Let’s face it; if the character and beauty of this Island is its lifeblood, the second home industry is a form of incremental suicide. Death by a thousand cuts. House after house is built, each one fragmenting and wiping away more of the natural world, the very thing that attracted people here in the first place. If we lose an intact environment, we lose some very real value, not just rural character, clean water and shellfish resources, but the people, their disposable incomes and their tax dollars.

Growth as an economic engine must necessarily have limits when the natural assets are what drives the economy. This is especially true on an Island — a finite area of land, and, in the case of our Island, we are both shrinking (from sea level rise) and sinking (subsiding).

Growth equals more noise, more roads, more traffic, more lights, more people. Less nature. There will come a tipping point where too much growth spoils the magic. People will turn their backs on the Island because it will be just like everywhere else (only more expensive and harder to get to).

The second home market and spiraling property values is a major contributor to the need for affordable housing. It is the root cause of runaway growth and is propelling environmental degradation. The rate of growth of second homes needs to be slowed.

Meanwhile, support for common sense affordable housing strategies is critical:

• Focus on infilling and redevelopment of the built environment — the Phillips Hardware project is an excellent example, and updated zoning to accommodate it.

• Focus on areas near existing transportation, shopping and schools.

• Focus on building walkable communities that break our constant dependence on car trips.

• Focus on areas that are sewered; new septic systems will increase the already dire problem of excess nitrogen in the salt ponds.

• Avoid undeveloped areas; if new construction must happen, focus on areas near existing development that won’t fragment the natural environment.

About affordable housing, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Island Plan states:

“The provision of community housing is essential to preserving the social fabric of the Island community and to maintain an adequate work force to sustain the Vineyard economy.”

It is time to take a hard look at the underlying assumptions. Is the Vineyard economy sustainable? Not if it is based on a model requiring continued growth. More second homes means more required services. That means ever more affordable housing. More trees felled, more pavement, more waste, and the loss of the very social fabric we are trying to protect.

We can’t keep relying on second homes to pay the bills and drive the economy. There has got to be a brighter, more sustainable path to follow.

Liz Durkee
Oak Bluffs

The writer is the Oak Bluffs conservation agent and a board member for the Vineyard Conservation Society.