The plan didn’t notice the iceberg


To the Editor:

In “Not the Last Word” (Jan. 7), Nis Kildegaard frames the Island Plan as a conversation. I’m intrigued.

Where did this conversation come from, and where is it taking place? Let me guess: at meetings and hearings? People who thrive on meetings and hearings tend to equate meetings and hearings with democracy; if you don’t go to meetings and hearings, then you’ve forfeited your right to participate in the conversation. Everyone’s the hero of their own story, right? This particular story makes people who go to meetings and hearings feel virtuous. The Island Plan will probably do likewise.

Having read what’s been written about the plan in both Island newspapers, including the “quick (sort of) look” published in the M.V. Times for December 3, 2009, I don’t see much evidence that the planners have dealt with the most important truth of all: that the Island’s fate is being driven by off-Island money. Nearly all of us who work for a living depend, directly or indirectly, on that money. We’re helping to create and perpetuate the conditions that make it impossible for us to live here – but what are our alternatives? Starving or, somewhat less drastic, leaving. Economic necessity trumps democratic ideals almost every time. What we do at the ballot box and at town meeting and at all those meetings and hearings is being continually shaped and undermined by forces that are largely beyond the control of most of us.

The planners’ recommendations focus on things like energy efficiency, waste reduction, and vista preservation. Commendable for sure, but what I want are the answers to questions like “Where is the year-round workforce going to come from if working people can’t afford to live here year-round?” What kind of “community” do you have when an ever-increasing proportion of the year-round workforce doesn’t live here and it’s hard to make a half-decent living without catering to seasonal residents and off-Island money? What you get is a theme park community. Like Sturbridge Village and Colonial Williamsburg.

Theme-parkery is already well advanced on Martha’s Vineyard. Some Vineyarders talk about “rural character” and “living local” as if such things were possible where land goes for $300,000 an acre and people complain about roosters crowing in their neighborhood. Does the Island Plan address this? Does it offer any suggestions about economic diversification? How about a call to Islanders to organize in our own behalf, following the lead of the labor movement and the civil rights movement of the last century?

Is this Island Plan a conversation? I guess it is. It’s a conversation taking place on the deck of the Titanic, among first class passengers who are envisioning the business deals they’re going to make and the concerts they’re going to go to when they get to New York. How about that iceberg, people?

Susanna J. Sturgis
West Tisbury