I don't have to tell you how presumptuous it is for somebody like me to write editorials each week telling people what's wrong with this and right with that. How to do this, how not to do that. Still, I've gotten into the habit, and it's not easy to break. Plus, I comfort myself by remembering that few readers pay attention, fewer still leap to do my bidding, and if my suggestions are as hapless as folks often tell me they are, nothing terrible will happen.
As presumptuous as editorial writers may be, they are nevertheless trailing badly in the presumption stakes, behind planners. You know the planners I mean: the few, the intrusive, and the omniscient. On rare occasions, ordinary folks plan their vacations a few months in advance, and it works out. Even rarer, young parents plan for the costs of college when their kids are in diapers. The old, now defunct, USSR fancied 10- and 15-year plans, but they forgot to plan for what would happen when their entire country disintegrated, as it did in the 1980s. In the bookshelves of The Times office there are volumes of town master plans and Island master plans that took years to assemble, looked years into the future, but were unable to forecast how few occasions someone would actually stretch a trembling, searching hand toward the shelf and reach down a copy of one of those multi-volume, self-referential extravaganzas, to help decide what should happen next.
Which is not intended to be a knock on planning, only on the way it is usually done. For instance, if it were up to me - and, have no fear, it's not likely to be anytime soon - I would not have presumed to plan for the Vineyard 50 years ahead, as if the world or the Island, or the residents of either or both, 50 years hence or in the interim will want the place to be the place we might want it to be. I would not have assembled task forces, heavily inclined toward narrow views on issues such as growth, housing, and nutty economics. Instead, I would have depended heavily upon the elected planning board members in the several Island towns. I would have developed a list of thoughtful year-round and seasonal Islanders who have historical perspective and broad experience of the several communities that are Martha's Vineyard, as well as some experience of the world beyond. I would have interviewed each, using an extensive questionnaire administered by trained questioners. I would have hired a professional community planning consultant - remember Metcalf and Eddy of the early 1970s - capable of imaginative and detailed analysis of serious issues that need attention and possible courses of action to address known problems - an outfit that would provoke us, rather than indulge our complacency.
I would have focused on problems whose dimensions have been revealed and whose implications for the near future are worrisome. For example:
Shall we have more bike paths? After all, even the loonies acknowledge that the Vineyard will not soon shed its seasonal resort self, and wouldn't more bike paths help?
Shouldn't we increase, rather than nibble away at, convenient parking in the three down-Island towns, because the beating heart of the three large towns are their business centers, and park and ride is a clumsy, unappealing hurdle in everyday life?
Shouldn't we revisit the possibility of incinerating our non-recyclable, non-compostable rubbish, before we go broke?
Shouldn't we expand sewering, whose expense is considerable and growing, but whose advantages, with careful design and management, are indisputable?
Why shouldn't we reclaim junk woodlands that once were fields and meadows, perhaps diminishing the amount of cover for deer and striking a blow at the tick population?
Shouldn't we rezone for small lots, condos, apartments in selected areas, to make Vineyard home ownership and residency more affordable, rather than proposing to do it on the backs of taxpayers, whose extorted contributions will certainly be insufficient to the task?
How about some new roads to ease crowded arteries? After all, the wildest dreamers don't expect public transportation to extinguish the indisputable convenience of the automobile.
And, why should the future of transportation to and from the mainland be left to the Steamship Authority to not plan for? Here's a subject of premier importance to Islanders. Maybe we should do the future transportation planning for ourselves, rather than let the SSA do it for itself?
And, in a related development, what happens to Ralph Packer's tank farm and transfer bridge when the time for a change comes? Can we live without it? Would a marina be a suitable replacement? Or a park? Someone will suggest it, you may be sure. Can we shift everything that Packer Towing brings to the Vineyard to SSA vessels instead? And, what will that cost? And, what about emergencies? Should we protect and preserve that tank farm, as an indispensable part of the community's infrastructure?
And, how about some planning, in concert with town leaders, to see if there are discreet municipal functions that can be merged in the interest of efficiency and economy? We know there are some functions the towns will cling to, but are their others for which cooperation might be in order?
If there is planning to be done, and there is, it ought to wrestle with the issues in front of us today. Let the kids worry about the Vineyard they want 50 years hence.