Jay Ericson learned a lot about soil remediation, stormwater runoff, and nest-building as a lead volunteer on the reconstruction of the playground at Union Elementary School, but the most important lesson, he said, was community engagement.
One of three candidates for a vacant District 3 City Council seat on Town Meeting Day, Ericson said he would bring an element of communication to all of the city’s actions.
“Community engagement in all of these decisions builds community,” he said. “Even though you may not hear from more people, they have a stronger sense of what is happening and people feel a stronger sense of ownership.”
He said his work on the nearly $2 million, five-year playground effort gave him experience in working with city officials, contractors, school officials, and neighbors of the school whose lives were disrupted by street closures and other effects of the project.
“In the playground process I was really engaged with the city,” he said. “And in the construction process we had to really disrupt the neighborhood, so I worked closely with police and fire to make sure that it was safe for the kids and didn’t have too much impact on the neighbors. We put a strong focus on community engagement and communication.”
Ericson, 48, said he supports the city direction in developing the downtown core, including the proposed parking garage and hotel project, but would also like to see economic growth in the outlying areas of the city. He also cited the garage project as an example of how the city might communicate better.
“I think we have a great opportunity to look beyond the downtown core,” he said. “If we can look further away (from downtown) we can create a stronger sense of community and build better connectivity from neighborhoods to downtown.”
He said economic development has to go hand-in-hand with maintaining affordability and that potential projects must be weighed with an eye toward who will pay and who will benefit.
He cited the needed renovation of the Barre Street Recreation Center as an example. It needs a substantial investment in order to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Council will soon need to decide how much to spend and what amenities to include. Ericson said that whatever decision is made must be sustainable and take into account the resources of existing city staff to make sure the facility is fully utilized.
“If we are going to make the investment we need to be sure that the community we want to serve gets the benefit of it,” he said.
Ericson is a strong supporter of the city’s net-zero energy goal and of making its waterfront more accessible, saying such development adds value and increases the city’s “livability.”
“There has never been a case where a town or city, large or small, in the country that has engaged the waterfront or open spaces downtown has seen that not be a benefit,” he said.
Ericson is the owner of Ericson Photography and lives with his wife, Richarda, and three children on Liberty Street. He has a masters in environmental studies from the University of Montana and was a past board chair for the Helen Day Arts Center in Stowe. Richarda Ericson is development and outreach director for The Vermont River Conservancy, which has worked on city conservation projects.