Tuesday, December 16, 2008

See Change

In order to figure out how to respond to significant reductions in our state appropriations during the next three to four years, we need your help. Even as our country is going through a real estate market cataclysm, an investment banking disappearing act, a Wall Street melt-down, and an auto industry catastrophe; all this on top of our mounting debt to China, India, Japan to pay for our two overseas wars, the stunning increases in our unemployment statistics, the degradation in our physical infrastructure especially in the areas of public transportation and communication technologies, and the startlingly huge lack of investment in education for our younger generations, it is important, still, to do everything one can to improve the condition of those things over which one has some control or influence.

Just (re)reading the previous paragraph is enough to send many into a deep depression. The so-called "big picture" is pretty bleak these days--the election of Barack Obama notwithstanding. Therefore, I'd like to suggest that we stop obsessing over the big picture and look at the scenery from a more local perspective; from a level where you can actually "see change" rather than experience a "sea change."

Most of us are already starting to do the obvious stuff, like buy a smaller more efficient car, shop locally, convert to solar/wind power, and snuggle under a blanket rather than crank the thermostat.

But for the arts and cultural sectors there are other things to start thinking about. For example, everyone knows the state has a huge road and bridge infrastructure problem that will cost many millions of dollars to fix. Is there a role for the arts sector in this work? I think so.

Here's the vision:

All bridges directly under the control of the state of Vermont should be covered bridges, made from Vermont forest products, milled in Vermont mills, designed by Vermont engineers collaborating with Vermont artists to reflect the history and culture of the community in which the bridge is located, and built by Vermont craftsmen.

For spans that are heavily trafficked or require extra support (due to heavy loads or spanning long distances) add a steel I-beam or two purchased from our friends in Pennsylvania. In other words, let's solve these problems our selves and make the whole thing be Vermont designed, engineered, and built.

Here are the benefits of doing this. First, it would employ artists and craftsmen in ways that would both reflect and add to local community values. Second, they would require little in the way of maintenance (you don't have to plow or salt a covered bridge, right?). Third, when and if they need maintenance or replacement, they usually can be repaired or replaced in a matter of days, not months. Fourth, and perhaps most significant, they would add to the picturesque brand identity of Vermont and draw even more visitors to Vermont to experience the unique and innovative way we Vermonters address our infrastructure problems. Tourism, are you getting this?

And this is just one idea...

The same approach could work for wind towers, cell towers, public transit centers (formerly known as multi-modal transfer stations), and the like.

There are great models for this kind of work. Models that have been developed right here in Vermont. It's time we started to dust them off and make them happen.

Call it the VCCC (Vermont Civilian Conservation Corps) or the VWPA (Vermont Works Project Administration); call it the Creative Economy; or just call it what it is--good common sense.

We can't wait for Washington. We have the means and the methods. Let's just make it happen.


Steve Ames said...

Alex, super vision! Thanks!
Steve at www.RiverArtsVT.org

Alex Aldrich said...

Thanks Steve,

It occurs to me on rereading the post that I didn't really address the multiple ways in which anyone reading the post (the "you")could help! Whoops!

The obvious first steps are to start talking about these kinds of ideas at forums where your legislators can listen and absorb what you're saying. The second is begin to identify, with your town planners and administrators where the biggest problems are and start talking with them about how you'd like to work with them to come up with a plan for the Agency of Transportation to respond to when they come a-knockin'.

Third is to start doing some appropriately-scaled projects, with students and parents, (temporary or permanent) that showcase the kind of end-product you are envisioning for your village-scape. People like seeing concrete examples.

Finally, more feedback and input to me and to your local chamber and to anyone who considers themselves policy-makers about how you feel about these ideas. This is how grassroots movements start and become successful. People just have to start talking!

best, Alex

docjohn said...

Great blog. Thankfully we are in a State where people care and act, particularly within their communities and region...which is usually where and how great ideas develop and are actualized.
And, your bridge idea. I often walk through a new covered bridge in Irasburg that is far superior in construction and beauty to most if not all concrete and steel structures which I have seen ...and conceivably, less expensive and longer lasting.
John Miller

Anonymous said...

Alex, I'll try and surf some of your thoughts to Florida. Yes, we can.