Op-Ed : The Island Plan focuses on the social environment
The Island Plan will wrap up its look at specific aspects of the Vineyard's future by focusing on the human side, the "social environment." A forum today will look at some challenges facing the people of Martha's Vineyard and how we can best adjust to changing circumstances. The focus is not on specific services or facilities, but more on how community character, health and human services, education, and arts and culture affect the Vineyard as a whole and how we should plan for them in the future.
Vineyard life reflects small town America. It is marked by strong community connections, a high level of public involvement and empowerment, strong attachment to the land and sea, and a special relation between year-round and seasonal residents. For many, Martha's Vineyard is a refuge from the mainland's commercialism, crime, and values. Behind the rural façade is a community of great sophistication.
But concerns have been raised about community changes, such as increased polarization by income, the threatened loss of the middle class, and the decrease in the number of families with children. The median age already surpasses the Commonwealth's by four years, and by 2020, the year-round population between the ages of 60 and 70 will triple; it could grow even more with seasonal residents retiring here.
How can we maintain the Vineyard's strong sense of inclusiveness, maintain the economic continuum, and increase understanding among groups?
With respect to health and human services, the Vineyard is well served with a range of facilities and entities that provide high-quality services. Can Martha's Vineyard achieve greater wellness in the broader sense, to become a "healthy community"?
This depends on individual lifestyles and behavior, on inter-personal relationships within families and the community at large, and on the quality of the community's environment.
Poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse incidence here exceed levels in much of the Commonwealth. The low population density leads to heavy car use, less walking, and means that many people live in isolated situations, making it more difficult to socialize and to get help in an emergency. The aging population will need more services, including home-based ones. The isolation and limited population of Martha's Vineyard make it difficult to offer a full range of medical services, so people will continue to go off-Island for some specialized treatments. Island isolation makes it difficult to train staff, and the high cost of housing and living makes it hard to attract and retain specialized personnel.
We also have excellent facilities when it comes to education but face special challenges because we are an Island. Martha's Vineyard's physical isolation from colleges, universities, and the other resources of a metropolitan area limit educational opportunities - whether public school, continuing adult education, or professional development. The high cost of housing and living is a significant challenge in recruiting and keeping teachers. Professional development in all fields is more difficult than on the mainland where there is easier access to evening college courses.