Understanding Burlington

Some BCL students have spent their whole lives as Burlington residents. Others have arrived recently enough to still miss their place of origin. New or old, however, each student has spent the past few weeks looking at Burlington with new eyes. 

Anthropologists talk about the goal of “making the strange familiar, and the familiar strange.” This feels right on the nose. If students’ perceptions of Burlington itself are beginning to shift and morph, then we’re doing something right. But it’s not just students’ understanding that is evolving. When BCL teachers reflect and debrief with community partners, it’s clear that new insights are emerging for everyone. We’re exploring the same place, but somehow it seems different than it did yesterday. Is Burlington itself changing? Of course. But it’s also our understanding that is evolving. 

Katie Green, Mo Jafar, and Belan Antensaye from the city’s Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Office, help us explore privilege, power, and belonging.
These are challenging topics, but our partners helped us engage with humanity and care.

With privilege comes an opportunity to create a thriving community in which no matter what someone’s income is, everyone has a goal to create a safe and respectful environment… Although it is unfortunate, it is the sad truth we live in today in which people may make more income due to their race and skin color.  With privilege comes power and with that power change can be made. So what Iask now is how can those with power help and fight for what is just and fair for the overwhelming gaps and discrimination. 

– Nash

I’ve been aware of debates about how privileged I am. When I go downtown I see people who are dirty, hungry, and asking for money… One question Dov asked our group was “ Are we privileged to have our class here?” Yes,  because we are in this amazing place with a lovely beach and I am so lucky to live in a place where I don’t have to worry about whether I will have enough food to feed my family or clean water. I have never had to worry about those things but other people in poverty or who are homeless have to worry about those worries every day. 

  One question I have is how can our community better support people in need? 

– Hadley

Going into this I was curious about how we are taught to think about imperfections and vulnerability. In The Power of Vulnerability, she describes how parents act towards their kids is that they are perfect and that their job is to make sure they stay perfect, but that isn’t their job. She describes the parents’ jobs as realizing their children aren’t perfect, but to teach them they are “worthy of love and belonging.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement, no one is perfect, that’s obvious if you take a good look around you, but instead of being taught that it’s okay to have flaws we are taught to hide from our insecurities and to never be vulnerable with ourselves and others. And people who are taught this teach this, because it’s what they know. I’m just wondering what it would take to fix this.

– Hank

Individuals not thriving on their own because of a problem in the community could potentially lead back to the community not being able to thrive.  You could almost look at it as an amplifying feedback system. A community not thriving can lead to people in that community to [lose]  their energy…The people in the community not thriving can affect the community as a whole and get it farther away from thriving. This will just keep getting bigger and bigger so I think it is important to make sure we are thriving as individuals so our community can thrive too. 

– Camryn
Students with strollers? What better way to experience the inequities of our city’s transportation system?
Students found that getting strollers onto the bus was hard – but getting them off was harder!
Maple and St. Paul was a great place for Peggy O’Neill-Vivanco to help us think about “complete streets” and universal design.
Luis Vivanco opened a door to Burlington’s history…
…and made us all want to ride a horse-drawn trolley. 

We had the opportunity to talk to a woman who is at the center of creating these things dubbed by the news as “homeless pods” and got to visit the site where they will be. We heard about the stigma around the people living with homelessness staying at the site–“NIMBY” (not in my backyard). The site itself was also smaller than I assumed “housing 30+ people and a community room in this space would be difficult” as I wrote in my journal, but it’ll give these people a chance to stand on their feet and enable them to work. 

– Evan

France and Vermont have the same problem, but the problem is bigger in France. In fact 300,000 people don’t have a home, which is half of the population in Vermont. France is part of the European Union. The borders are more open, so refugees are leaving their countries because of war, climate change, lack of food and water, and fleeing to France for better opportunities. However, Vermont still has a complex problem. According Cindy Reid, Development Director at Cathedral Square, “This is the first time I can ever remember the housing crisis affecting everyone, not just the low-income.” All experts in housing say that Vermont incomes aren’t high enough to buy a home. The same is true to rent an apartment. Employers need workers but there is no place to live. 

– Angèle
Sarah Russell, the city’s Special Assistant to End Homelessness, introduced the plans for the Elmwood Emergency Shelter…
…and then dug deep into the politics and possibilities of this moment in Burlington.

Solving the homelessness crisis connects to the BCL themes of Community, Social Justice, Sustainability and Civic Engagement. It connects to Community because we can’t have a strong and growing community if there are a lot of homeless people. Solving homelessness is an obvious Social Justice issue. If we could get homeless people off the streets, we could progress faster into a Sustainable future. And for Civic Engagement, if we have less homeless people the people of the city would feel safer to come together to do more city activities. 

– Tai

Going into BCL I didn’t know much about  systems and how it affects the community. BCL has helped me open my eyes to systems that help and hurt our community. One system I kind of knew before going into BCL was the transportation system. I think about the buses all the time. I know a lot about this system. This is  positive. People without a vehicle get to and from places. It helps me get to school every day. A system I didn’t really know anything about was  the addiction system. How much of an Inescapable cycle it is. “As the Health Department writes, “Addiction to opioid drugs is a serious public health problem, with potentially devastating consequences – both for people who have opioid use disorder and for our communities¨ 

– Yacin

I have been interested in homelessness in Burlington for many years. I did a project in Social studies in my 8th grade in Middleschool. Me and my friend interviewed homeless people to find out what they needed. Then we gathered information and made a map of all the places people without a home could find help. Like: phone charging, free coffee, shelter,shower, warming places,free clothes and more.

I made some friends during this project. When I see them, we talk. It is Lars and Randy. I feel hope that my friends can find a home in the pods.That would make me happy. Winter is not a good time to be homeless. It is cold and snowy. When I think of Lars and Randy in winter I feel worried.

– Cosmo
UVM Urban Ecology Professor, Noelia Barrios-Garcia, helped students understand just how interconnected the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are.
Students grappled with which goals to prioritize…
…and Annika challenged us to compare goals across different countries and regions.
At Burlington Electric Department, Jennifer Green, Director of Sustainability, helps us dig into what it means to live in a city with a public utility…
…and what it means to strive for citywide “Net Zero Energy.” 

At BED with Jen Greene we talked a lot about what Burlington is doing to move towards net-zero energy, but this is just the small picture, in order to lower global emissions much more has to be done on a larger scale. Bill McKibben wrote, “But—and this is the terrible sticking point—economics itself won’t move us nearly fast enough. Inertia is a powerful force—inertia, and the need to abandon trillions of dollars of ‘stranded assets.’ That is, vast reserves of oil and gas that currently underpin the value of companies”. This explains that the current systems have to be completely overhauled on a huge scale in order to make progress, a sacrifice that many oppose, and may seem irrational in the short run.

– Kai

A story by WCAX outlines the plan that the Mayor has created to “reduce all of the city’s man-made greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.” The plan consists of converting buildings to become more energy efficient, changing Burlington’s transit system, and capturing heat emissions from the McNeil Generating Plant to heat surrounding buildings through pressurized pipes. When scouring the plan for faults that may make the table fall I came up short. I think about educating about electricity, and how important is it to step away from fossil fuels. Burlington is a pretty educated city on the matter but other places not so much. 

– Isaac

One of the inquiry questions that I had from Meeting Jen Green is “ Is the rest of the country open minded enough for net zero rather than using fossil fuels? “ I have been thinking about that question for a really long time, and I honestly think that nobody has the answer. We as a community have taken some big steps into helping the world decrease climate change…but one question that I am left with is how can our generation help stop the increasing speed of climate change if the generation before us is not willing to help or see that climate change is a true problem?

– Hadley

Jen Green, and others who work for the Burlington Electric Department( BED), have been working towards sustainability by using money from the Inflation Reduction Act to buy more electric car chargers around Burlington, which promotes their use. Another way the BED is supporting sustainability is by teaching us students about the energy system in their own community, which fulfills the goal of quality education. They also promote responsible production, as they put a filter on the McNiel power plant when members of the community reached out, saying there was ash on their houses. “The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are just a framework for us to start with,”Jen Cirillo said. As we build and fill in the gaps we find our way to what sustainability really is. It’s making a better life for all people and the planet. I’m glad to see a place work towards these goals on a small scale, and hope that one day, we’ll see these goals accomplished on a bigger scale: the world. 

– Vivian

A thriving community must always have curiosity. You cannot move forward without it. If you don’t have any questions to ask you will not learn and move forward as a community. “Have you found yourself saying, thinking, or feeling “I am so bored”? Boredom, in my opinion, is poison to curiosity. It limits the mind.” When communities stop asky “Why,” they will stop learning and only grow as far as they know. The same thing goes for any person. Not asking will always be boring, and your mind will not learn and grow. Asking questions always opens the opportunity for answers and more knowledge.f

A thriving community is always expanding and growing and that is exactly what asking questions can do. You can’t just say as a community, “Our unemployment rate is so high.” You have to ask why it is. When doing that you will learn how to fix that problem and make it better so your community will continue to thrive. 

– Reid

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