Heart Rutland: Remember our home
    By Sara Gilbert
    Commentary | October 09,2013
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    I moved back to Rutland for the second time in June 2013.

    This time I left a beautiful city in the northwest to come here - one with a thriving economy; a median household income 65 percent greater than Rutland’s; a median age 7 years younger; a population 30 percent more diverse; and an unemployment rate nearly 3 percent lower.

    When I arrived back here in Rutland, many people gave me their condolences on the move, and politely avoided asking me what terrible thing had happened out there in Seattle that had forced me to return. You’ll never find a job here, some said. Good luck — you’ll be moving to Burlington soon!

    Why leave a big city to come here?

    Rutland is home. My family is here — parents, siblings, grandmothers, cousin, aunt. I want to be close to them. I want to be part of their lives.

    A few weeks ago, we all made a night of it at Alumni Field, where we cheered on my cousin Wyatt, who is a captain for the RHS football team this year. It didn’t matter (so much) that Middlebury beat us 35-0...we were together! Many other families were gathered in the stands, too. I watched people greeting those sitting to the left and right of the stairs as they made their way down the new aluminum bleachers. When I looked around, I saw a community gathered to celebrate one of its best traditions.

    It felt good to be part of the crowd. I spotted my fourth-grade teacher a few rows down, and caught up with family friends during half time. This network of people shaped my life and helped make me who I am. They connect me to this place; I feel accountable to them.

    But as comforting as these moments are, they don’t solve the economic and social challenges that make Rutland seem like a risky move. Put concisely, Rutland is old, small and poor. According to a report published by MIT and PolicyLink, Rutland is one of America’s “forgotten cities:” places that had over 5,000 inhabitants by 1880 but only 15,000 to 150,000 inhabitants today, with a median household income of less than $35,000 in 2008. These are cities that experienced boom years followed by steep economic decline.

    Forgotten cities have special challenges, according to the report: policy makers neglect them; their lack of resources inhibits effective governance; their civic institutions don’t work together; a chronically negative collective mindset predominates. Anything sound familiar?

    If it does, you might be thinking of the old Rutland.

    Forgotten cities can also be places of creativity, innovation, and imagination. Sometimes the people who live in forgotten cities revitalize them. They overcome their challenges by working together, capitalizing on their shared resources, developing their talent, and welcoming new people into their communities. They support strong leaders, set goals, and collaborate with other towns and organizations. Instead of thinking about why they can’t change, they find reasons why they can.

    That’s the new Rutland.

    The biggest difference between revitalized cities and those that stay forgotten is whether or not people decide to work together. I agree that there are still many problems facing our city. There are many people who need more than a change of attitude to live a secure and comfortable life, people who need to be cared for, acknowledged, and loved.

    But the momentum has shifted. It’s time for our forgotten city to be remembered. Because we love it, and because it is our home.

    Sara Gilbert is the director of business development for Neighborworks of Western Vermont.
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