Changing the Use of Resources

Waterfront is usually an asset, yes? Property with water views and especially water frontage costs more than property a few blocks away. Yet, one thing I’ve noticed while living in Vermont is that few towns take advantage of their waterfront, which is most often riverfront. The river is in the background, but the town center seldom focuses on the water course. (Disclaimer: I have not been to every Vermont town, this is based only on my observations so far.) The exception is, of course, Burlington, whose waterfront (lake front) is a huge asset and draw to the city. The bike path, the lake access and waterfront park are some of the best reasons for living in Burlington.

Now, consider Montpelier, the capital city of Vermont. First of all, the face of the city from US Route 2 is far from appealing. While you can see the gold dome of the capital building and the Taylor Street metal truss bridge, the view is otherwise a few gas stations and the run down US Route 2 as it passes on to Berlin/Barre and beyond. Yet, if you drive by and skip turning onto Baldwin Street and State Street, you’ll miss the vibrant downtown, beautiful buildings and one of the prettiest cities in Vermont.  Between US Route 2 and State Street is the Winooski River. You can really only enjoy the river from a few spots in town: a restaurant or two and the bridges crossing back to US Route 2.

Many small towns and villages developed around the rivers and water bodies for obvious reasons: use of the resource for water, transportation, flat and fertile agricultural lands. Backyards and the backs of buildings face the river rather than Main Street. There are few places to sit at a restaurant and gaze at the rivers. I think of the extreme – the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX – and wonder why Vermont towns are not vibrant river fronts. Perhaps it is because rivers were used for industry and business. And because they frequently flood. There may be research on Vermont development along and the use of water courses; but in this post, I’m just pondering.

For starters, let’s compare today’s resources v. historical resources. We no longer use our waterways for transportation and industry (well, it is certainly not the majority). Currently our culture values water mostly for recreation, tourism and associated quality of life. We cannot change our historical development patterns. Instead, we need to adapt our communities and incorporate the natural resources into modern planning and use. River fronts currently serve for community recreation paths and parks. In some instances it would make sense to improve or create paths along the river. As this summer taught us once again, building on the water isn’t always a good idea and protection from flooding requires intensive planning. Are we afraid of our rivers? I hope not. Sure, they are unpredictable, but living near a waterway keeps me from feeling landlocked.

Think about where you live. How are the towns laid out? What are the resources and does planning take advantage of it? How is it different today than historically? Would you rather live near a waterway or far away?

8 thoughts on “Changing the Use of Resources

  1. Jim says:

    I’ve lived in three Indiana cities: South Bend, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis. The first two towns have lovely riverside parks. In the 80s, South Bend even had a whitewater rafting attraction smack dab downtown on the river.

    Indianapolis doesn’t make much use of its river, but does make a bit more use of an unusual asset — a canal. A statewide network of canals was planned in the early-mid 1800s and some of it, notably the section through Indianapolis, was actually built. (The project nearly bankrupted the state, and construction was abandoned.) Today the canal is the centerpiece of the Broad Ripple neighborhood and is a featured attraction downtown. I’d love to see the downtown section improved along the lines of San Antonio’s riverwalk.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Interesting; I had no idea that Indianapolis had a canal as part of its downtown. I love canal history. Before I visit Indiana again, I’ll have to ask you about the best places to visit.

  2. Quill Gordon says:

    Towns and villages in Vermont used the rivers not only to power mills but also to dispose of things they didn’t want hanging around. The water was there to be used, not to look at. Tanneries and textile mills all dumped waste into the rivers, which carried it on downstream, and many houses that backed up to streams featured privvies with open bottoms, right over the water. Some places are now making use of river and stream views but for a long time they were nothing anyone would want to see or smell.

    (My vote is for a place on or near the water)

    • Kaitlin says:

      Yes, excellent points. I forgot that waterways were major sources of pollution due to every substance/material dumped and allowed to flow into the rivers. It is a huge difference from our lives today.

  3. bellegroveatportconway says:

    I have to say I have never really thought about going to Vermont to visit, but after reading your blog, I find myself looking at doing just that. And as far as where we live today and where we will live once in our bed and breakfast, we currently live about 30 minutes from the beach. Once at Belle Grove, we will be on the bluff overlooking the river. I think I would rather live by the river than here.

  4. Kaitlin says:

    You should visit Vermont! It is simply beautiful and peaceful. I remember the first time we visited, I was amazed at how blue and green the scenery was. I love traveling throughout the country, but I am happy to call Vermont home now. You should look at this post about Vermont: https://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/vermont-in-pictures/ and this one https://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/a-love-letter/. It gives insight to my love for Vermont. Of course, I do love Virginia too. And South Dakota is one of my favorite states.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Good point, Peter. I’ve been to Newport, too, and forgot to include it. The city has done a lot of work on their waterfront lately – on the upswing hopefully.

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