by Elizabeth Parker
MONTPELIER — Montpelier has not always looked the way we see it today. Long gone are the granite sheds along the Winooski River. Long gone are the buildings and open areas that were paved over to create 4,000 parking spaces after the advent of the car — 4,000 parking spaces that take up a large portion of the city, create deserts of pavement, and so often block our access to the rivers. So what might Montpelier look like in 2030?
Enter NetZeroVT.org, which started to imagine how to utilize downtown parking areas to create vibrant neighborhoods that could provide diverse business opportunities; increase affordable housing for young families, creatives and elders; incorporate the rivers as focal points; and increase our energy independence through renewable energy options. Wisely, NetZeroVT.org decided to ask the experts, and the Sustainable Montpelier Design Competition was born. This is new ground for a small city such as Montpelier, the first design competition of its kind, and will be a model for other cities seeking to energize their urban core.
This past fall, 20 architectural teams from all over the world submitted their designs for the first round. Over 700 people viewed the entries at the NetZeroVT.org pop-up at the now-vacant One More Time location or viewed the designs online and then voted for their five favorite entries. The finalists have submitted their new summary drawings and have each made a 5-minute video describing their design concept. The design concepts are now on display at City Hall and online at NetZeroVT.org.
The design teams are excited to be participating in this project because it offers them the unique challenge of doing an entire urban redesign. Ideas offered by the design teams include creating parks along the rivers; a gondola from Taylor Street to National Life; a year-round home for the farmers’ market; new housing with the flexibility to also be configured as maker space; and a greater emphasis on satellite parking with biking, pedestrian paths and a trolley to get people where they need to go more quickly. When you have looked at the designs you will see many more wonderful ideas.
The final round of the competition, which will be held Saturday, Jan. 7, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at the Pavilion auditorium, will feature 20-minute presentations by each of the teams in which they will describe their summary designs followed by a 10-minute question and answer period. Because tickets have been going fast, a satellite location has been created at the Unitarian Church, where the community can meet to watch the event and submit questions to be answered by the design teams. There will be door prizes, including energy-saving devices and consultations.
People are encouraged to come together as a community and attend these events, however, if you are homebound or want to have a viewing party at your house, ORCA will be streaming the event live on the Public Channel. The presentations will also be available for viewing Jan. 8 through 12 on ORCA and online at NetZeroVT.org. Free tickets for the Jan. 7 finalist presentations are available at NetZeroVT.org and at Capitol Stationers.
Voting for the winner of the $10,000 first prize will start after the Finalist Presentations event on Jan. 7 and will continue online and at City Hall fromJan. 8 through 12. Mark your calendar and plan on taking time to preview the entries at City Hall or online at NetZeroVT.org, watch the presentations in person, online, or on ORCA, and cast your vote by Wednesday, Jan. 12. Because many people commute into Montpelier for work, shopping or recreation, voting is open to everyone, not only Montpelier residents.
The many ideas presented by the competition are stimulating discussion. Comments that emerged from the first round included making the design child-friendly, the importance of having the design of new buildings work with the distinctive French themes of the existing architecture, and enhancing the use of land along the rivers. The first community conversation, an opportunity for people to talk about their favorite ideas, to offer solutions to perceived challenges and to explore ways in which individuals can participate in the design and implementation process going forward will be held on Monday, Jan. 9 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hayes Room of the Kellogg Hubbard Library. Stay tuned for additional conversations to be scheduled in the months to come.
NetZeroVT.org received sponsorship for the $10,000 first prize from Ben and Jerry’s, the National Life Group, the Vermont State Employees Credit Union, the Vermont Creamery and All Earth Renewables. The final votes will be tabulated and the winner of the competition will be announced Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 10 a.m. in the Cedar Creek Room at the State House. Everyone is welcome to attend. Cast your vote and share your ideas on how we can build on our existing strengths and activate untapped resources to create a vibrant, thriving Montpelier in 2030 and beyond.
The author is a Montpelier resident and advisor to NetZeroVT.