Island planners seek practical strategies - You can help
What kind of Island do the people of Martha's Vineyard want in 2010, 2025, and 2050, and how can we achieve that vision? This is the question facing the steering committee charged with working with the community to develop a comprehensive plan for the Vineyard: the Island Plan.
Early on, the steering committee concluded that we should build on past efforts to define goals and objectives for the Vineyard, and then focus primarily on defining practical measures to reach them.
A synopsis of two dozen past town and regional plans shows that there is remarkable consistency about what people want. This is confirmed in the surveys of thousands of residents and visitors that the Martha's Vineyard Commission has carried out in the past few years.
It would appear that people strongly favor preserving the Vineyard's character and environment, protecting the water quality of our coastal ponds, doing our best to ensure that housing is affordable to people of all income levels, ensuring that we have adequate health and educational facilities and services, protecting open space, promoting waste recycling and reuse, preserving small-town character, and encouraging local food production. There is strong support for promoting a sustainable, year-round, local economy, but relatively little support for promoting growth and economic development per se.
The challenge is figuring out how to achieve these laudable goals.
We created a network of planning advisors to act as a sounding board to the steering committee in its efforts and will be using a variety of techniques to allow members of the network, as well as the general public, to give their input. All Vineyard residents and visitors interested in the planning process are invited to join.
For example, here are three comments received in the current online survey underway in response to the question: what defines the character of the Vineyard.
"Despite all the thoughtlessly conceived development, the up-Island landscape remains breathtakingly beautiful. The Island is rapidly losing its raffish rattiness and becoming suburban. The gulf between rich and poor, which used to be narrow, is now a chasm. Residents no longer feel constrained by limits; excess has replaced 'making do'."
"Natural areas, great ponds, farms, and historic town centers. Also the political disorganization, individuality, and quirkiness of towns. Both good and bad aspects of the seasonal economy and population."
"The laid-back, Island community is not immune from the social challenges of the mainland . . . in spite of what the people wearing 'blinders' might think."
It is clear that people believe that we should be planning for the long term, 50 years or more. The steering committee has proposed that we step back from the immediate issues that preoccupy us, and ask ourselves where we want the Vineyard to be in 50 years. This can be liberating because seemingly insurmountable problems appear solvable if we give ourselves enough time. But it can also be sobering as we project the real impact of seemingly minor change. For example, if our population continued to grow at the three percent rate we experienced over the past generation (and we made the zoning changes needed to accommodate this), the population could theoretically quadruple in 50 years. What kind of Vineyard would that be?
Although people cherish the individuality of the six towns, they generally feel that the issues and solutions facing Vineyard towns are closely interrelated and must be dealt with in an Island-wide way, with towns working in concert.
And people are optimistic that we have the power to make significant changes in how the Island evolves, and should be prepared to do so for the sake of future generations.
The steering committee has identified four broad themes for the plan - community, ecology, economy, and land - as well as 10 specific topic areas such as housing, transportation, water, governance.
This Saturday, at the Island Plan Forum, there will be discussions of the most critical issues facing the Island, as identified in the current, on-line survey. For each of the 10 topic areas, the steering committee has proposed that we identify the three or four most important objectives, the measurable short, medium, and long-term targets for achieving each objective, and start looking at the strategies for meeting these targets.
After the forum, the committee will set up work teams on priority topics, to flesh out these goals, targets, and strategies in more detail.
Also this week, we will be significantly expanding the Island Plan web site - www.islandplan.org. This will include a variety of background documents, proposals at varying stages of completion, and on-line work rooms.
This planning work will be important to the future of the Island and deserves the participation of all Islanders.
Mark London is executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, which is coordinating the Island Plan process. The Island Plan Forum will take place on Saturday, June 24 from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. Reserve a place at 508-693-3453 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Walk-ins welcome, space permitting.