Tiny Tuesday: Some Views of the NewVistas Proposal

It’s making headlines across Vermont: engineer David Hall has quietly purchased thousands of acres of land near the birthplace of Joseph Smith, and intends to build a self-sustaining community in accordance with the Mormon prophet’s “Plat of Zion”. Most locals want to block the project, believing a new development with some 20,000 residents – especially one with religious underpinnings – is completely out of scale with what is currently a rural town of under 2000. I’d like to set aside the politics for a moment and look at some details of this visionary proposal.

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A single “Plat of Zion” houses, feeds, and employs 15,000-20,000 residents.

Hall’s master plan is grounded in sustainability (in the sense of “efficiency and resource management”), and he seems to apply as much consideration to the smallest details as he does to the overall vision. On the macroscopic scale, an urban center surrounded by residential/commercial districts, with supporting farmland on the outskirts, maximizes local resources and minimizes transportation. On the microscopic scale, residences have “smart” window blinds that save heating energy through passive solar principles, and a completely new composting toilet design that not only converts your waste into an agricultural product but also takes samples to monitor your health.

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A space-age composting toilet developed as part of the NewVistas initiative.

The NewVistas website is quite vague in some areas (energy production depends on a source of natural gas – where?) but rich in others. On-call, self-driving transportation pods are used in place of personal cars. Townhouses average 200 square feet per person with multifunctional spaces. Rooftop greenhouses and streetside gardens maximize the surface area used for food production. Hall’s team has compiled abundant reference materials on ecological principles (for example), showing their heart is in the right place even if synthesis of the information is sometimes lacking. In a vacuum, the Plat of Zion is truly utopian.

But no community exists within a vacuum. Natural resources (including building materials and medical supplies) must move in and out, yet there’s no provision for interacting with an outside world. Realistically, to get such a community started, some people would live inside while working elsewhere, and vice versa. Topography presents another issue; a hilly landscape like Vermont’s doesn’t adapt well to a rigid grid layout. (The NewVistas website brushes this issue under the rug with a single sentence about retaining walls.) And who pays the astronomical construction costs and ongoing property taxes? What outside source of income does the Plat of Zion have?

In summary: brilliant ideas, unrealistic execution. So what do you think? What would it take to make a NewVistas-style community viable?

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Artist’s conception of a NewVistas residential/commercial district.

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