by Rosanne Greco
That’s the question Vermonters almost always ask whenever I tell them we moved here from the Maryland suburbs. My answer is always the same: “Vermont!”
I usually follow that up with the fact that neither my husband nor I had any relatives or friends in Vermont, nor we did have any job prospects. (We were at retirement age, but intended to keep working.) At first, Vermonters’ incredulity that we would choose to retire to a cold, costly state with fewer amenities took me by surprise.
For me, and for many others who move to Vermont after living in other states, it was obvious: unmatchable quality of life! I feel fortunate—even blessed—to live in a place like Vermont. Many of us who have lived elsewhere (I’ve lived in eight U.S. states and five foreign countries) fled those places, and deliberately choose Vermont because it was unlike the other states.
Discovering that there was a place like Vermont was like remembering how to breath and how to smile again. Sixteen years ago, we choose Vermont for its uniqueness and even its quirkiness, for its natural beauty, because it took care of the environment, for it’s smallness which allows neighbors to know each other, for its caring for others less fortunate, for its sense of safety, for its citizen involvement, and so much more.
I instantly felt a soul-connection with this wonderful state. And every time I leave the state—which is very rarely—my heart leaps a bit as soon as I cross back into Vermont.
But, much of what I cherish about Vermont now seems in jeopardy. There is a concerted effort to homogenize our state—make it like “Anywhere, USA.”
Some of those in power are vigorously pushing that we pave over paradise to build 40,000 more houses and add 100,000+ more people. They tell us that we need to build, build, build and grow, grow, grow, even if it causes the destruction of our natural environment, and changes the look, feel, and character of Vermont. They tell us that adding more houses and people is worth the loss of our state’s soul.
The mountains, meadows, trees, hillsides, wildlife, waters are part of who we are. You don’t have to imagine what Vermont would look like without them. Just drive south, or east, or west to other states.
There is a distinct possibility that the paradise that is Vermont is on the verge of being lost. Legislators in the Statehouse are considering a bill (S.100) that will take away local control over land use, including town’s regulations to preserve open lands. The bill will force dense housing over the rural lands in some areas, and at the same time, remove some of the environmental protections put into place through Act 250 decades ago.
Vermont would look very different were it not for environmental protections. Those of us who cherish our majestic open lands are shamed for not being ok with destroying them for housing.
Housing advocates are clamoring that we should be willing to sacrifice just about everything for more housing. They talk as if nothing is more important. All other problems, including the existential threat of climate change, take a back seat, if they get a seat at all.
Adding tens of thousands more houses along with the accompanying hundred thousand population increase will destroy a significant amount of the natural world and dramatically change our small state. I am beyond baffled as to why some Vermonters are doing their darndest to destroy the very things that most of us cherish, and which attract tourists and those who love the natural world, to Vermont.
I sometimes get the impression that Vermonters think our smallness is a negative, and that we are backwards or behind the times, or are country bumpkins because we don’t think, act, or look like the rest of the U.S. In reality, we possess something far more meaningful. Our country needs more of the small town and small state values which focus on taking care of ALL of us: human and non-human beings alike.
One of the main reasons we moved to Vermont was because of its reputation for protecting nature and wildlife. Unlike other places which think it normal to exploit the natural world so that humans can live larger lives and have more stuff, Vermonters respected and cared for the natural world even as they did for one another. The growth and consumption mentality, which has caused the climate crisis, was not part of the Vermont ethic — until this push to grow and build.
Eliminating nature to build houses will not only destroy the uniqueness of Vermont, but it will also alter our souls. And the incredibly sad thing is that most won’t know what they had till it’s gone. Our children and their children will never know the beauty and peace we now enjoy. We really are paving over paradise.
I struggled with words to express my feelings and fears for Vermont, and it turned into this long-winded commentary. Perhaps the words of a child and a stranger on a plane say it better than I.
A few years ago, after a week-long visit with us, family members were flying back to Maryland. As they sat on the plane waiting for it to take off from the Burlington airport, our eight-year-old granddaughter started crying and then turned to her mother and asked, “Why do we have to go back to America?”
A few years before that on a non-stop flight to Vermont, I overheard a stranger make a comment which has stayed with me. Parents with young children boarded the flight and took their seats in the row in front of me. Just as the plane was taking off, the father turned to his children and said: “Next stop…paradise.”
Children and visitors understand “Why Vermont?” Do we?
Rosanne Greco is a retired Air Force Colonel, and a former Chair of the South Burlington City Council. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the South Burlington Land Trust.