(Host, Steve Delaney)
Every decade the U.S. census counts how many Americans there are, where we live,
and how many lawmakers we should have.
Experts hope those census numbers will
also hint at population changes in the future, from state to state and within
states as well.
And so from the statistics come
projections. The optimists foresee a thriving Vermont.
(Paul Bruhn) "I think our future
is very bright and we will have both a very strong, wonderful place to live, a
great place to work and a strong economic well being as well."
But others see less of strong and wonderful, and fret that Vermont may be
losing its uniqueness, in part by overdeveloping its famous landscape.
"Vermont has a pretty stringent Act 250 policy, which tries to keep it
all in check. But I just hope it’s not going to become another Connecticut."
(Delaney) Just ahead we’ll hear what the census numbers say about where
we’re going as a state, and how the changes could affect us.
First the news.
Every 10 years, census takers predictably find change in the population they’re
measuring. Sometimes it’s pretty standard stuff. Sometimes it’s more telling.
What the 2010 census of Vermont reveals
is that there are a few more of us than ten years ago, that twenty five percent
of all the state’s people live in Chittenden County, and that an even higher
percentage look to Burlington and its necklace of surrounding towns for jobs
and for cultural institutions.
I’m Steve Delaney and this is Counting
Vermont. Over the next hour we’ll look at those census numbers and reveal how
they reflect changes in Vermont’s settlement patterns.
The growth around Burlington has
profoundly affected the rest of Vermont, including the high-growth towns
surrounding the state’s leading city. The
next Legislature will apportion its 180 seats in a pattern that reflects both
population growth and decline in different parts of the state. Some areas of
the state, including the Northeast Kingdom and some parts of southern Vermont,
are going to have fewer representatives in Montpelier. And there will be gains
in the growing counties around Burlington.
Just as some towns are thriving,
especially those in the Burlington orbit, others are struggling. The reasons
for that are partly, but not entirely, traceable to the state’s unique
geography. But yet the land itself has almost dictated where people have
settled in Vermont, from the very beginning.
Gregory Sanford is Vermont’s state archivist. He believes the rivers
were the most vital of the several forces that determine where people choose to
(Sanford) "If you were near
a waterway, the river, the lake, you could bring things in, you could take
things out to market easier, so we tended to live in those valleys, but also
because again they were pathways through the mountains, they became the
backbone of our transportation network."
The valleys became the site of railroads and later highways. So in lots of
places in Vermont you can see waterways, railways and highways all sharing the
same space between the mountains.
But in the new census there’s evidence
emerging that the newest driver of where people settle in Vermont is neither
river nor rail or road.
(Carmen Tedesco) "I’m Carmen
Tedesco and I live in Huntington, Vermont."
Carmen Tedesco went to college in Vermont, then lived for several years in
Washington, but wanted to come back, so she did, with no disruption in her
(Tedesco) "I work in
Washington, D. C., so I’m a telecommuter, yeah. I’m a telecommuter and I work
in Washington, D. C., but I live in Huntington."
Carmen Tedesco is in the bow wave of people who are settling in Vermont not
because of transportation, but because of communication.
Like a growing number of people, she’s
able to keep her big-city job while living in small-town Vermont. Tedesco uses
broadband Internet access to link her with her company’s home office. She says
there are others just like her.
(Tedesco) "A lot of people
telecommute. They’ve chosen to live out there because they like the area, not
because it’s convenient, cause it’s not."
Fast internet access is the first
factor to determine settlement patterns in Vermont that does not depend on
(Chris Campbell) "I don’t know if broadband will have
exactly the same affect as the interstate highways, but generally speaking,
broadband is going to connect us to the world, it’s going to connect us to
(Delaney) Chris Campbell is
in charge of accomplishing something that for years, governors have been trying
to provide: Statewide high-speed Internet access. Politicians know that can tilt
decisions about where Vermonters settle.
In Chris Campbell’s mind,
getting broadband out to every corner of the state promises to give smaller communities
at least a chance to compete.
(Campbell) "The economic life of our
society is moving online. For better or worse and of course there’s a little
bit of both, but, it’s a fundamental shift and it’s really not a choice if
Vermont wants to stay viable, stay relevant. We have to be a part of that. … Think about being able to reach
out markets, touch opportunities all around the world. And yet live and work,
raise your kids, recreate in Vermont, what a fantastic opportunity.
(Delaney) No one can say for
sure what the promise is behind broadband. But policymakers like Chris
Campbell, who runs the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, believe that
getting Internet access even to the most rural corners of the state could begin
to turn around some of the population trends that show up in the census.
(Campbell) "I tend to think that the
result will be, it will provide people with increased opportunity in rural
areas. I think you see that, across the country, there are many many rural
areas that are really challenged, a lot of economic opportunity tends to flow
to metropolitan areas. I think that it’s going to help to
mitigate and push against the challenges that rural areas in general are
Campbell uses himself as an example of why he thinks broadband access is so
important to Vermont’s future. He grew up in Colchester. But like so many young
people, he moved away for college.
(Campbell) "I had, actually, I intended
to come back. I went away because I believed that I actually would be returning
here. And I wanted a period where I had something different, some diversity and
experience. I came back because I really like the human scale of Vermont. It
felt like a place where you could make a difference, you could matter in your
community. And that was really important to me."
Some Vermonters may not have the same opportunity to move away and come back.
The promise of instant computer access is that they may be able to stay home
and experience some of the world beyond the state lines as Chris Campbell says
(Campbell) "I think that one of the
really interesting things about broadband is the way that it connects people in
new and interesting ways. And I think that the connections are both within the
community and to the outside world and i think both of them are really
transformative and really important. … I also think that it’s a really new and
exciting opportunity to interact w/the rest of the world, economically,
civically, educationally, and it really expands the scope of economic
opportunity in the state in really important ways."
Broadband is not yet driving where-to-live decisions in Vermont, but that is
coming, and there may already be visible effects in the latest census numbers.
Many Vermonters live in pockets of the state that
are nowhere near an on-ramp to the information superhighway. Some still live on
the modern-day internet equivalent of the dirt road, relying on dial-up access.
Others have better than dial-up, but still don’t have high-speed Internet. So,
where you live determines whether you can follow the lead of people like Carmen
Tedesco and expect that you, too, can work from home.
There’s no clear evidence, yet, of how this growth
of high-speed internet access will affect settlement patterns. But it does
allow some new options for deciding where we live, and some of the so-called "connected" towns are
Huntington, where Carmen Tedesco lives, has jumped
from ninety-first in size among Vermont towns in 2000. It’s now 88th,
at just under two thousand residents.
Ten years ago, she could not have lived in rural
Vermont and worked in Washington, D.C. But she fits right into a new migration
pattern that economist Tom Kavet has been watching. It begins with the fact that
Vermont, a place where people would like to live, does not have a truly big
(Kavet) "So, big anchor
cities offer tremendous opportunity for young people starting out. There are
entry-level jobs that give them lots of responsibility and provide them great
opportunity for advancement. But what we see are migratory outflows of
people at the state level between mid 20s to mid 30s and then inflows from mid
30s to mid 50s. And we do know some characteristics of people coming in and
out: the people coming in are wealthier. So, just in terms of economic impact,
they tend to be people who have a choice about where they live. So they might
be bringing their business with them, they may be people who don’t have to
physically be close to the place that they work, which more and more these days
is an option for people."
(Delaney) "Do we have the
infrastructure to support people who want to work from home or want to work
online or who want to be away from the place where their paycheck is
(Kavet) "We’re getting it
and getting it very quickly. There have been some ambitious plans to rollout
broadband to every corner of the state, but, quite frankly, there wasn’t the
money to do it. The recent federal stimulus expenditures have benefited our
state enormously in that regard. They have accelerated and will probably result
in broadband access virtually everywhere and this will transform a lot of
Tom Kavet sees the economic potential of broadband as a future factor, even
though the sharp edge of that wedge is already here.
What that means is that soon, if not now,
working Vermonters can make a choice between going where people and jobs
cluster, or choosing another way.
Robert Frost put it this way almost a
hundred years ago:
roads diverged in a wood, and I, I chose the one less traveled by. And that has
made all the difference."
(Delaney) It has indeed to Carmen Tedesco and Vermont’s other new telecommuters.
The new Internet technology that may
boost the attractiveness of smaller places, has not blunted the growth of Burlington and its surrounding towns
at all in the past decade. It may have helped make northwestern Vermont even
more attractive for people who think even of Vermont’s largest city as a pretty
small place. Burlington has added twenty five hundred people and at forty two
thousand, it is the state’s population leader by more than two to one over
second-place Essex. But South Burlington has grown faster than either, adding
more than three thousand new residents. Of the 250 or so places to live in
Vermont, almost 200 of them don’t have as many residents in total as South
Burlington has added in the past ten years.
In fact, of the top eight communities in Vermont, five of them are in
Chittenden County, with Colchester in fourth place and Milton in eighth.
There are distinguished colleges all over
Vermont, but it’s hard to deny the impact of the Big Three in Chittenden
County: The University of Vermont, Champlain College and St. Michael’s in
Colchester create in the Burlington area a huge cluster of young people.
Chip Sawyer, who leads development
efforts in St. Albans, has looked at the effect of all those students in one
(Sawyer) "When you look at
in-state migration it is true that northwestern Vermont seems to be attracting
Vermonters from other areas of the state to them. … So Chittenden County must be
attracting other Vermonters into its general area."
Sawyer delivered an analysis of the 2010 census at the University of Vermont in
(Sawyer) "But when you look
at the net out-of-state migration, Chittenden County loses the most in net
numbers, which could be people graduating from college, which means that
Chittenden County loses more graduating seniors than it gains in people who are
entering college. So we’re losing our Vermonters who stay in-state to go to
college as well as those who come from out-of-state to go to college."
(Delaney) In Burlington, you
can often hear the energy. People walking down the street talking on their cell
phones. Vendors and restaurants teeming with customers. Even music serenading
shoppers on Church
(Brian Pine) "There is the
talk of the ‘talent drain’ or the ‘brain drain’ or the ‘young people who are
leaving Vermont because they can’t find work.’"
(Delaney) That’s Brian
Pine. He specializes in the housing and demographic patterns of Burlington.
(Pine) "I think there’s probably a kernel of truth to
that, but that’s probably true in most communities with the exception of large,
large urban areas, because jobs are plentiful if you will. … But I believe that
here, people find the experience to be unique and the Vermont Living experience
to be, if they find it to their liking, they’re going to come back. They’re
going to maybe go build a career, get more experience, and come back because
it’s such a great place to live. It’s such a great place to raise kids. And
that, that’s something that brings people back."
Economist Tom Kavet agrees that out-migration may well reverse itself after a
few years, and bring those graduates back, as Carmen Tedesco returned, after
going from Middlebury College to Washington, D.C., to Huntington, Vermont.
And Brian Pine thinks that Burlington is leading in the push
toward high speed internet access, due largely to Burlington Telecom, its
fiscally troubled fiber-optic network.
(Pine) "Today in Burlington, because of our
fiberoptic system, which of course is having some challenges financially, but,
those challenges aside, it’s one of the most advanced fiber optic systems
anywhere. And so you’ll find business people who are here now, that are
thriving and doing well because they have access to basically a band-width in
the fiber optic system that they can communicate files with very large amounts
of information very quickly, in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be available if
burlington hadn’t invested in that system."
(Delaney) The best
known of the new software companies reliant on fiber-optic internet access
include Dealer.com and MyWebGrocer.com, both technology driven.
So Burlington now has the technical requirements to be jobs hub, the
ethnic and racial diversity to be a cultural hub, and the infrastructure,
including the state’s best transportation system, to assert its dominance in
other fields as well. Those civic assets raise an important question about the
state’s dominant city.
Is Burlington sucking all the economic energy out of
the rest of the state? All the young brains, all the good jobs? Absolutely not,
according to people who live in other quadrants of Vermont.
Hubbard to the apparatus floor. Captain Hubbard to the apparatus floor."
(Ron Hubbard) "My name is
Ron Hubbard I’m a captain with the Brattleboro Fire Department. I have been
here for 32 years now, I started in 1980. I was born and raised in
(Delaney) For Captain Hubbard, the struggle for Brattleboro’s future is
a tug of war among competing civic assets.
(Hubbard) "There’s the artsy community,
which is great, it’s fantastic, and that group of folks who really don’t want
to grow, they want to keep this scenic little town, but then there’s the other
folks that want industry and business and I guess which I’m one of them, for
jobs. I think that, with jobs, with adequate jobs, the towns going to thrive
and, we’ll have the money in our tax base to maintain green spaces and build
parks and stuff."
(Delaney) Real estate broker Suzanne King embraces both the town’s
roles, artistic and economic alike.
(King) "Brattleboro is sort of the hub. It’s
the cultural hub and it’s also the economic hub for Windham County."
(Delaney) Still, she sometimes sees the shadow of a bigger mass at the
opposite corner of Vermont.
(King) "I think Burlington does feel pretty
far away. When things happen in other parts of the state I think this area
sometimes gets forgotten a little bit."
The shire town of southeastern Vermont ranks seventh among Vermont communities,
just behind Bennington and just ahead of Milton. Its population has
grown by just a third of one percent in the past decade, and yet Brattleboro is hardly stagnant.
Perry) "My name is Jacqueline Perry. I was born in Brattleboro, Vt., and I
…. grew up in W. Townsend, Vt. Now I live back
in Brattleboro. Right now we’re at the Brattleboro Wednesday Farmer’s Market. …
I do want to stay in Vermont because my
family’s here and I’m getting into the organic farming, for a career.
(Delaney) Jaqueline Perry is 27, went to nearby Marlboro College, and is
getting into organic farming as a career.
(Perry) "A lot of restaurants are going out
of business, and that affects farming."
(Delaney) She’s a regular at the Wednesday farmers’ market in
(Perry) "It’s going to be $9.55 please."
(takes money, hear bills and change).
(Perry) "There you go, thanks a lot. Enjoy."
(Perry) "I’m planning, at least, the next
five years I can see myself in Vermont. Brattleboro, Vermont. Yah!"
(Delaney) Cheers for Brattleboro are matched by cheers for the hometown
in dozens of Vermont communities, especially our small, rural outposts.
They may not have seen the growth that the necklace of towns around Burlington
has. But almost everywhere, people say, this town is just right for me.
(Paul Costello) "There’s a
lot of different reasons that people want to be in rural Vermont communities."
Paul Costello runs Vermont’s Council on Rural Development, an organization
devoted to the well-being of our smaller communities. He’s bullish on the
future of towns large and small, regardless of what the census numbers tell us.
Costello says the lure of those places is complex and powerful.
complicated. It’s recreational opportunities. It’s economic. But it’s also cultural. It’s a sense that we’re not a community
that’s glass is half-empty; A community that’s flat or has a feeling of
decline. A feeling where people are
rallied together, where there’s a sense of vision about the future. There’s a sense of internalized brand, like a
cultural identification with a sense of place that’s positive."
Costello and others we’ll hear from believe in the Vermont Brand, a sense of
pride visible in most Vermont communities. And the census figures suggest that
that pride is there, regardless of whether the town in question is gaining or
(Charles Turnbaugh) "My name’s Charles
Turnbaugh. I live in Moretown."
(Delaney) Charles Turnbaugh believes people live in Moretown not only by
habit, but by desire, the healing effects of adversity, most recently Tropical
(Turnbaugh) "We’ve all, stead of these little
feuds that we had before, they’re all
gone away, and we’re all pulled together here, and it’s made us a complete
community now. And that’s my ‘wow’ moment."
town after town along all the flooded rivers of Vermont, the chorus was the
same. "We had more volunteers," they said, "than we knew what to do with." Nina
Brennan is part of that chorus. She owns the Proud Flower shop in hard-hit
(Brennan) "I personally have never seen that
many people come together for no gain for themselves, just to help their
(Delaney) In that widespread response to the
flooding emergency, Governor Peter Shumlin sees a kind of Vermont
exceptionalism, a way in which we are unique.
(Shumlin) "It isn’t just rhetoric. Vermont is
a place and perhaps the only place in the country where we care about each
other, we take care of each other, we share a common destiny to ensure we all
have a good quality of life."
Small-town advocate Paul Costello says there’s a dynamic in the state, beyond
the landscape, and beyond the reaction to disasters that draws people to the
Green Mountains and holds them here.
(Costello) "We are Bellow
Falls. We are Hinesburg. We’re
Richmond. We’re a town on the move. And if we’re not then there’s a sense of loss
and a sense of worry and a sense of decline and a sense that because you don’t
have that feeling together, you don’t line up together. You don’t get the bigger things done. You don’t know what’s next. The glass is half empty and you don’t know
how to fill it up."
There are both kinds of communities in Vermont and we’ll explore the reasons
why some places with growing populations are struggling, while other towns that
now have fewer people are thriving. We’ll hear from those places when Counting
Vermont continues in a moment.
How is Vermont changing and how is that change reflected in the 2010 census
numbers? That’s what we’re analyzing in this hour. I’m Steve Delaney and this
is Counting Vermont.
then there’s Chittenden County. Just under ten thousand people moved into the
state’s economic engine since 2000 and now almost exactly a quarter of the
state’ residents live there, in a string of busy towns surrounding Burlington.
Those ten thousand new people are more than the total population of all but
eight communities in the state, and five of those are neighbors: Burlington,
South Burlington, Essex, Colchester and Milton, all in Chittenden County. Some
Vermonters think of the city by the lake as a huge black hole, swallowing up
young people in search of jobs, and the best doctors, the best teachers and the
best entertainment. In other words, all the things you can’t quite find in a
smaller place, as embracing as that place may be.
There are several kinds of smaller
places. Charlotte is one. It’s a town that’s firmly anchored to the Greater
Burlington economy, and is in transition from agriculture to suburb. It has gained a hundred eighty five
residents in the past decade, to more than thirty-seven hundred. Charlotte has
jumped past Windsor and Poultney since the 2000 census and now ranks 41st
among Vermont towns. The farms that remain here tend to be home to horses. More
and more of the people who live in Charlotte think of it as a bedroom community. They
drive to Burlington or other towns for work and recreation.
On the other end of the spectrum is
Hardwick. Charlotte and Hardwick don’t share much except an agricultural past –
and a changing population and landscape. Hardwick has two gateways to the
Northeast Kingdom, in Routes 14 and 15. For a while it was considered, even by
its residents, as a place where not much happened. That’s not true any more,
even though the town has lost 164 people in the past decade, and at just over
three thousand, ranks 56th in Vermont. Hardwick is the informal
capital of the state’s "Eat Local" movement. In fact there’s a sign on the
local bookstore that says "Eat Local, Read Local."
That new civic energy has turned Hardwick
into what one writer calls the town that food saved.
State Archivist Gregory Sanford thinks
that now, Hardwick has more positivity, a firmer sense of direction than
Charlotte has – even if the census numbers send a different message.
(Sanford) "Charlotte, for instance, it’s relatively, at least on the west side of town, flat agricultural land that’s now being turned into residential, often well-to-do
residential. It has lake frontage. It has those particular economic advantages. So it’s
interesting to note, like many towns, there was a traditional break, even in
Charlotte. So now the dividing line is comparable to where Route 7 is between
east and west Charlotte had 2 different sets of world views if you will, based on what their
economic base population, density, etc… was. So you look at Hardwick – Hardwick actually was an economic engine of Lamoille County at one point because of its quarrying interests. It was
importing workers. It was doing quite well. When that business starts to collapse it becomes the
Hardwick, which for better or worse becomes a negative reference symbol for a lot
of people "Oh, there’s a town where there’s nothing going on". Now you look at it and a
new group of people have moved in. They are trying to create a different
economic engine based on a variety of alternative agricultural approaches. So what
will Hardwick be then versus Charlotte in another 5 – 10 years? What’s different about it right now? What’s changing about them as
Charlotte looses its agricultural base and Hardwick builds theirs up as you see
a larger cultural context about local war movements, farm to plate. There’s just a whole host of moving targets."
In the public’s eye, Hardwick has changed dramatically. There’s a sense that
it’s a town on the move. New businesses, new ideas, momentum. Is it?
(Linda Ramsdell) "The first thing
I’d say is that I don’t know that Hardwick has actually been re-invented."
Ramsdell owns the Galaxy Bookstore and is behind the emergence of Clare’s, a
new café that’s become a community meeting place.
(Ramsdell) "There’s been a lot of attention has been
paid to Hardwick, and I think that’s all justified and exciting and has brought
a lot of attention, and that’s all really great."
"I think it’s
a combination of factors, it’s just like some kind of magic happened where all
of the, you know, it sounds all airy-fairy or something, but it’s like a lot of
things just lined up. The people, people who started talking together, started
"To me there’s something
really durable about people actually having conversations and shaking hands
with each other to make things happen…
I wanted a classic third place, a place that wasn’t
work and wasn’t home, where people would have those conversations with each
(Delaney) Three years
ago, Clare’s was born, a café that has become a nexus of the new Hardwick, a
newly energized town that still has its old challenges.
(Miranda Hunt) "Hardwick is
still a really poor town."
Miranda Hunt looks quite at home in the kitchen of the Buffalo Mountain Café,
in the middle of Hardwick. But she worries that there may be a downside to the
(Hunt) "I know there have been a lot of publicity
about the area and the food movement and the local movement going on, and there
have been tons of articles. I think it’s drawing people here so we’re all kind
of worried, are tons of people going to start flocking here to live here
because it is this great place? Which wouldn’t be bad, I guess, for businesses,
but would it change the whole atmosphere and the whole community itself, if
tons of people just started moving here."
"There are more jobs and there have been in
recent years but there’s a lot of pressure around jobs and housing and people
having enough food to eat."
"So, I worry that everybody thinks that
Hardwick has been transformed and everything’s perfect here, but really there’s
a lot of ways that people still need to work and help each other so that
everybody has what they need. Because it’s still a very poor rural town."
(Delaney) Hardwick and Charlotte are both trying to redefine themselves.
One town has new energy based on rethinking its agriculture and another has new
prosperity based on converting farmland to comfortable suburban homes.
People who study marine biology know that big fish eat
little fish. People who study population shifts have often said that big towns
eat little towns and rural villages.
Well, the new census figures
just don’t support that theory, not any more. Of the Vermont towns
that rank between one hundredth and one hundred fiftieth largest in population,
only twelve have lost residents in the past decade. And of those twelve, the
average loss was 32 people. Only Cavendish lost more than a hundred.
What that suggests is that
our smaller places have a staying power that goes against the notion that
bright young people leave small-town Vermont in search of jobs and excitement. The just-emerging Carmen Tedesco
Effect – people who are able to hold down big-city jobs while living in
small-town Vermont – may be reversing that drain. Native Vermonters and people
from away as well may be coming back to rural places, because thanks to
improved computer access, they can actually work from anywhere. Economist Tom
Kavet says a lot of them are looking for what he calls the amenities advantage.
(Kavet) "And when there
are job opportunities it’s not difficult to attract people and people will work
in Vermont at lower wages than they would in other places. That’s another indication
of a positive amenity. You say that it’s a bad thing that our wages are a
little bit lower but it’s interesting, the biggest wage differentials between
Vermont and the rest of the country are in highly skilled professions. Things
like software programming, physicians, lawyers, economists. There’s a bigger
gap between what they earn in Vermont and what they could earn outside; so
they’re here by choice. They could be working anywhere; they’re here by choice.
And that reflects on the fact that’s it’s a nice place e to live, for the most
part. So, people think of it as an attractive place to raise a family and to
(Delaney) As for the
students themselves, they’re of mixed mind about settling in Vermont. Marshon
Warren, for one, thinks Burlington is just too different from his hometown,
(Warren) "My name is Marshon Warren, and I’m 20, and I
go to CCV. Right now, I’m a sophomore and I plan on leaving next year to go to
Boston for college there, transfer to Boston University. Because I’m not into
the whole Vermont thing. So
small, and the same thing every day, and yah. Laugh. I just want to leave."
(Hopkins) "My name’s Sydney Hopkins, I’m a junior at
the University of Vermont. … I’m from Vt. so it’s definitely an area that I
like. I like the town of Burlington. I’m an education major so the school
system in Burl is really, really good. And they have a wide selection of
different types of school so it’s definitely a possibility, but I don’t see
myself staying here after school."
(Kennedy) "My name is Caitlin Kennedy. I’m from New
Jersey and I’m a freshman at UVM. I def think I’m going to stay in Vermont just
because I like the whole town feel of it, and the connectivity to other people."
(Delaney) Joy McKenzie is 45
and the mother of four, ranging in age from 13 to 26. She’s happy in her
(McKenzie) "Well, I came over from England to
Burlington. I’ve been here for 12 years. I work at Rite Aid, downtown
Burlington. … Burlington to me is okay. There’s not much to do down here,
especially for children. So I think with
my children, do I see them staying in Burlington for a long? No, I don’t. ‘Cuz
they talk about going somewhere else, different state.
(Delaney) Some of those settlement decisions are based on whether people
look around and see people like themselves. People of color, different
ethnicities. In most places, they don’t see a lot of minorities. But in
Vermont’s population hub of Burlington, they do. And that is fairly new.
Brian Pine of the city of Burlington reflects on the changes.
(Pine) "I’ve lived here for 30 years and
so I have the perspective of 30 years of change and demographic change and
there’s change that you observe in Burlington just by being here when you are
driving or walking along and you see more people of color than you would have
seen 30 years ago. That’s really obvious."
"And that has implications for our Burlington
community in so many ways. We have adjustments that need to be made in terms of
the way that our schools function and the way that our work-force reflects the
growing diversity or doesn’t reflect the growing diversity."
"The types of offerings that are
provided at school, everything from the holidays we observe to the food we
serve to the courses, all of that needs to be taken into consideration now that
we have a very different population than we did 10, 15, 20 years ago."
(Delaney) Pine believes the Burlington region’s diversity is one of the
reasons that it’s grown as much as it has compared to the rest of the state.
So, when someone settled in Vermont, Burlington was the natural place for them
to move. It has the services. And because of that, Pine believes, it makes
itself more attractive.
(Pine) "We have a relatively welcoming,
inclusive community, and it’s not the case in all parts of Vermont because they
just don’t have the capabilities to do that. They don’t have the resources. "
(Delaney) There are challenges, of course. Schools in Burlington and
some surrounding towns have to be prepared to serve non-English speakers, for
example. Other social needs have to be met. But the advantages to someone like
Brian Pine are economic. The greater diversity, he says, is attractive to newcomers
looking for work.
(Pine) "I think the one thing that
people might not see right away and it might take almost a generation to see is
the benefit of having a more diverse community, is that our children now are
growing up in a community which is much more similar to communities in other
parts of U.S. and other parts of the world, where you’d have less homogeneity
and you have more diversity. You’re more exposed to other languages, other
cultural norms, different types of food, different belief systems, all of that,
i think makes our children a little more prepared for the world and more
well-rounded as people. I think that’s a really positive thing."
(Delaney) There’s yet another type of small Vermont town… the ones just
beyond the reach of larger places, the ones where agriculture has been the
unwavering economic driver for almost 200 years.
Tucked away east of St.
Albans in Franklin County is Fairfield, now Vermont’s 89th biggest
town after adding ninety people in the past decade to reach nineteen hundred
and thirty eight, just behind Huntington in the population parade. Fairfield is
ground zero for maple syrup, dairy farms and Howrigans.
(Danny Howrigan) "Well I think
that Franklin County is the center of maple syrup for the country and Fairfield
is the biggest producer of maple syrup in Franklin County so, guess that puts
us up there with the best of them."
Howrigan is part of an enormous sugaring clan that makes Fairfield the top
syrup producer in the state. He’s the sixth generation on this land, and he’s
(Howrigan) "I’ve lived here my whole life, so far.
When I grew up in grade school it was very, very, you knew everybody in the
community and it was all small farms Today, there’s a lot more people living here that work out of town, lot more
commuters, yet agriculture’s still prospering. The farms that are left have
gotten a lot larger both in maple and dairy."
While the trend all over Vermont is to hire outside farm labor, the Howrigans
still run an all-family enterprise. Danny Howrigan heads out the barn himself
to feed the family’s horses.
(Howrigan) "We’re still doing it ourselves but it’s
just the economics of agriculture’s very challenging right now. It’s very
marginal, that’s why I think everybody’s getting larger. Well hopefully the
farm can keep going and the town as well."
(Delaney) Fairfield has in fact prospered in the past decade. And its
solid agriculture base is still driving the local economy. Fairfield is one of
the many Vermont towns where farming offsets the growing number of new
residents who commute to jobs in Chittenden County. Danny Howrigan says he
doesn’t know a lot of those people.
Economist Tom Kavet says that balance of economies is good, that too
much conformity would be bad.
guess I would watch out for becoming the same; for a kind of homogeneity that
if we just drift, without any conscious sense of what our direction is and who
we are, I think there’s a tendency to sort of drift into the middle. To sort of
drift into just becoming like any other state in the United State’s. So, I
would celebrate our differences and I would identify our differences and I
would look at things that are comparative advantages and competitive advantages
both from an economic point of view and also cultural and social points of view
and I would try to do more of that. So, I would say, maybe inattention would be
the biggest risk. A lack of any plan or direction would be the biggest risk
because once we just morph into anythingness or everythingness we no longer
have an identity."
Paul Bruhn is a preservationist. He heads the Preservation Trust of Vermont,
and he thinks Vermont’s uniqueness is safe, because Vermonters know how fragile
(Bruhn) "I think that’s true
for lots of people. That there is an understanding about this fragility. And
there is an understanding that it needs work and that we’ve got to make an
(Delaney) "So we have to
cultivate Vermont’s essence in the same way that we cultivate the fields. And
keep after it. And keep weeding it."
(Delaney) "And weeds are
sprawl and other attractive nuisances."
(Bruhn) "Absolutely. And if
we are able to figure out how to do just that, I think our future is very
bright and we will have both a very strong, wonderful place to live, a great
place to work and a strong economic well being as well."
(Delaney) Again, economist Tom Kavet.
(Kavet) "I think we’re
constantly redefining who we are and that can happen sometimes more quickly
than people think. So, I feel like what Vermont could become is wide open.
We’re not limited by what we have been in terms of what we can be."
(Delaney) "Are there many
places like that here?"
(Kavet) "Many places like
that in Vermont, I think. Yea, many small towns that still have a functional
general store and still have people that come to baseball games downtown and,
you know, that are alive, that have things going on: musical events, cultural
(Delaney) "What are the
symptoms of a failure to thrive or a lack of will to live on the civic level?"
(Kavet) "Well, I think you
see it immediately just in the landscape of a town. You know, shuttered
businesses and absence of anything happening, so …"
(Delaney) "Is that the
absence of young people?"
(Kavet) "No, not necessarily
young people, old people can make a town very vibrant as well, it’s not just young
(Delaney) Gregory Sanford believes the
uniqueness that is Vermont can embrace some very different places with equal
(Sanford) "Frank Bryan used
to say Burlington has the advantage of being a city near the Vermont border. It’s
more complex than that, I think Burlington IS in Vermont, I think Burlington
does reflect both of Vermont’s landscape, it’s wonderful harbor, the fact that
it has been the university for a couple hundred years, that it has provided all
these things. I think Hardwick is Vermont with its
quarrying it’s agricultural base its occasional poverty its growth and rebirth.
It is all Vermont and if we want to say large towns small towns Burlington versus the
rest I think we tend to forget who we are."
(Delaney) "We think of
ourselves as different . Who are we, what are we?"
(Sanford) If I had to look
at distinguishing Vermont features, I think landscape does have an impact on
people if nothing else starting from the very beginning, how you are going to
start with … farming, develop a market economy all those sort of things, that
will have a part in it, and I think the climate has a role that you have a few
months of concentrated good weather hopefully so you can grow things or take
advantage of it and a longer winter. I think if I had to look at one thing and
again, I’m not an expert at this, I think we always have had a relatively small
population, that population is spread out over 246 towns and cities 251 if you
want to count the 5 unorganized towns, and we have opportunities to talk to one
another. ….you can hear the occasional cacophony but in this whole it dialogue
about who we want to be, how each generation has had to tackle core issues
whether it be the economy, taxation, the
environment going all the way back to the 18th century. That
opportunity to talk, to realize you can’t disparage broadly because you’re
going to see that same person at the local store I think has been a saving
grace. There are forces that pull against that; mass media, the
impersonalization of talking heads whether it be on radio, TV or now through
blogs and however you get access to them, but we’re still small enough, still
smaller than most U.S. cities, that I think is our saving grace."
"So, as we have settled in the land, and how
we now express concern about sprawl, we support downtown development and the
concentration within communities. But at the same time, we want to live in the
(Delaney) And living in the country, getting away from the hubbub that
even the bells at an old-fashioned gas station might produce, can mean very
different things to different people.
(Tom Rowshoe) "My name is Tom Rowshoe. And I
lived in Hardwick, all my life. Well, until last year. I moved to Woodbury.
Just to get out of the village. Where I lived in the village there was a lot of
traffic and i want to be in the back woods of Vermont a little bit. Finally get
a piece of the nice countryside!"
(Delaney) Tom Rowshoe owns Mike’s Service Station in the center of town.
He’s lived through hard times in Hardwick.
(Rowshoe) "I’ve seen a lot of changes in the buildings in
Hardwick. And the surrounding towns as well. People have taken the buildings
and redone them, and brought in more business into Hardwick, in the last five
years, I’ve seen that. Prior to that, it was kind of run down. It was at one
time, like 20 years ago, still very busy. Then it went down, over ten years.
And now it’s picked back up. I think a lot of it is this new sustainable living
and agriculture movement we’ve got in this area. Local farmers. Local foods.
That kind of thing."
(Delaney) Richmond holds down Chittenden County’s eastern flank, and is
trying to balance being an independent community with being a bedroom for
Burlington. In the last census, Richmond lost nine residents and dropped a
population notch to 37th just behind fast-growing Fairfax and just
ahead of Rutland Town.
Polly and Dave Sobel moved
to Richmond from South Burlington years ago, and they think their town is
growing just about as it should.
(Dave Sobel) "This is a small
community of 4,000 people that seems to be not looking to grow immeasurably, I
think it’s a reasonable amount for this size community. We still have dairy
farms. And we still have people who commute into the city. So it’s a very nice balance. Not too many
people have 3 upscale restaurants in their town of 4,000 people, unless you
head up to Stowe."
One thing they say they don’t fret about is the chance
that their independent Richmond will be sucked into the high density of the
(Polly Sobel) "I don’t really think so. No.
4:04 I think there is zoning in place that would probably prevent that."
(Dave Sobel) "Yeah, I would agree. It’s never been a
Even for people who live in areas of the state that haven’t had big population
gains, there’s almost always a sense of optimism. Rutland is no longer the
second largest community in the state and hasn’t been for years. But people
there still like to boast that it’s Vermont’s "second city" even though it’s
outranked by the likes of Essex and South Burlington now.
the same kind of civic pride holds in most of Vermont’s traditional population
centers. Bennington holds down the southwestern corner of the state. Newport
and St. Johnsbury anchor opposite corners of the Northeast Kingdom. Hartford
and its collection of villages prosper in the orbit of Dartmouth College.
Gregory Sanford thinks Vermont’s future has more potential than a choice
between IBM-style industrialization and Norman Rockwell quaintness.
(Sanford) "And isn’t that up
to us. The thing about it is you look across VT history and people say what is
it? Is it the water there? Why were you the first state to abolish slavery in
1777? Or not have property qualifications for office holders, why did you have
inventors like John Deere and others coming out of this rural region, why have
you supported social services over time, in different ways."
(Delaney) "Getting rid of
(Sanford) "Bottle deposits,
these are …… civil unions/gay marriage. None of these were easy, but we had
those discussions and we decided this is who we are and who we want to be."
Maybe that’s why we live here… to be among people from Burlington who will
carpool to places they have to look up on a map, just to lend a hand in times
of need. To be among farmers who will turn tractors and chains to the labor of
shifting the rubble away from the re-usable. To be among those who savor the
view, and value it above the billboards.
be welcomed by retired firemen handing out plates of beans and burgers to
exhausted volunteers after a disaster.
It feels good. It is us, and no matter
whether the town we live in is growing or static or struggling,
the Vermont edge, the difference, the brand. And, at least when crisis occurs,
we seem to think it’s worth stretching ourselves to preserve all that.
The census tells us a lot, but not how
we’re doing. We must look elsewhere for that, but it’s not hard to find the
Vermont answer: "Not too bad."
For VPR News, I’m Steve Delaney.
Note: Counting Vermont was written by Steve Delaney and produced and reported
by Liz First Raddock. Chris Albertine was technical director and Bob Merrill composed
our theme music. Ross Sneyd was editor and John Van Hoesen was executive
producer. Production of Counting Vermont was supported by VPR’s Journalism