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Quaint and Negative Spaces

During the most recent December holidays, in very select locations around Montpelier, a hand-painted decorative poster announced a musical event visually nestled in the nostalgic charm of downtown Montpelier, the natural setting easily enhanced with stylized flora and fauna. It was lovely. The design included a bird’s-eye view of the golden dome surrounded by the familiar eighteenth century New England architecture. 

However; the north side of town, the side with the dome, was the only section that was designated by the artist as quaint. While the north part of town is the part that people come to visit because of the aesthetics and the past allure, the rest of the poster also featured a large negative area that depicted where the road, train tracks, and river — all rolled into one — exist together; shades of taupe, gray, and black entwined with long hatching strokes were used to depict an undesirable area. 

The lack of rendering gave the impression that the artist felt this area was not worth describing. Berlin Street was devoid of houses; it was sparsely decorated with scrappy flora and fauna. The artist found nothing else worth recording. No houses on the hill to indicate a living community. The artist’s task after all was to lure people to the musical event in Montpelier, not to convey a perception of the different parts of town. 

Sixty years ago, when most of the houses on Berlin Street were built, Vermont was an agricultural economy. When the skiers came, so did jobs for trades people all year long. Young families were able to save up, living on nothing or with their parents, to build their dream house on Berlin Street hill. It has never been cheap or easy to live in Vermont. The loud cry of younger people not finding Montpelier affordable is everywhere. The burden of debt is overwhelming. How can the situation be made better for the families on Berlin Street hill who are struggling to maintain their lot in paradise? How can the perception of living in the negative area on the wrong side of the road, the river, and railroad tracks be changed?

The city of Montpelier has done many good things to make that negative area — the south side of the road, river, and tracks — attractive and accessible, especially the pedestrian walkway on the Granite Street bridge. When looking up and down the river at this spot, nothing is visible but the dome, natural vegetation, and the water. Visually, nothing has changed in hundreds of years. 

In sharp contrast, standing next to Route 2 at the attractive bridge, it is impossible not to notice the number of large trucks with box trailers passing. Throughout the day and night, many if not most are using the road on the river as a shortcut. The volume of non-local tractor-trailer trucks has increased exponentially. At night, there is the added advantage for drivers to ignore the speed limit going through town as the traffic lights are off and there is little or no speed enforcement by local or state police. 

Most likely, the advent of global tracking devices has instructed non-local interstate trucks to take the shortcut through town on the river, thus avoiding the mountain that is Exit 7. In other words, tractor trailers get off at Interstate 89 at either exits 6 or 8 and follow the river, avoiding the mountain. 

The premature destruction of the road and the noise that comes with it, plus the over-presence of tractor-trailer trucks causes a serious disconnect between the younger living hill community and the quaint side of town. 

At first glance, an ancient deer run would be easier to change than the tractor-trailer short-cut through town. At second glance, a meal voucher for truck drivers that would be good day and night at the Maplewood Convenience Store at Exit 7 might pay for itself by deferring the high cost of repaving the stretch of road in town that is notoriously in the poorest condition. 

Several city employees have told me that the state of Vermont shares the upkeep of where Route 2 and 302 overlap with the city of Montpelier. They were not in agreement or positive as to who does what and where.  

The future vitality of the quaint side depends more and more on how content the residents of the negative side are; will the young families want to put roots down or will they want to leave largely because of the noise? 

Mimi Clark has been living in the central Vermont area for almost 60 years. She is an artist and writer and lives in Montpelier.