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The Middlebury Town Plan

September 24th, 2012

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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Today I found unexpectedly good reading in Middlebury’s new 2012 Town Plan. The document is really well done and its quality highlights the vigorous engagement between the town, its citizenry, and businesses that makes this a fabulous place to live.

While all 226 pages are worthwhile, I found Section 2.13  “Land Use – Conservation and Development Plan” to be especially moving. I mean “moving” in a totally serious, non-ironic way. Coming from a town (Carlisle, PA) with rampant “Miracle Mile” commercial development and suburban sprawl, this forward-looking vision of how the town should be developed and improved in coming decades reassures me that 30 years from now Middlebury will be an even better place to live than it is today.

My favorite quote is from Section 2.13, page 151:

A fundamental objective of this Town Plan is to maintain Middlebury as a traditional Vermont town and to prevent incremental change to “anywhere USA”. This is not merely an aesthetic notion, it is a recognized economic development strategy for Middlebury and Vermont. This Plan supports architecture that is designed to fit its context in Middlebury and does not support standardized trade-marked or corporate prototypes.

In 2005 James Howard Kunstler (author of The Geography of Nowhere among other titles) gave a great talk at Middlebury College on human-scale urban development and the lack thereof in much of American urban planning. In his talk he justly derided our own little “Miracle [1/2] mile” by the Hannaford Shopping center. As an avid bicycle commuter who lived south of the village for many years I felt the effects of this poor zoning and development planning on a daily basis as I tried to safely navigate the no-shoulder/no-sidewalk turning-lane and fore-court infested section of road without getting killed. I am very pleased to see that slowly remedying these past lapses is part of the town’s plan for the future.

In addition to spending several hours reading the 2012 Middlebury Town Plan, I heartily recommend taking another hour to watch William H. Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner. My favorite part is at 12:00: “People tend to sit where there are places to sit.”