Step 2. Build strong and resilient local communities

 
Irasburg Town Portrait by Jared Jewett

Irasburg Town Portrait by Jared Jewett

 

Strong communities with high levels of civic engagement can come together to overcome the gravest of challenges.

What will Vermont look like in 20, 30, 50 years?

 With the best intentions and the most careful planning, we cannot predict the opportunities and challenges that will come our way. The effects of climate change, the global and national economy, technology development, state and national politics—all of these will profoundly affect Vermont communities, but we have little influence on the direction they will take.

 

We do know, however, that our most important resource in confronting an unpredictable future is the network of relationships of trust, cooperation, respect and mutual help that we build in our communities —and those we can influence. Experience and research show that the best predictor of the success of a community is the strength and nature of its citizens’ relationships. Across our state, we can collectively act to build strong and resilient local communities where citizens work together despite their differences.

Bellows Falls courtesy of  vermontartsliving.com

Bellows Falls courtesy of vermontartsliving.com

 A famous study of the regions of Italy makes this case very clearly. Beginning in 1970, the Italians established a nationwide set of regional governments. These 20 new institutions were essentially identical, but the social, economic, political, and cultural contexts of each region differed. Now, almost 50 years later, some of these regions have prospered, while others have been dismal failures. What accounts for the difference? Researchers have found that it is not politics, demographics, economics, ideology, or affluence. Instead, the best predictor turned out to be the level of civic engagement, the quality of interactions of citizens with each other. In areas where citizens trust one another to act fairly and obey the law. where they value solidarity, civic participation, and integrity, democracy works and the regions prospered. Regions at the other end of the spectrum, where civic engagement, trust and cooperation are lacking, failed to thrive and still lag far behind.

 A recent survey of more than 15,000 Vermonters found that Vermonters know and trust each other at more than double the national average. Seventy-eight percent of the Vermonters surveyed said that their neighbors trust each other versus only 38 percent of Americans that say they trust their neighbors.  The survey also showed that 89 percent of Vermont respondents say their neighbors help others, and 79 percent say that their neighbors pitch in on community projects. 

 Not surprisingly, the survey also showed that 85 percent of survey respondents in Vermont are optimistic about the future of the community where they live versus 44 percent of Americans who feel hopeful about the future of their neighborhoods. 

 As Vermonters, we have our differences. We often look at issues from different points of view and advocate different approaches to dealing with them. But the ability to work together cooperatively and respectfully for the common good is the greatest resource for Vermont communities.

 Energize Vermont encourages and supports policies practices and activities that strengthen trust and cooperation in Vermont communities and discourages directions and developments that threaten to fracture and divide. Energize Vermont supports opportunities for citizens to work together despite their differences—the best predictor for the common good, now and 50 years from now.