Provincetown Today, Tomorrow & Beyond
Nestled on the tip of Cape Code and sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay is Provincetown, Massachusetts, the home of American Democracy. Nearly four hundred years ago, Pilgrims arrived here and penned the Mayflower Compact, the beginning of many firsts that gave rise to the town’s fame as America’s First Destination. Most visitors come here as tourists to take in the beauty, the light, the landscape, diverse peoples and quintessential New England quaintness. But many of us know this as home and are concerned that we plan adequately for our future.
In its essence, Provincetown is the end of the road and on the front lines of vulnerability to climate change and attendant sea level rise. Old timers will tell you of the nor’easters that have come and gone and even a stray hurricane, but the new reality is that people, wildlife and some of the Nation’s most fragile dune shoreline risks extinction without a focus on resiliency and adaption to the changing rigors that nature is sure to deliver.
As a casual visitor, one cannot help but notice the excitement of discovery, the adventure of exploration, the exhilaration of free expression, and the unique character possessed by a town with Native American and European heritage, mostly of Portuguese ancestry who followed the early arrivers to take to the surrounding sea for commerce. The shingled cottages and grand homes of Provincetown are right out of a moviedom back lot, with the exception that these are the real deal of shoreline landscapes and memories drenched in fog and mystery that has given birth to thousands of novels, plays, poem art and photography work. But, looks can be deceiving.
There are important challenges facing our small, coastal community that a tourist cannot detect. As the population of Provincetown drastically swells in the summer months to accommodate visitors who seek that most special of holidays, the Townies who attend to a more and more affluent visitor are among the lowest wage earners in the nation. Many quaint cottages have been converted to seasonal ownership and those of our population who tend the fishing fleet and the indigenous eateries and shops have dwindled in the face of skyrocketing costs. Where do workers live? How do year round and seasonal residents of Provincetown afford measures to become more resilient? When will warmer climates take away the one constant income derived from tourism that must be mostly captured within a four month short summer season?
These questions underlie the challenge of sustainability for Provincetown and hundreds of shoreline communities of the Northeast. For America, there is a rather urgent need to sustain communities of historical, cultural, and ecological significance in the face of market trends that keep the issues of local economic viability disguised to ensure that towns are happy places to visit. Provincetown embodies what too many towns in America face but fail to address. We have a perfect storm brewing, where a plan of what can be done to sustain the legacy of the town becomes most important to us and portable to others facing similar fates.
Provincetown has applied for and was one of only two communities nationwide to be selected by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to participate in the 2014 round of the Design and Resiliency Team (DART) program. This is a significant opportunity for everyone to help shape the community’s strategy for addressing economic development and housing sustainability issues so we can keep our community, built and natural treasures strong and alive into the future. The first step is to encourage all residents & non-resident taxpayers, business owners & employees, public officials & community leaders of the Town to join with the DART Team on Monday, November 17th, from 1:00-5:00 pm, at Town Hall for a Community Meeting and Discussion Groups. Please attend, bring your ideas and insights, and add your voice to the process. A final Community Presentation with recommendations will take place on Wednesday November 19th, from 6:00-8:00 pm.
This pilot round of the DART program is especially timely, as the Provincetown Planning Board will begin the process of updating the Local Comprehensive Plan this winter. The energy and engagement created by the DART in addressing these important community issues will serve to “kick start” the Local Comprehensive Plan process. Provincetown’s numerous groups, including businesses, artists, young people, summer community, seniors, churches, town government, non-profits, families, singles, and GLBT populations all feel the impact of the seasonal economy and limited housing options and are encouraged to attend the DART sessions to provide input.
Let’s have a strong presence ready to work with the DART Team to describe our present, while seeking a new way into the future, reminiscent of the peoples who have always called Provincetown home, the new comers who created a most remarkable nation and the present residents who keep the lights burning bright so that an authentic and vibrant American destination can sustain itself for future generations.
By: Valsin A. Marmillion, president, Marmillion + Company, branding and marking firm for the Visitor Services Board, resident of 151 Commercial Street, Provincetown