What Vermonters Think


The annual Vermonter Poll, conducted by the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies in cooperation with Smart Growth Vermont, shows that Vermonters are shifting their focus from the problem of sprawl to the solution of focused development, with a strong preference for our downtowns and village centers. Vermonters also overwhelmingly prefer to shop in their own neighborhood or their local downtown, echoing the national “buy local” trend.

More and more, Vermonters want the same things other Americans do – a home and a job in the same zip code and a vibrant downtown where they can shop as well as play. According to a recent poll by Smart Growth America, the majority of Americans – regardless of political affiliation – report that being able to walk to stores or restaurants will have a very strong impact on their next decision about where to live, with lower transportation costs playing a significant role in their decision.

Should the State of Vermont and local communities take actions to focus development in our existing downtowns and village centers?

Over the years, we’ve seen a shift as people are less responsive to the negative “sprawl” language and more responsive to questions such as this one, where 80% of respondents agree that the state and local communities should focus development in existing centers rather than continuing to sprawl across the countryside. Overwhelming support exists both in Chittenden County as well as around the state. Vermonters’ responses mirror the trend across the country where there is a growing surge of people moving back to downtowns and village centers, especially among young adults. According to the Brookings Institution (2010), demand for homes in walkable neighborhoods is growing at the same time that the demand for large-lot suburban homes is rapidly decreasing.

Do you feel that action should be taken to stop sprawl in Vermont?

Since the beginning of our Vermonter Poll, well over half of all Vermonters feel that action should be taken to stop sprawl. Positive responses have fluctuated over the years, with 56% of the 2010  respondents saying “yes.” When the responses are compared with those from the earlier question of where development should occur, it is clear that even those who feel no action should be taken to stop sprawl support developing in our downtowns and village centers.

Given two options – if money were not an object – would you purchase a home in an urban or village setting close to transit, work and shopping, or a larger home in an outlying area with more space, but a larger commute?

In fast-growing Chittenden County, half (50.4%) of the respondents expressed the desire to live in town within walking or biking distance of jobs, schools and services. Outside of Chittenden County, fewer people would choose the smaller home in a village or urban center, but the number is rising. In 2007, less than one-quarter ( 22%) would choose that option, while in 2010, that  number rose to 33%.

Where would you prefer to shop for items you need?

Vermonters indicate a strong and rising preference (over 82% of all respondents) for shopping in their neighborhood or in downtown and village centers. The number of respondents who say they prefer to shop at big box stores has fallen to only 7%. These responses mirror the national “buy local” trend. While Vermonters prefer to buy local, many still frequent big box retailers.

This preference is if anything a little stronger for those living inside of Chittenden County, with almost 87% preferring to shop in their neighborhood or in a downtown or village center in 2010. Similarly, about 80% of respondents outside of Chittenden County prefer to shop in a neighborhood or a downtown location. In both cases, the least popular places to shop are at stores along a major highway or “big box” retail stores.

Inside Chittenden County

Outside Chittenden County

Where do you think residential development should occur?

Regardless of personal preference, Vermonters favor building homes where neighborhoods already are built. Nearly 90% of respondents in 2007 felt that residential development should occur in or adjacent to existing downtowns or residential neighborhoods. This overwhelming support for concentrating housing in and adjacent to existing neighborhoods exists both inside and outside of Chittenden County.