Soundings: Three short takes

Soundings: Three short takes

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1. Missed Opportunities

Anyone trying to understand the recent dispute over naming opportunities at the new Edgartown Public Library, without knowing the history behind it, has my sympathy.

On the face of it, we have the Edgartown Library Foundation trying to do what public libraries have been doing here and across the nation for years: recognize donors whose support goes far above and beyond their property tax dollars. Yet when the foundation asked the selectmen to approve an entirely reasonable policy for accepting major gifts, the board replied with a written statement: “At this time the selectmen do not wish to entertain any policies regarding naming rights.”

This is in the town whose present library is named after the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who donated $4,000 a century ago to build it, a library in whose entryway hangs a portrait of Caroline Osborne Warren, donor of the land beneath it.

This is in the town next-door to West Tisbury, whose library publishes a list of naming opportunities right on its municipal website — and half a million dollars’ worth of them have already been snapped up by donors.

What’s the story here? To be blunt, it goes something like this: Once upon a time, about seven years ago, the Edgartown Library Foundation and library trustees asked Edgartown to buy the Warren House property adjoining the Carnegie library, declaring that if taxpayers kicked in $3.5 million for that purchase, they’d build a new library without another penny of town money. That plan imploded when the foundation couldn’t raise the funds and the project’s cost estimate jumped by a million bucks.

Edgartown then went back to the drawing board and crafted a library plan without a penny of foundation money — selling the Warren House property and using the site of the town’s derelict 1924 elementary school. After voters backed this plan at town meeting, here comes the Edgartown Library Foundation, proposing to hang plaques over doorways honoring donors who give more than $25,000 in support of the new project.

The only way to understand the selectmen’s resistance to this idea is in the context of this recent history. It’s their way of saying to the foundation: Folks, you had your chance to build your library, but this is our library now, built by We the People, and keep your naming paws off of it.

This is understandable, in a way, but also sad. Libraries everywhere have found gracious ways to accept those extra, above-and-beyond gifts without cheapening themselves. But until there’s some reconciliation between town hall and the library foundation, the guess here is that the Edgartown selectmen will persist in leaving good money on the table rather than accept the foundation’s offer of help.

2. Roundabouts, Before & After

Now that the Vineyard’s anti-roundabouters have gasped their last political gasp and, we dearly hope, expended the last wad of our taxpayer dollars in efforts to stop the project, only one question remains: Whatever was all the fuss about?

Digging in the traffic engineering literature this week, I discovered that our community’s fevered dispute over the roundabout turns out to be not unusual at all.

The most to-the-point study I found, published recently in the Institute of Traffic Engineers Journal, looked at three communities — in Kansas, Nevada and Maryland — where intersections controlled by stop signs were replaced by modern roundabouts.

In their field surveys, the researchers found that modern roundabouts reduced vehicle delays and traffic congestion in all three cases. In their telephone surveys, they found that in every case, most people opposed the roundabouts before construction and favored them afterwards. Almost half the drivers who had opposed the roundabouts, even strongly, later said they’d changed their opinion and now favored them.

So here’s a bit of good news for those of you who took to the battlements to stop the Oak Bluffs roundabout, and lost: There’s an even chance that once it’s been in place for a year, you’ll agree that it’s an improvement.

I’ll try not to say I told you so.

3. Returns on Investment

As a geeky kid, I thought it odd that made-up stories were labeled “fiction” while factual books were called “nonfiction.” The negative prefix, it seemed to me, was attached in the wrong place.

Now I feel the same twinge of linguistic umbrage at the word “nonprofit,” which sounds like a dismissive term for enterprises whose work is valuable for its own sake, not merely as a way to generate money for stockholders. Caring for our children, our sick and elderly; protecting our historic villages and natural environment; creating housing opportunities that ensure the future viability of the Vineyard — the only way any of these enterprises can be called unprofitable is if you insist on looking at them from the narrow standpoint of the investor who tallies the dollars in his portfolio every day.

If your idea of a sound investment, rather, is one whose dividends involve a better quality of life on Martha’s Vineyard, you’d do well to set aside today’s stock tables and peruse the comprehensive list of Island nonprofits on the website of the MV Donors Collaborative (mvdonors.org). Whether your passion is for arts, education, conservation, agriculture, health, housing, or human services, you’ll find dedicated and urgently needy nonprofits at work here in your favorite arena.

July and August are make-or-break times for the nonprofits of the Island. Almost all of them schedule major events which, together with their annual appeals and the funds they generate from their services, will help keep them at their important work for another year. That at least is the hope for the Island nonprofits whose directors cross their fingers each year for good weather on the day of their summer dinners and auctions, water tastings and golf tournaments.

Whether the gifts you can give involve time or money, this is a great time of year to remember the organizations whose work helps make the Vineyard the place we love so dearly, to get involved, and to be generous.

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