The Island Plan is complete.
Four years in the making, this long-term plan for the future of Martha’s Vineyard, initiated by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, engaged hundreds of people in the collaborative process of its production. To quote from the plan: “ The purpose of the Island Plan is to chart a course to the kind of future the Vineyard community wants, and to outline a series of actions to help us navigate that course. The Island Plan is both a blueprint and a call to action.”
I served on the Steering Committee and chaired one of the nine work groups – Livelihood & Commerce (the others are Development & Growth, Natural Environment, the Built Environment, Energy & Waste, Affordable Housing, Transportation, Water Resources, and Social Environment).
I spent more time working on the plan than I wished to and less time than I should have.
The Plan is not what I hoped it would be when we first began work. I hoped we could create something that would knock our socks off – a plan that people would embrace wholeheartedly because How Could You Not? So compelling it didn’t even seem like a plan but a great never-ending story. A truly inspiring plan. A mouth-watering five-course meal.
That was unrealistic, of course. It’s not one person’s dream meal; it’s a stew, added to and stirred by many. At times, during the process, I found myself somewhat heartbroken, because the opportunity was so great and I felt we were falling short, but toward the end it got better, and I got better, and it’s not a bad stew.
Here are some important things about the Island Plan:
• It has created a new lexicon and new awareness – obscure terms like “multiplier effect”, “economic leakage”, “ecosystem services”, “minimum viable landscape”, “undevelopment”, and “carrying capacity” have become commonplace.
• It’s an iterative plan, not a Final Solution study that’s going to sit on a shelf collecting dust. There is a commitment to implement, to measure, to assess, to re-work, to “freshen up” the plan and add ingredients as the years go by, and to make alterations as conditions change in our rapidly changing world.
• People are thinking about it as 50 year plan. In a way it really isn’t. Early on we started saying “We need to think long term” – not a five or ten year plan but a 50 or 100 year plan. The local papers started writing stuff like “these guys must be nuts – you can’t do a 50 year plan” but the idea tickled peoples’ imagination. Now people say, proudly, we’ve got a 50 year plan. And the papers refer to “the island’s 50 year plan.” So what if it isn’t? As long as we think we’ve got a 50 year plan we do. And in many ways it really is.
• The 207 recommended strategies are a wealth of possibilities that we can dig into over time, each as its time comes.
One of these – a community owned electrical cooperative that uses local renewable resources to generate a large fraction of the Vineyard’s energy – has become the most immediate and visible direct outgrowth of the plan. A small group of people got so excited about the idea that when they got done with their work in the Island Plan Energy & Waste Group they went right to work on Vineyard Power and now, less than a year later, the cooperative has formed and begun to assemble a membership, create financing opportunities, and consider sites for an offshore wind farm.
It’s a bold idea and a challenging project that will take years to implement. It combines the need to create a membership of thousands, and manage it, with the goal of completing the biggest development project in the history of the Vineyard. Big job. But as the nascent membership approaches 500, I’m beginning to think it may be possible.
If the Island Plan stimulates nothing else, it will have been a success.
Here’s something I wish about the plan. I wish it connected the dots more. It is good at recognizing interdependencies, but less good at making them come alive. Here’s the kind of thing that’s not in the Island Plan that I now wish was. It’s an idea – which I’m going to call Hogtied Brewery for the moment – which could work just fine here on the Vineyard:
• People like beer, especially local beer from a place they like.
• So an MV brewery (like Offshore Ale, our local brewery) produces beer & the process produces waste mash.
• The waste mash is used to feed pigs.
• The pigs make meat and manure.
• The meat feeds people hungry for local food – everybody loves that – and the manure powers a bio-gas digester.
• The bio-gas digester makes electricity.
• The electricity is used to run the brewery.
Round and round it goes. Makes sense, doesn’t it? An unbroken circle of synergies. There’s no reason we can’t do things this way. There’s no reason we can’t keep making improvements to the Island Plan. There’s no reason we can’t implement its most promising strategies.
As Jim Athearn, who chaired the Steering Committee says,
“ In many ways, the Island Plan’s proposals for the next generation will help keep the Vineyard much as it is today – characterized by carefully protected open spaces, vistas, and historic neighborhoods, and provided with great services and recreational opportunities. In many ways, however, it will be different and greatly improved. Although tourism and construction will still be important parts of the economy, many people will have transitioned to well-paying, year-round “green” and knowledge-based jobs, encouraging young people to stay on the island. Farming and fishing will be expanded and feeding more of the population. Our energy will come from a community-owned offshore wind farm. There will be an Island-wide greenway and trail network. New buildings will fit their neighborhoods. It will be an even more vital year-round community, as our families can live here affordably. The Island Plan is a guide to keeping the Island safe, beautiful, healthy, and culturally rich – the best place it can be for our children and grandchildren.”
Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
All it takes is insisting on the future we want instead of settling for the future we get.