Evolving Peace

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stop Sprawl

Living fresh and new, city life spreads further and further away from American’s downtowns and merges into the sprawl of the suburbs. What once was rural countryside is now being paved over to make way for the newest subdivision or the latest big-box store. I moved to Vermont last year and I am thrilled to awake each day and not see the gross over deployment that plagues much of the American landscape today; however a deep sense of fear resonates within me that things could change.

Today, we drove from Montpelier to Burlington and instead of driving along I-89 we choose US Route 2. Along the way we passed along the beautiful banks of the Winooski River, meandering farms, the quaint villages of Middlesex and Richmond and the many facets of small town Vermont. Arriving closer towards Burlington we drove through the village of Williston and coming from the east it appears to be just like any other small town in Vermont, friendly open and picturesque, but unfortunately that image ends and merges into strip of malls and subdivisions, paradoxically what is not Vermont.

Having originally come from New Jersey driving into that part of Williston is not my favorite activity since it is exactly what I have chosen to get away from. As I observed the passing of the stores, I noticed some portions of open land and am thankful that it still has survived. As I expressed to Sarah, that while there still was open land, it is no where near offensive than the multiple shopping malls of suburban New Jersey; however as a warning to her, I reminded her that just fifty years ago the town of Paramus, New Jersey (which I call Shopping Mall National Park) was full of apple orchards and now that town is a bustling shoppers haven with no resemblance of its farming past. So as I drove through the shopping malls of Williston, I noticed a pattern of the sprawl and encroachment of the suburbs into the rural countryside and it scares me because it is reminiscent of what I had scene from the days of my youth.

I was born in Mahwah, NJ in what once was a small town. Generations of my family lived in Mahwah and everywhere I turned people recognized and cared for me. A sense of community was strong there. Some frequent comments I heard throughout my childhood included, “you’re Bobby’s son,” or “I taught your uncles in 5th grade.” I have vivid memories of frolicking through vast forests and farms that scattered the landscape. That was then and I wish I could go home again. That small sleepy town is a faint vision of my past, and it has faded over the years and given way to enormous corporate headquarters, tracts of Mc Mansions, and rows of condominium complexes. Mahwah is now another faceless community lost in the concrete jungles of progress. It was there I had seen first hand the poor planning of economic development and I know foreshadow back to the days of my youth and wished someone had stood up and prevented it.

I left the gross over development of my boyhood home in search of better pastures to live my life and eventually raise a family. I have found a new home but I am fearful of mindless development reoccurring here in Vermont. The same words I heard twenty plus years ago are now being echoed by businessman and politicians of Vermont who are advocating development and job creation as a viable path for the future but lost in the rhetoric is the future repercussions of that route. While my boyhood town claimed it was looking for the general welfare of its citizens they grossly miscalculated its repercussions. That same town is now not even recognizable from its not so distant future and has become unaffordable for those of the past generations. The voices of “progress” have paved over every bit of the open landscape and supplanted it with residents from all parts of the country. So while old and new Vermonters claim the need for jobs and economic development as a precursor for prosperity I am forewarning the dangers of following that route. Once the land is gone it is hard to restore it to its natural setting. To Vermont and all the other rural communities of the country, I suggest strengthen the forces that already exist in your communities instead of seeking outside development promises. It is important to protect the rich heritage of the rural landscape before it becomes part of the homogenized strip malls of America’s suburbs.

Robb Kidd

“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.” Bill Vaughn, American columnists


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