Historically, upstate New York and New England were incubators of utopian settlements: The Oneida Community practiced complex marriage and mutual criticism in a mansion outside Syracuse, and Transcendentalist Fruitlanders ate vegan and took purifying cold showers on a farm in Harvard, Massachusetts.
Now, near the birthplace of Mormonism, a Salt Lake City–based entrepreneur is planning a Vermont settlement for up to one million people guided by the divine design vision of Joseph Smith but driven by the ecological anxieties of our times.
Yes, that Joseph Smith. In the Plat of the City of Zion, the founder of Mormonism laid out a plan for the ideal community that’s a mashup between a classic New England village and Euclidian New York or Philadelphia: Instead of living on rambling homesteads, Mormons should live in gridded, nucleated settlements of 15,000 to 20,000, with wide streets and half-acre lots centered around the Church and public buildings. Farms were relegated to the outskirts of town. (For real-life reference, the original plan of Salt Lake City reflects Smith’s mandates, although the building lots were much larger.)
Bringing the vision back East, David Hall’s NewVistas Foundation has purchased almost 900 acres across four Vermont towns since last October for a total of $3,600,000, the Daily UV reports. Hall, a scientist and engineer, intends to purchase up to 5,000 acres of land to build a “network of environmentally and socially sustainable villages, communities, and megalopolises. [The settlement] combines sustainability with massive scalability to achieve a comprehensive approach to human development.”
The NewVistas Foundation overlays contemporary, New Urbanist-y planning vernacular onto Smith’s 19th century principles. The foundation describes their community as a “completely walkable mixed-use urban development” for 15,000 to 20,000 people in a series of villages centered around a commons. One village for 160 to 210 people is comprised of 960 half-acre buildable lots, each (per Smith’s vision) with a garden and patio. Agriculture and industry sit outside the residential and downtown portion of the 2.88-square-mile settlement to keep the enterprise self-sustaining. Ultimately, the villages would join forces like Legos to create a dense urban environment for up to one million inhabitants.
Hall argues that the proposed settlement isn’t a religious project, but a proof-of-concept for creating an environmentally conscious, balanced community that could be a model for other settlements in a world threatened by global warming and consequent ecological disasters. The LDS, Hall maintains, isn’t involved in the project.
Considering a move? The gallery above features renderings of the NewVistas settlement and takes viewers through proposed step-by-step urban agglomeration, while the NewVistas Foundation website dives deep into housing typologies and infrastructure systems.