Sometimes living in Rutland feels a lot like the movie Groundhog Day. No matter what happens during the course of any given day in Rutland—no matter how much progress is made—you can go to bed confident that when you wake up tomorrow, everything will be exactly the same.
Enter into this miasma of status quo, the recent Downtown Rutland Market Study. For the first time in quite a while, Rutland actually has a vision and a plan. The work conducted by consultant Tripp Muldrow and the study’s Steering Committee (full disclosure: I am a member of this committee) took a long, hard look at the reality of Rutland’s market—its trade areas, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities—and from this data, developed a comprehensive and multi-faceted strategy for Rutland’s future.
We have a fantastic plan. We have a strong vision. But how are we going execute it? Who’s going to make sure it gets done? It’s no surprise that people are cynical. Many have lost faith in the alphabet soup that is Rutland’s community organizations. Being involved in a number of them, I can understand people’s frustrations. Too often, they are all working off different playbooks; communication is infrequent, and as a result, coordinating joint efforts can at times be difficult, sloppy, and poorly executed. But at the end of the day, these organizations are composed of committed, passionate individuals who have Rutland’s best interests in mind. I am not here to be an apologist for anyone, but I am here to say that there’s hope.
This market study requires all of us to work together. It requires us to finally work off the same playbook. It gives us the damn playbook. Signed, sealed, and delivered. However, success or failure is dependent upon everyone’s willingness to get behind it. Everyone. In his presentation, Muldrow spoke of catalyst projects—large-scale community efforts that build support and enthusiasm for Rutland. Think the Berwick or the Alley. I submit that we need two more catalyst projects—a catalyst in community attitude and involvement, and a catalyst in leadership.
The success of this plan, and ultimately Rutland’s future, hinges on the community’s wiliness to embrace it. You need to be excited about this. You need to get involved. You need to want to make Rutland a better place. It’s easy to sit at home, to hide in anonymity on the Herald’s message boards, and pick apart this plan piece by piece. To say it will never happen. That Rutland fails at everything it does.
You know what? You’re right. And it’s your fault.
Support the good things we have instead of constantly pointing out the bad. Celebrate our triumphs. Help to improve the places where we have challenges. Be proud of Rutland. That’s the challenge for all you pessimists out there: get involved, be constructive, and help us make Rutland a better place. And to the great many of you whom are already involved, thank you and please keep up the good work.
Still, that’s only one side of the equation. This plan cannot succeed with grassroots community involvement alone. We need leadership. We need our state legislators officials and city government to get behind us, as I’m sure they will. We need the executive directors from invested area organizations to work together and show the leadership, energy, and vision that I know they are all capable of. It was here that we stumbled when unrolling the materials from last summer’s branding exercise. Lacking a cohesive strategy, these fantastic designs lingered in bureaucratic limbo, and are only recently being rolled out in any significant way. This time around, we must act swiftly, deliberately, and strategically. We cannot afford to do otherwise.
To those of you who may dislike this plan, I would like to hear your suggestions. Unless others come forward with an alternative vision and strategy for Rutland, we are going to proceed with the one we have. (It’s a pretty damn good one.) We do not have the luxury to sit on our hands. It’s true; we are in tough economic times. Getting funding for some of these projects will be a challenge. However, we are also in a time of great opportunity. With the right combination of visionary leadership and enthusiastic, positive community involvement, Rutland is uniquely poised to capitalize on it.
Moving forward, I pledge to continue my support of this effort. I plan to remain on the Steering Committee, and seeing to it that this work gets done. This is going to happen. When we wake up one of these days, things are going to be different. Rutland will be a community that everyone can be proud of—a vibrant, thriving, and authentic model for the rest of Vermont. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.