In the Sustainable Montpelier 2030 Design Competition, we learned that the smart designs of all the finalists included a transformation of our riverfronts from ignored edges of parking lots, to open green space. For years, in public forums, the citizens of Montpelier has shown a great yearning for access to the water as a key part of improved lifestyles

However, with all the proposed developments in the city we continue to have little access to open space and currently no access to the river in our downtown center. Now in the downtown development district, the Statehouse lawn and the Christ Church courtyard serve as the only green spaces. The pocket parks on Main Street and along the bike path are the two other gathering spots downtown. Montpelier maintains its buildings and streetscapes, but has yet to embrace the natural landscape at the very heart of our city.

Why is open space important? Open space benefits communities.

“Planning for conservation is as significant as planning for development. Open space attracts visitors, residents and businesses, while the increased quality of life invites people to stay” (Nashville Open Space Plan, p. 23).

Protecting our river and stream corridors preserves the water quality of our watershed. Additionally, research shows that open space provides a strong and pleasing contrast to the built environment and supports:

  • Social connections, neighborhood satisfaction and community attachment in densely built settings. Cities and towns with higher a concentration of green spaces provide greater opportunities for happiness than places without green spaces (NCBI, 2016, paragraph 6).
  • Projects such as New York City’s Highline, provides an example of how a community transformed a neglected resource into a financial asset for the whole NYC neighborhood of Chelsea.
  • Smart Growth goals bolster local economies, preserve critical environmental areas, improve community quality of life and guide new growth in existing communities (Smart Growth Principles)

For our initial focus on open space creation, The Sustainable Montpelier Coalition (SMC) has held the first open space roundtable with the Lower North Branch Neighborhood from Main Street to Taylor and from State Street to the Winooski River. This brand new neighborhood is experiencing the concurrent construction of three major developments: the Transit Center with 30 housing units above, the proposed hotel and parking garage and the recent development of new 18 housing units in the French Block. For the first time in decades this area will be shifting from a business district to a residential neighborhood.

On October 9th of 2018, SMC convened a roundtable discussion, which included: major landowners of this neighborhood, business owners, the Vermont River Conservancy, Friends of the Winooski the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Downstreet Housing & Community Development and the City of Montpelier. The group delved into what a unified vision for what this emerging neighborhood can be.

This plan expands the footprint of Montpelier’s newly designated Confluence Park to include the areas which lie on both the east and west banks of the North Branch River. Part of the land is on the former MOWAT Trust land fronting on Main St. We are encouraging the city council agree to designate part of that east bank to future parkland, the design you see above will be our proposed park development design.

SMC hopes that through this planning process and the inclusive model of community response, we might help blaze a trail where much of Montpelier’s riverfront could be reclaimed and transformed into open spaces over the coming years.

Desired Outcomes for future open space initiatives in Montpelier:

  • A strong sense of community connection and trust of neighbors for each other and for the SMC.
  • An improved process for coordinating site designs across properties to maximize the once in a century opportunity to bring the confluence into the public realm.
  • To string the pearls of forgotten and underutilized landscapes into a unified system of open space experience—from paths to places—throughout the neighborhood and beyond.