Editorial: No need to rush park choices

It’s never a good sign when you realize “the fix is in.” The expression is used widely in gambling, but also about any process where a just outcome won’t be truly reflected. 
As much could be said of the process Middlebury residents are facing with the choice of how Triangle Park will look after the rail bridges project is completed at the junction of Merchants Row and Main Street. (Click here to read our story.) The site is among the highest valued in town. In Monopoly terms, it’s our Park Place or Boardwalk.
And, yet, drawings were just released by the Vermont Department of Transportation of their two proposed sketches with the admonition to choose a design within the next three weeks. And neither design reflects the creative input residents put forth at earlier public meetings. It’s as if those sentiments were never heard, or that, perhaps, the project engineers knew all along what they wanted to do with that site and that was what they were going to put before the town.
To be clear, it’s not a large space. And the Triangle Park fountain has to be a part of that space. The easiest fix, then, is to create a pleasant looking plot with grass, connecting sidewalks and a few shrubs — and plop the fountain in the middle. And that’s what the town got. Two versions, in fact, of practically the same thing. 
That’s a shame, and a waste of a valuable piece of property. It’s like putting a single house — not a hotel — on Park Place or Boardwalk.
And it’s a sham to goad the town into having to respond post haste, as if the planning process for that park will require five months to put into action. 
We agree the town can’t doddle for months on end without coming to a decision, but the selectboard could be emboldened to ask VTRANS for 60 days, not three weeks, and give town residents a hint of true representation.
At the one or two public meetings held this fall residents spoke excitedly of opportunities to make that space more creative and interactive — not a passive site to look at but rarely use. Ideas included a prominent place for public gatherings, or a visible corner highlighting the farmer’s market that could expand into the rest of the town green. Or perhaps, some mused, it could host a mini-park for kids, or be a great place for pop-up events that could attract a crowd on short notice. Anything that could actually generate commerce and activity.
The town has an abundance of passive scenic spots, what we need downtown is a place that highlights “visual energy,” not in the mode of lighting but of community activity. The two passive designs put before the town fall short of the ideas that had excited town residents just a few weeks ago. 

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