25 Years Ago
From the Vineyard Gazette editions of September, 1982:
In the aftermath of recent summer seasons, the Island has been familiar with that Monday morning sigh of relief at having lived through another one, with its unsolved problems of congestion, pollution, drugs, vandalism, thefts, and so on, the sigh followed by expressed intentions of doing something about these problems before the advent of another spring. Now in another September, with the brutally unsolved problem of mopeds added to all else, the sigh of relief seems to be missing.
Instead, the atmosphere seems to be full of plans to increase and exploit crowding, congestion, and so on, and to increase the Island’s dependence upon and commitment to a single narrowly channeled industry, that of tourism. The really vicious variant in plans for an exploiting future is residential time sharing.
Time sharing is a concept of resorts. Individuals who buy a week’s share may on occasion use it, but more often may sublet, or even more often, ‘swap’ with some other person in a different resort in order to exchange holidays. In short, there is no attachment to the community. The difference between Chilmark and, say, Edgartown is that Edgartown is, for many persons, a resort place. This is why, for example, time sharing at the Harborside may be appropriate. But the development of time sharing in Chilmark would transform the nature of the community. Residential time sharing anywhere on the Island would be a cynical plan to process and re-process warm bodies for the developer’s profit. The sense of attachment and of place would be fugitive or nonexistent.
What stands out again in the record of the recent summer is a failure to come to grips with increasingly urgent problems, in particular those of pollution and health. And now we know that these are not local problems which we may neglect if we choose, but problems common to the entire coast which cannot be long or safely ignored. In the mussels and oysters — organisms that pick up contaminants in the water — that dot the bottom sand of our coastline there are warnings. And they hold a message for the Vineyard — we are part of the northeast megalopolis, a section of the country under pressure to control and dispose of its contaminants.
The Island has escaped a proposed shopping center at Deer Run, close to the demographic center, but if unsolved traffic, parking and other problems remain as oppressive as they are, it is reasonable to expect the same sort of proposal to appear again, very likely backed by major financing and political clout. How attractive the plan can be made to seem is obvious, but if it should materialize the economy of the Island would be cut all-over again in slices, and every slice would be up for grabs.
In the background, gravely lowering, is the uncertainty as to the state of the national economy. One well-known and highly respected economist thinks drastic readjustment impends. Some Vineyarders remember 1929 and how most of us said we were secure against depression. But we weren’t. And a single-industry economy depending on holiday or luxury spending represents the greatest vulnerability.
Hundreds of residents of Island towns should feel that in a pinch they can get something better than a subsistence livelihood from the natural resources of land and water. These resources are being allowed to diminish or fail.
The Vineyard’s building industry is in a slump. The established men in the trade are still busy, but they aren’t as busy as they have been in years past. And with housing starts off, with an influx of Cape builders, with money tight, there are indications that only those who are established will remain after a shakeout in the months ahead. Housing starts in Edgartown are off about 30 per cent this year. In Oak Bluffs they’re off about 25 per cent, while in the other towns figures are running roughly as they did last year. The slump in building on the Island does not compare to the more depressed housing construction market elsewhere in New England, but the trade employs a significant sector of the Vineyard community and as it weakens, it sends out shock waves around the Island.
The signals are somewhat mixed. There are those in the trade who speak of turning down work, but a few patterns appear clear. The dollar is not being spread to as many people: with building on the Cape at a near standstill builders over there have set up shop on the Vineyard: the fellow with a hammer on his belt who calls himself a builder after a brief apprenticeship is fast becoming an extinct breed: the bigger builders are always going to have work: Vineyard builders will become increasingly flexible, able to offer a variety of skills.
Builders point to the high mortgage rates. Bigger houses are being sold, but not the medium and smaller sized homes. Large homes owned by people unconcerned with conventional financing are still being built, but the smaller houses, the subdivision type homes are not. Those who depend on these types of jobs are hurting.
Compiled by Eulalie Regan