Burlington, Vermont

The Burlington Legacy Project

In 1999, Burlington, Vermont’s mayor asked ISC to engage community stakeholders in crafting a plan to make the city a model of sustainable development.  In conducting a number of stakeholder interviews, ISC discovered that much of the city’s progressive policies were driven by the activist mayor, with City Hall and other institutions often working at cross purposes. ISC designed an approach that would engage all key institutions in developing an action plan that would hold each key institution accountable to its commitments under the plan.

  • ISC helped the city assemble and staff a task force composed of 20 community leaders.  Co-chaired by the presidents of the City Council and Chamber of Commerce, it included a diverse group—from the president of the University of Vermont (UVM) to the head of the local food bank.
  • The task force organized public hearings and focus groups and adopted a number of creative ways to stimulate interest and involvement outside the normal circle of professional advocates. The task force 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 2-5 year planning horizons, to understand the impact of unintended consequences, and to better understand community-wide priorities. This led to greater consensus and a more strategic approach.
  • Working with UVM, ISC developed indicators based on the Legacy Action Plan and a best practices website of hundreds of successful sustainability case studies and tools.
  • ISC helped the city recognize the importance of developing champions – independent of the Mayor’s office—to support and advocate for the action steps and to push for accountability.
  • For the last ten years, the city has held a Legacy Town Meeting at which the key institutions report on their progress. The average attendance is more than 250 people. 

Tangible Results

  • 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.
  • A sustainability plan with specific implementation responsibilities to city departments, businesses, universities, nonprofits, and individuals—and an annual report out to the community.
  • A citywide agreement to amend the zoning ordinance to increase downtown development and encourage smart growth. 
  • 40 units of LEED certified mixed-income housing on the coveted Lake Champlain waterfront.
  • 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 recently recognized as a national model by Peter Senge.
  • Significant changes to City procurement practices to encourage resource efficiency.
  • Adoption of an open space protection plan and funding mechanism that has significantly expanded the communities green space. The development and adoption of an anti-racism action plan.
  • The preservation of forested land in conjunction with development of co-housing and zoning for affordable housing.