A few days after the election, 80 or so of the most civic-minded Wellfleetians took time out from anguishing over the Future According to Trump to take up what seems a more manageable topic, the future of our own town. The idea was to crowdsource ideas to be incorporated in the latest update of our comprehensive plan.
The workshop, as it was styled, seemed an affirmation that there would be life after—or at least off to one side of– Trump, our town’s future a hedge against The Future. (We knew that though we voted 3 to 1 against Trump, there were 500 or so who voted for him, but the working assumption was that none of those 500 were in that room.
It was a friendly, creative, and very civilized gathering, beautifully led by a young, native townsperson who is really good at running such meetings.
There was a lot of use of the word “community,” often with a self-congratulatory tone. It’s one of our favorite words. Here we are, this community of like-minded, progressive people, coming together to shepherd our beloved town into the future.
And there was in fact a lot of agreement about the sort of future we envision. But as to how to achieve these communal goals, the word “community” is probably a misleading premise. “Divided community,” an oxymoron, often gets closer to the reality.
Even with a seeming no-brainer like drinking water, the community has long been divided. Some view much of the existing partial public system as costly and unnecessary given the prevalence of good ground water . Some secretly wish the whole town would join the real world and switch from well water to a chlorinated pubic system.
Everyone wants more “economic vitality,” but we are conflicted about how to achieve it. Some want to attract more tourists with proliferating Oyster Fest spinoffs, while some think the emphasis should be on year-round business, maybe something techy a la Silicon Valley, to augment our traditional shellfishing.
Let the record show that we recently voted in town meeting to fire our Economic Development Committee.
Crucial to that more diverse community that everyone wants is “affordable housing,” despite well-meaning efforts at which, we have gotten less and less affordable. Progress has been slow. The very phrase suggests to some poverty, and the greater density of zoning which is one solution turns out to be unattractive to some very nice people when it is proposed for their own neighborhood.
Building new, more affordable units doesn’t address the irony of two-thirds of our houses are second homes empty most of the year when local people are in need of housing. Encouraging residents aging out of their houses to sell to people who will live here fulltime would be a way of addressing the problem without increasing the number of h ouses in town.
Among the workshoppers were a few of those secondhome owners whose unquestioned devotion to the town can take its own form. Probably it was other non-resident taxpayers who packed a selectmen’s meeting and achieved the defeat of the differential taxing which has helped make life in Provincetown a bit more affordable.
Everybody seems to want a “diverse” town with a younger average age which means a more affordable town but a few days after the workshop in question, the largely retirement age voters who showed up at a Special Town Meeting voted in a new $7.5 million police station which will make the town even less affordable for the young and struggling minority.
Wellfleet has our communal triumphs such as Preservation Hall and oyster worship. But we are also defined by our conflicts and divisions. “Community” may not be the most realistic starting place for planning the future.
When the workshop broke up, there was the Trumpian elephant-in-the-room waiting for us outside the door. And somewhere, those 500 ‘Fleetians who voted for him.