The City of the Future is Coming –
Who Will Design It?

July 12, 2016

A city of the future

Hoverboards in Vermont?

When we were young, we were promised hoverboards and nuclear fusion. And self-lacing shoes. Where are our self-lacing shoes? (Not sure that this really counts, but nice try.)

Well, a new vision of the future is about to emerge right in our backyard. And while it lacks flying cars, it does imagine one totally amazing thing: Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine a city that can move people around, heat and power office buildings, and manage water and waste—without any negative impact on the climate!

But it Gets Even Cooler…

Now, add to this vision a lot of other exciting things—like cultural centers, restaurants, affordable housing, parks, museums, jobs, and a walkable core that embraces history while creating a new direction.

Thanks to Net Zero Vermont, that vision is about to become a plan right here in the city of Montpelier, the state capital of our beloved Vermont.

Net Zero City

What’s “Carbon Neutral” Got to Do With It?  

Climate change isn’t some distant threat. Its effects are being felt right now. Weather extremes, rising tides, bleached coral, melting glaciers: that’s not science fiction. That’s daily life on our planet, and it’s only getting worse.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s still a lot we can do. By some estimates, cities are responsible for 75% of global CO2 emissions, with transportation and buildings contributing the largest share. Cities around the world are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, but we need to go even farther. We need cities that are completely carbon neutral, that have absolutely no negative effect on the climate.

That’s Where Net Zero Comes In With a Big Vision

Net Zero Vermont decided a project like this needs the most brilliant design thinkers from around the world, and that’s why they’re holding a big competition!

Calling All Designers to Design the Future!

This competition invite the most forward-thinking designers from all across the nation to submit entries imagining what a net zero Montpelier would look like. Transportation, infrastructure, culture, history: it all should be reimagined and leveraged to create a living, breathing, resilient, and vital vision of a future that contributes to the health and happiness of those who live in Montpelier—and, over time, as more cities adopt this course, to the health and happiness of people everywhere.

Little Vermont Leads the Way

Vermont is a small state, and Montpelier is a small city (fewer than 8,000 people—and, famously, no McDonald’s), but we’ve become known for leading the way when it comes to big ideas. Whoever wins this competition (which includes a prize of $10,000) will have the honor and prestige of designing the country’s first net zero city—a design that in turn could be used as a model for similar transformations around the US and the world as we surge toward winning the fight against climate change.

Why Montpelier?

Montpelier, VT

Montpelier was all about building a sustainable future before it was cool. Or hot. Back in 2014, the city council voted to make the nation’s first net zero city by 2030. As a result of this effort, the White House named Montpelier one of 16 Climate Action Champion cities. Not only that, our little capital is in the running for the Georgetown University Energy Prize. Finally, leaders here are planning on using solar power to cover all the city’s municipal operations, and there’s a new district heat plant that is able to power downtown and state offices with renewable heat.

So, that’s the good news. But, like many small cities, Montpelier faces some challenges too. Downtown boasts a variety of businesses in attractive, 100-year-old buildings, but because it’s a state capital, most of the office space is given over to government agencies and the whole place tends to clear out by 5pm most nights.

Have You Thought About The Impact of Parking Lots?

Plus, what you don’t see when you walk down Main Street is the acres of parking behind the buildings. In fact, 65% of Montpelier’s real estate is parking lots. 65%! While the Montpelier of 2030 will still need parking, and roads, devoting so much acreage to cars is no way to plan for the future, not when the vacancy rate of existing buildings is so low and young people and the elderly struggle to find affordable places to live.

65% of downtown Montpelier, VT is parking

Net Zero Vermont is looking for a people-first, community-supported plan that promises a vibrant, mixed-use downtown with a little something for everyone—from visitors to locals—to enjoy for years and years to come.

How The Competition Works

Net Zero Vermont launches on July 13 with an official nationwide request for design proposals. Along with AllEarth Renewables, Vermont Creamery, and the National Life Group, Ben & Jerry’s is helping to sponsor the contest. And to do our part to keep the late-night work sessions fun, we’ll be giving everyone who enters the contest free Ben & Jerry’s.

A Pop Up Design Gallery

In early September, there will be a pop-up gallery in downtown Montpelier where city residents can take a look at the designs, and vote for their favorite. Need extra incentive to vote? We’ll be scooping ice cream to make sure the excitement never wavers.

Finalists will be announced by the end of September, and in November all the chosen projects will go on public display. The winner will be announced by the end of November.

Your Hometown

We love Vermont and we’re proud of what Montpelier is doing, but the city of the future belongs to all of us.

Just imagine what your town or city might look like if everyone got together to make use of every wasted space, every abandoned building, if your friends and neighbors planned to create parks and performance spaces and solar arrays. Imagine building a more fun, livable city, while also helping combat the worst effects of climate change. The world can change for the better. We just have to make it happen.

Think about it.

What do you want your city look like in 15 or 20 years? What can you do to start working toward that future right now?

Be sure to check out the design competition here