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One of my top priorities in choosing where to live this summer was the convenience and walkability of the neighborhood (second to actually finding a job, of course). Now that about a month has passed and I’m feeling settled in, I’d say the place I chose meets those desires.
Every day I walk to work in about four minutes. On my way out the door, I pass the most popular local bar on the ground floor of my apartment building. I shop for all my daily needs within a five minute walk. And, perhaps not so ideal, I hear the constant roar of traffic and sirens as they whiz by my window.
So, take a guess, where do I live? If you imagined New York, Boston, or any other city, you’re wrong.
What I didn’t mention is that my commute takes me over Otter Creek via a pedestrian bridge, that the local bar on the ground floor of my building is the only local bar, that those stores I shop at fill the few blocks downtown, and that noise outside…well, that’s only there because my apartment happens to be right next to one of the few traffic circles in town.
If that doesn’t sound much like a city, you’re right. It’s the small town of Middlebury, Vermont.
When I took a job with the Foundation here this summer, many of my suburbia-raised friends called me crazy. “Vermont? What, do you plan on hanging out with cows all summer? Why don’t you just live in the city? That’s where all the action is.”
Today, more of the world’s population lives in cities than ever before. Young professionals move to the city seeking jobs. Environmentalists promote the 'sustainable city' lifestyle. But when we say city, what exactly do we mean? Is a city strictly a huge metropolis with blocks upon blocks of buildings, streets jammed with cars, taxis, people and storefronts? Are cities, by nature, pure chaos? Or can a city be something on a smaller scale? Say, on the scale of Middlebury, Vermont?
Living here, I enjoy a lot of the benefits city dwellers pride themselves on. And I also enjoy something else many city dwellers lack: a strong sense of community. With a population of only around 8,000, I find that faces are already familiar. I feel connected to Middlebury because I’m developing relationships with people in the place.
I strongly believe that we must recognize the value of the social connections and ties to place that happen in small cities and towns. With the help of efforts such as Orton’s Heart & Soul Community Planning, more and more small communities will discover their unique value and work towards becoming vibrant and enduring for years to come. Middlebury is one example of a community that seems well on its way.