A Fitting Ending Before a New Beginning
by Alex Gyori
Last spring, folks from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, one of the funding sources for our housing partners, recognized that our redevelopment project was really special. Following a strong hunch, they initiated an involved, extensive application process to submit our project for one of this year’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-sponsored Smart Growth America Achievement awards. Many months later we heard that our project was selected for one of the major awards, the Main Street or Corridor Revitalization award. Soon after, an energetic videography team was dispatched to try to capture the new Co-op and housing on film, for use during the awards event in early December. Consequently, representatives from Windham and Windsor Housing Trust, Housing Vermont, Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, along with Dawne and I, showed up at the EPA offices on December 5, to participate in a day-long series of events to celebrate the achievements from seven different places around the United States.
The day started with a mandatory airport-like security check at the EPA headquarters, and we were ushered into a very friendly but business-like introductory session with agency staff. Then it was off to the Rachel Carson Green Room, in which the main ceremony was to take place. The program was structured fairly simply. Each of the four major winners were introduced, a short 4-minute film was screened—the first time any of us had seen our own—and then a representative from each project gave a very short speech about their projects. I was the one chosen to represent our project. It could have been a bit scary to speak before all those amazing people, but they were all so genuine and excited about everything that it was easy. Closing out that portion of the day was Lisa P. Jackson, the EPA top administrator, in person. She was eloquent, unassuming, impressive.
The ceremony over, many of us joined the EPA staff for lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant. It was enjoyable to chat informally with many folks. One of the staff people we spent the lunch hour with is a great fan of skiing in Vermont, so we had lots to talk about in addition to all the “shop talk”!
With a couple of hours of down time all to ourselves, the Vermont contingent naturally made a beeline for Senator Leahy’s office in the Senate Building, and he was very generous to spend about 20 minutes with us before his chief of staff hustled him off to the Capitol for an important vote. The senator is a very gracious, accomplished man, and works hard for his Vermont constituency. In fact, he helped our housing partners receive a $200,000 grant as part of housing’s funding.
After our pleasant visit with Senator Leahy, one of his staffers whisked us off through the maze of underground tunnels, escalators, elevators, and corridors to the House of Representatives building, where the Smart Growth America agency held a hearing for the benefit of congressmen and staffers, to hear about real-life projects that have resulted from their efforts to create policies and provide money for concrete projects. It was a long day! We started off at 9 a.m. and finished at around 8 p.m.!
After all the hoopla, good feeling, and sincere acknowledgement, what I took away from the day was a simple but powerful thought: The one common characteristic of every single one of the winning projects, including the three runners-up, was that everyone had used a very intensive and honest community engagement process to come to the vision and concrete reality that was achieved. For me, it was a powerful affirmation of the many years of thinking, learning, discussing and decision making that brought our own project to such wonderful fruition. It makes our accomplishment all the more gratifying.
Check out the video created by the EPA for the Co-op's 2012 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement!
Visit Smart Growth America on the EPA website to learn more.