Monday, May 12, 2008

People Conservation

We’re all familiar with conservation: more people are trying to conserve energy and other natural resources; we work to conserve our fisheries and other wild species; we conserve land and the environment. Yet rarely do we apply the idea of conservation to people; and it’s critical to our island community that we do.
The appearance of Martha’s Vineyard-based small business entrepreneur and author John Abrams in our community this coming weekend (see schedule below) gives us a chance to really think about what people conservation means.

As John writes in his book, The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community, and Place, “A community consists of a place and those who have a relationship with that place: the land and the people.” The beauty and desirability of our island, like the Vineyard, is responsible for several crises that are causing significant loss to and out-migration of the people who are the backbone of what makes this community work. These crises include: unnaturally inflated property valuations, supported by second-home owner incomes not attainable in coastal Maine, and the inevitable results of inflated valuations: an increased property tax burden on year round property owners; a decrease in state subsidy to our public schools; and a corresponding lack of affordable housing.

These economic shifts, left to their own devices without appropriate community/governmental action over many years, in turn accelerate the transition of work and career opportunities from year round, independently owned small businesses to seasonal, service sector work.

People conservation—community-based actions to ensure that the people who belong on and love this island are able to afford to stay here—is critically needed on Deer Isle. Without year round residents with the education, good jobs, and desire to maintain the independent spirit of Deer Isle—it’s just another pretty place.
What these actions are need to be decided together, as a community. The creation of affordable housing; more diverse year-round jobs; and educational and creative lifestyle opportunities that maintain and attract young residents are all necessary. How are we and can we actively promote such initiatives, and others?

Want to be a part of the answers to this question? The Stonington Economic Development Committee, sponsors of John’s appearance on the island this weekend, invites you and hopes you will attend the community action planning session with John and others Saturday, May 17, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the second floor of the Stonington Town Hall. Let’s start talking, and acting on, people conservation.

John Abrams will appear Friday, May 16 at 7 p.m., in a free speech at the Reach Performing Arts Center; and Saturday, May 17 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., in a community action planning session at Stonington Town Hall. His book is available at both the Stonington and Deer Isle public libraries, and will be for sale during his appearances.