Making a new plan for Oak Bluffs


The effort to upgrade and improve the downtown Oak Bluffs central business district is a wonderful idea, smartly begun and demanding follow through. Islanders know how difficult it is to effect change — witness the 10-year gestation of the Roundabout and the failure this week of the wise but fruitless, decades old idea of a cross-country, traffic relieving connector road in Tisbury. This effort is notable for the coalition of forces that have placed the revitalization effort on the town’s agenda and for the apparent willingness of the initiative’s backers to enlist advice and support from skilled people with off-Island experience doing this sort of work. Expanding the idea generation base is key, which may flow from the efforts of the new Oak Bluffs town administrator Bob Whritenour, with the support of selectmen. During his brief tenure, Mr. Whritenour has demonstrated both an ability to get things done and an instinct, informed by experience elsewhere, that finds the help and advice needed for this effort to succeed.

Emmy Hahn from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and an organizer of the December 3 panel discussion that focused on the revitalization project put her finger on what may be the benchmark requirement for this effort to succeed.

“This is a preliminary discussion,” she said. “You as a town have to ask yourself, what is your vision for this town?”

Revitalization may be one name to call this sudden, surprising, and spirited effort, but the question that must be answered if success will be the outcome is not, How do we fix things up in Oak Bluffs? Rather, it is, What do we want next for our town? It’s the vision thing, as Ms. Hahn suggests.

And, in that vein, Times writer Barry Stringfellow reports this morning that Dennis town planner Dan Fortier told the gathering on December 3 that they must “reach out” for “consensus,” and that the work is demanding and conducted through many channels.

“We went high tech and low tech — social media and spaghetti suppers,” said Mr. Fortier, who in 12 years has helped engineer a turnaround in Dennis. “Almost every morning, I was having coffee and muffins in someone’s home, answering questions. I’m amazed I didn’t put on 25 pounds.” He added that social media, in the case of Oak Bluffs, was underutilized in community outreach. “I use every tool I can to reach people: blogs, Facebook, Twitter. You have to mobilize people who want change. Too many people sit on their hands because we as public officials don’t do enough to get the word out.”

Off to a brisk start, there is no sense that the supporters of this Oak Bluffs initiative are unaware of what will be fundamental to its success, or that they are insufficiently committed to the work that will make friends, neighbors, and skeptics into supporters.