Case Study: Burlington Legacy Project
Burlington Legacy Project
A 30-year sustainability action plan developed by city residents
Burlington, Vermont has won national awards for being a livable city, for offering a clean environment and a vibrant lifestyle, for being a place where people choose to raise families or start a business, and for the quality of its higher education institutions and its health care facilities (see list below).
In 1999, then-mayor Peter Clavelle asked ISC to help him work with the Burlington community to develop a 30-year-action plan to help maintain these important qualities, and to provide a framework for on-going community dialogue on how to achieve a sustainable future.
ISC helped the city assemble a diverse task force of 20 community leaders, who received direct input from nearly a third of community residents as well as many school students. A key strategy was to get institutions to think beyond their two-to-five year planning horizons, to understand the impact of unintended consequences, and to better understand community-wide priorities.
Thousands of surveys were distributed at community events and through several hundred agencies and organizations, asking people to share their hopes and dreams for the future of the city. Hundreds of citizens responded, sharing their perceptions of Burlington’s greatest strengths and most glaring weaknesses, and their visions for a healthier future.
From this process, the Legacy Action Plan was born, created as a beacon to guide Burlington’s economic growth, environmental and social health, and to ensure quality education for all. The Plan was organized and overseen by a diverse steering committee including members from the business, low-income, environment, social services, academic, and youth communities. The final plan, identifying what people value most about their city and what they want to preserve, reflects the input of thousands of people from all age groups and all parts of the city.
For the last ten years, the city has held an annual Legacy Town Meeting at which the key institutions report on their progress. The average attendance is more than 250 people.
Some of the Burlington Legacy Project's key results include:
- A sustainability plan with specific implementation responsibilities to city departments, businesses, universities, nonprofits, and individuals; a 2020 Climate Action Plan; and an annual report out to the community.
- A citywide agreement that amends Burlington’s zoning ordinance to increase downtown development, redevelop brownfield properties, and encourage smart growth.
- An unexpected partnership for green affordable housing. The City of Burlington and the University of Vermont overcame years of bad relations to reach an agreement to expand affordable housing and build LEED-certified dormitories.
- 40 units of LEED certified mixed-income housing on the coveted Lake Champlain waterfront.
- The Burlington School Food Project, a food council that significantly expanded the use of local, healthier foods in school meals.
- An Education for Sustainability program in the local schools that encourages school-community partnerships and was recognized as a national model by Peter Senge.
- Passage of a Clean Energy Assessment District, which will provide incentives for building owners to install eligible energy efficiency and/or renewable energy projects in homes and businesses.
- Significant changes in city procurement practices to encourage resource efficiency, including an Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Policy for which city employee Jessica Frank won the 2010 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.
- Adoption of an open space protection plan and funding mechanism that has significantly expanded the community’s green space.
- The preservation of forested land in conjunction with development of co-housing and zoning for affordable housing.
Visit the Burlington Legacy Project homepage for more information.
City of Burlington Recognition and Awards
Since the Burlington Legacy Project began, the city has been recognized for livability and sustainability on dozens of occasions. Some of the awards from the past 10 years include:
- Excellence for Sustainable Community Development Award, Home Depot Foundation
- First Wave City, Carbon War Room
- One of the ten Prettiest Towns in America, Forbes.com
- Best Neighborhoods of 2009: Hill Section, This Old House
- Runner-up: 2009 City Cultural Diversity Award, National Black Caucus of Elected Officials
- Ranked #1 Place to Raise a Family, Children’s Health Magazine
- Healthiest U.S. City, Centers for Disease Control
- Level 5 Award (highest possible) for efforts to reduce GHG emissions, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
- Great Public Spaces for 2008: Church Street Marketplace, American Planning Association
- Best Walking City in VT; one of the Top American Walking Cities, Prevention Magazine & American Podiatric Medical Association
- Ranked #1 Greenest City in the U.S., Toronto Star
- Ranked #2 Greenest Small City in America, Organic Gardening Magazine
- Top Ten Greenest Cities, Move.com
- 13th Tree City USA Award, National Arbor Day Foundation
- Top 25 Small Cities & Towns, American Style Magazine
- Ranked #1 Best Green Place (out of 379 metro areas), Country Home Magazine
- Urban Environment Report #2 Ranking (out of 72 U.S. cities—50 largest plus largest in each state), Earth Day Network
- Ranked #5 Healthiest Places for Women, Self Magazine
- Best of the Best (top 5) Places to Live, Men’s Journal Magazine
- Runner-up: Best All-Around Town, Outside Magazine
- Ranked #1 in the U.S. on Index of Business Vitality, Economy.com
- Ranked #3 Funkiest City in the World, British Airways’ Highlife Magazine
- One of 50 Fabulous Gay-Friendly Places to Live, Gregory Kompes
- One of five Impressive City Award Winners for “exceptional efforts toward sustainable living,” Delicious Living Magazine
- Ranked #7 Small City for Doing Business in America, Inc. Magazine
- City Livability Award, U.S. Conference of Mayors
- Ranked #7 Student-Friendly City in America (population less than 1 million), Collegia Magazine
- Ranked #2 Happiest and #4 Healthiest Place to Live in the U.S., Self Magazine
- Ranked #1 Best Place to Live in Northeast U.S., Men’s Journal Magazine
- Best Overall Program (Population 25-50K): Burlington-Bethlehem-Arad, Sister Cities International
- One of the five Best Places to Live & Ride, Bike Magazine
- Top Ten Best Cities for: Economy (#10), Education (8), Child Care (2), & Jobs (1), Ladies Home Journal Magazine
- Core Value Award for the Burlington Legacy Project, International Association of Public Participation
- Ranked #6 Artist-Friendly Alternative to N.Y. and L.A. (based on cost of living, unemployment rate, affordable housing availability, projected economic growth, local flavor, charm, and value placed on performing arts), Susan M. Brackney, author of "The Not-so-Lost Soul Companion”
- Ranked #1 Kid-Friendly Smaller City for Quality of Life, Zero Population Growth
Burlington Wins 2010 Excellence for Sustainable Community Development Award
The Home Depot Foundation awarded its 2010 top sustainability prize for small cities to Burlington, based largely on the city's Legacy Action Plan. Watch the foundation's video above, or download the Burlington case study detailing the award here.
We counted down to Earth Day in 2010 with our list of how cities are improving quality of life while saving money, protecting the environment, and safeguarding public health.more