The Conway school’s mission is to explore, develop, practice, and teach land design that is ecologically and socially sustainable. According to Renee LaGue and Kim Smith, from the Conway school, creating new designs for Wilmington’s downtown is on a fast track, with a completion date set at the end of June. Using maps of the downtown, Lague Smith pointed out the pros and cons of Wilmington’s current greenspaces, parks, benches, and sidewalks, and asked residents to put in their two cents as to how to utilize them better, improve their appearance and accessibility, and connect them.
The Conway School’s design goals for Wilmington are to make the downtown pedestrian friendly, improve public greenspace, and evaluate traffic calming and parking signs, to make the downtown easier to navigate. The plan will also work to improve the mitigation of floodwater through ecological improvements. A group of pictures hanging in the back of the room showed different downtown landscapes from towns in Vermont and Massachusetts, and attendees were asked to leave a Post-it note on each describing what they did or did not like about them.
Around 30 residents in attendance were given maps and divided into groups around tables. Each group was asked to draw where they would like to see changes, and list what the town’s needs were. “It’s hard to have quality of life without ecological quality, and having a vibrant downtown will foster healthy interaction,” said LaGue. “For example, the parking lots in town are adequate, but quite often narrow and close to the street. So how do we make them more inviting and better configured to encourage people to interact and stop downtown.”
Tuesday’s meeting fostered its own share of healthy interaction and enthusiasm as the town meeting room immediately started to buzz with ideas and marker strokes, the town’s residents eager to share ideas.
One table said that the town was missing kiosks for information in the downtown and in parks, which could direct visitors to access points on lakes, the town’s trail system or for promotional purposes. The table’s spokesman, resident Spencer Crisp, said the downtown was not utilizing Memorial Hall in the way that towns like Bellows Falls and Weston have used their performance spaces, and that the town needs a bakery/deli in a central location where residents could congregate and socialize. “It would be a great fit for a small New England town like this, and exceptionally good for vitality,” said Crisp.
Another table spokesperson, Nicki Steel, said that the town’s greenspaces should be larger, and be sure to connect to the trail systems. Steel also mentioned that Shafter Grove would be a great town-owned piece of land to utilize although it is currently land-locked.
Michael Linehan said that the people at his table thought the town needed better street lighting, with colonial-style street lamps. Linehan also said his group liked the number of benches in town, but it would be nice to have something on display, or a theme to coincide with each one. Linehan’s table also said the town should be more inviting to musicians, and try to bring in or create music festivals. As a founding member of the Hildene car show, Linehan also believes the town would be a perfect location for a 1950s-themed car show.
Local farmer Jessie Steiger agreed that a country store would be great for the downtown, as well as more individual farming. “What if we had more edible landscaping everywhere so we can reproduce food for our kids at school,” said Steiger. Steiger said his group would like to see more fruit and nut trees to shade people walking around downtown, as well as a downtown farmers market with food tasting.
Dale Doucette’s table said the town could utilize the old town garage space by putting a new town office there, outside of the flood zone, and connect more points of the downtown with more than the one footbridge installed this week on South Main Street. “We also thought we should have a street car,” said Doucette. “We want to name it Desire, and let it bring people around the downtown and to parking lots.”
LaGue and Smith thanked the participants, and said they would be using the ideas from the meeting in their master plan.