Martha’s Vineyard’s regional land use agency, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, is conducting a broad participatory planning proccess, Island Plan, to solicit input and devise a long-term plan for the future of the island over the next 50 years. Still in its early stages, it covers topics such as housing affordability, year-round employment opportunities, preservation of natural environment and water quality, public health, and more.
One document lists possible goals and targets (PDF) for 2010, 2025, and 2050. While they’ve taken pains to make clear these goals are “for discussion purposes only,” the direction of the samples gives insight into the thinking of the people involved. Many are no-brainers, like providing better education and health care. Others are unsurprising given the Vineyard’s strong focus on environmental preservation, like protecting native species habitats and producing energy from renewable local sources.
The most interesting and heartening to me is the section on “Built Environment” which not only suggests preserving the character of existing historic neighborhoods and downtowns with special character (such as the New England whaling houses of Edgartown and the brightly colored gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs), but also lists “development patterns we want to encourage and expand”:
Village-style development - mixed uses, nearby shopping and services, neighborhood parks and recreation, walking, biking encouraged, reliable transit.
Achieving these development patterns could even mean, as one sample goal states, “the creation of one or two new village-scale communities … built on a model of sustainability, affordability, energy efficiency, new technologies and compatibility with the natural environment” and discouraging “low-density sprawling developments.” Other sample goals include locating new housing within one mile of a school and a neighborhood store, and accommodating increases in transportation demand with “increased year-round use of public transit” and completion of separated bicycle paths.
Development in villages is far superior to lower-density sprawl development patterns, cutting down on the need to drive to shop or for entertainment, preserving more open space for the same amount of new housing construction, and making public transit more feasible. But most of the land around the existing villages is used up, so new village construction may well mean an actual new village. Despite the benefits, it will have to go someplace, meaning one area will more development than another. Will NIMBYism prevent such a logical plan from becoming reality? Or will the long-term best interests of the island’s environment prevail?