Why Vermont Innovation Commons at Cambrian Rise is an Appropriate Fit

Call it the Law of Attraction.

As I sit re-reading a 2014 article from the Brookings Institution, “The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America,” I realize that it was inevitable that Vermont Innovation Commons would choose to locate at Cambrian Rise.

A Symbiotic Relationship

It is wholly appropriate that VIC will plug their dynamic charge into the vibrant, exciting new community that we are creating here. Our efforts at Cambrian Rise, the result of many years of collaboration even before we submitted the first application for the renovation of the former St. Joseph’s Orphanage Asylum (now known as Liberty House), was a partnership that started even before Spring 2014, when I first approached Eric Farrell about working with him on his part of the collaborative development with Burlington College.

The Cambrian Rise design team – the developer, engineers, architects, landscape architects – has a professional relationship that spans many years. The foundational ‘ecosystem’ that we are in the process of unfolding now has many more partners and a vast amount of energy – design, transportation, relationship of the built environment to a wondrous natural environment, emphasis on the lives and lifestyles of our residents – the layers that come together to form both the tangible and elusive qualities that will make this neighborhood desirable.


From my understanding, gleaned from the writings of Rob Zulkoski, the Chairman and Managing Partner of Vermont Works (the force behind VIC), they and the Cambrian Rise team have been working independently toward a similar goal.

The general attraction to our site is likely based on a composite of qualities outlined by Brookings: part “anchor plus;” part “re-imagined urban area,” with proximity to major institutions like the University of Vermont, Champlain College and the UVM Medical Center; part degraded but inspirational site containing a pair of historic buildings.

Destined for Burlington

In Burlington, the most densely populated and one of the most innovative cities in the state, this is one of the only sites where such a hybrid of development could exist outside of the downtown district: housing and commercial uses. The size alone is a draw, with the whole development site enveloping approximately 21 acres, complemented by 12 acres that were sold to the City of Burlington for a city park that includes the last piece of the urban waterfront not owned by the City.

While there are many sites in the south end of the city that are ripe for redevelopment, they are all zoned to restrict the inclusion of housing which often snuffs other, more commercial, uses due to the high per-square-foot dollar value that housing demands.

Instead, Cambrian Rise focuses on the diverse development of housing with supporting commercial, now made that much more vibrant by the boost anticipated by Vermont Innovation Commons. In short, the innovation that we have attempted to apply from the outset and the right endowed upon the site by zoning will be underscored by the presence of VIC. Symbiosis at work.

Intentional Space for Growth

The physical space that is being created at Cambrian Rise is reflective of its mixed use and inclusive nature – an exercise in rethinking collaborations and the elements of great/successful neighborhoods.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the impending development is the result of over a year of negotiations between the developer, local non-profits and the City of Burlington.

The design and programming of Vermont Innovation Commons at Cambrian Rise include a variety of elements that we believe will make it sustainable into the 22nd century:

  • Aesthetically pleasing interior and exterior common spaces that complement residents’ personal space (i.e., their unit)
  • Walkability and alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle
  • Technological connectivity and innovative working spaces
  • Emphasis on connection with nature made apparent in the attention to the relationships between the landscape and architectural design

While technology, to some degree, is isolating all of us in discrete silos, we are making every attempt to create opportunities for our residents to form community. This will be a place where people want to live and work.

Cambrian Rise started its branding years ago as a dynamic, inclusive new neighborhood. VIC locating in the neighborhood will be easy to get used to – it is a welcome and fitting addition.

Read the press release here.  

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