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Loving Rutland~ RH 4-6-2016

Loving Rutland
April 06, 2016
Do you love Rutland?

The surge of Rutland pride that has been building for a number of years has taken a new form lately with the proliferation of bumper stickers proclaiming “I [Heart] Rutland, VT!” combined with an unabashed willingness to sing the city’s glories.

There are cynics. There are scoffers. We know — it’s just a publicity stunt, advertising, branding. It will take more than bumper stickers to solve the city’s varied and many problems.

And we know about the problems. Cities throughout the Northeast have struggled as Rutland has done with the decline of heavy industry, the decay of inner cities, the decreasing numbers and the aging of the population. The national trends that have produced stagnant wages, poverty and drug addiction have taken a toll here, too.

Yet something is happening. And the willingness to express an unreasoning fondness, a deep commitment and a burgeoning pride in one’s community is part of what is making it happen. The bumper stickers are just the outward expression of what’s been going on for a long time.

Partly, it’s a generational thing. The old-timers who have lived through Rutland’s ups and downs are playing a less prominent role, and a new generation of Rutlanders and newcomers is bringing new energy to the city’s businesses and civic institutions. The list of successful projects coming to fruition in the past 20 years is lengthy, many of them combining to create a dynamic and busy new atmosphere downtown.

The Paramount Theater is the flagship of Rutland’s rebirth, but there is more. The state office building and the parking deck are no longer new, but they helped remake the cityscape. The new Community College building at the corner of West and Wales streets has brought new energy downtown. The Wonderfeet museum for kids and Green Mountain Power’s Energy Innovation Center have brought new life. Numerous new stores and restaurants have made downtown an attractive destination, as have the growing list of planned activities and entertainments. Rutland has an offbeat charm, seen in the murals on its brick building walls and, above all, in the famous Halloween Parade. And what other city has made a name for itself because of its blood drive?

The expansion of recreational opportunities has gone a long way toward making the city attractive to young families. Pine Hill Park and the new bike trail are evidence of youthful energy.

Snobbiness toward Rutland is probably a vestigial attitude left from Rutland’s gritty past as an industrial and rail center, with its ethnic neighborhoods and the working-class folks who filled them. These were not the daughters or sons of the American Revolution, but hard-scrabble Italian, Irish, French and Polish immigrants who worked hard for their pay. That sort of neighborhood has fallen on hard times everywhere from Rutland to Buffalo to Pittsburgh to Youngstown.

There’s something to be said for embracing one’s community, good neighborhoods and bad, and to recognize that to affirm its worth is a way of affirming the worth of your own life and that of your family.

Tell us again why we should be cynical. If you look around, it’s hard to remember. There are too many people investing their hard work and dedication into making the city better even to remember that in the minds of some there is cause for negativity.

By all means, we need to recognize the challenges: the addiction and crime, the blight and poverty. But these do not brand Rutland as uniquely terrible. These are problems shared far and wide. What stamps Rutland as a positive example is its willingness to take these problems on squarely and forthrightly.

Many of the city’s institutions have played a role in charting this brighter future, including the Police Department, the schools, businesses and cultural institutions. Now a new campaign around the bumper sticker “I [Heart] Rutland, VT!” is making it all visible. Taken from the similar New York bumper sticker, it is a reminder of how far New York has traveled from its dark days in the 1970s and 1980s to the vibrancy it enjoys today.

Love Rutland? Of course. Apathy and cynicism are yesterday’s news. Today Rutland has heart.

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