In the middle of downtown Montpelier, right on the Winooski River and only a stone’s throw from the State House, is a strange 9’ by 26’ bump jutting from the bike path. It’s an empty, flat, unremarkable piece of pavement and fence that thousands of eyes scan over every day. Hundreds of legs walk and ride past. There’s nothing to see, and nothing there.
But in a few weeks, there will be.
On a bike ride with her family, Montpelier city councilwoman, physics teacher, and proud Vermonter Anne Watson saw potential in the little cement bump. She saw trees, shade, benches. A place for families to rest on the bike path, look out over the river and into the bustle of downtown, and stand in one of the little hidden spaces that gives the city she loves so much character. She saw an underutilized part of the city, an opportunity to reduce sprawl by building on what’s already there, and a place that, with a little work, could be a community treasure.
In short, she found a space to adopt, and with that adoption she hopes to lead by example and inspire others to take ownership of their city, to improve it and bring out its potential. She envisions a Montpelier with a net-zero energy consumption, with fewer parking lots and more public spaces, with an engaged community connected by hubs of multimodal transport and an infrastructure to support them.
In March, Montpelier lost Jed Guertin, a beloved local college instructor, political advocate, and defender of water quality. The small bump, right next to the river Jed loved, will be turned into the Guertin Pocket Park in his honor.
On August 6th, a team of Yestermorrow students led by instructors Steve Badanes, Jim Adamson, and Bill Bialosky will gather in Montpelier for an intensive, twelve-day Public Interest Design/Build course with the goal of completing the Guertin Pocket Park. They will design, schedule, and construct the project under tight time and budget constraints, learn practical skills and the realities of build work, and devote their combined skills to giving back to the community.
Previous projects undertaken through the Public Interest Design/Build course include pavilions, foot bridges, school bus stop shelters, and writers’ retreats. If the stories the class’s alumni tell are any indication, these students will come away from Montpelier this August stronger and more confident, with sharpened instincts and a feeling of empowerment that will guide them in all parts of their lives.
Montpelier will gain a pocket park, a tribute to a well-remembered friend, and the benefits of a more connected community, but the values imparted won’t end at the city limits. Yestermorrow students come from all over the country, and when they return to their homes in Boston or Philadelphia or Berkeley they’ll bring with them the experiences, energy, and discipline to adopt their own spaces – to take ownership and transform their own communities, find the characterful places meaningful to them and bring their potential out. To change their environment.
We’ll see you in Montpelier.