Perspectives on Sustainability

The Cape Cod Sustainability 


Articles on Sustainability


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Sustainability Reference Desk


Massachusetts Government Sustainability Programs


U.S. Government Sustainability Programs


A model of policy making with sustainability as an objective:  A roundtable discussion concerning the May 5, 2003, Yarmouth election ballot issue, "Should Yarmouth build a new high school or rehabilitate the old, existing school?"




To download the Cape Cod Sustainability Indicators Report 2003, click here.


Sense & Sustainability: Charting Paths for the Future






The First Sustainability Fair

by Allen Larson


The first Sustainability Fair was held September 27, 2004, in conjunction with the Fall for Orleans festival. The fair was wonderful, and we'll do it again for several reasons.

        The underlying purpose of this effort to "Sustain Cape Cod" is simple enough: to look for connections that cut across our lives, connections that would strengthen and preserve what we each might define individually as important to our quality of life.

     For many Cape residents, the priority has long been on actions that preserve our natural resources and improve our core environment. Many concerns in this area naturally spill over into the area of public health. Accordingly, across the region, many public policies have been proposed and often implemented out of a concern that the Cape's water quality may not be as healthy as desired.  

      For many other Cape residents, priorities have attached more to making a living and finding the means to afford a house or to pay for a child's education or their own career training. Property taxpayers pay increasing amounts each year to fund public education and other municipal services. And property owners who are also parents pay fees for sports and transportation services that pile on top of their property tax payments. These things add up.   

     And a similar financial squeeze also constricts local business owners. Tourist-related businesses, restaurants, motels, and bed-and-breakfast operators have been on an economic roller coaster for a while buffeted by factors beyond their control. International visitors have been hesitant to travel, and hurricane forecasts have kept people away. Even normal rainfalls have come predominantly this year on the weekends. These things take away revenues, they don't take away costs.

Articles on Sustainability

     Overall, the swirl of these concerns about our environment, the economy, and public health has built anxiety in the same way that tornadoes combine in a hurricane. And these anxieties have been swirling for a long time. If you were living on the Cape nearly twenty years ago, you may recall the sky-is-falling talks of Peter Ryner, a preeminent planner in the region at that time. Concerned about the rapid pace of new home construction on previously undeveloped parcels of land, Ryner's public presentations stimulated many to act by acquiring open space either through the private means of land trusts created at that time in many towns or through public land takings voted at town meetings. The buying spree continues unabated.

          And you may recall in a different context the discussions arising as Cape workers and businesses struggled through the recession of the early 1990s. For a while, a lot of interest focused on the need to encourage the development of  "clean, light industry" as a way to broaden the Cape's economic underpinnings and pull us out of the recessionary spiral. However, as the national and northeast economies finally recovered, that economic prescription soon gave way to a notion that the Cape would be economically better directed if we dropped any pretense of "industry," clean or otherwise, and focused more on services catering to those of means. The merit of this approach has been evident in the banking and financial services boom that has since occurred.

        And currently, if you own a home, you've watched with some dismay the spiraling rise in its value as more and more people move to the Cape with access to low mortgage rates and a desire to acquire limited housing stock. And while this mix of forces has been great for homeowners, it presents something of an illusion:  Are we really doing well when the largest part of our personal equity exists only as a result of the upward spiraling value of our homes?

        Unless a comparable rise in our wages or other income has gone up at the same pace, the result is that we become land rich and cash poor. And yet, when we've presented this argument to the state as an appeal for a "fairer" distribution of funds appropriated for our public schools and other municipal services, the argument has fallen flat. The fact is that we are better off than other parts of the state, especially our urban centers. And the confirmation of this is the simple fact that so many people continue to move here to live. 

        These few examples of the anxieties that swirl in the Cape air only highlight that there is a great deal of connection that relates one to the other. Open space land acquisitions do push up the cost of property and make it more difficult to afford a home. Wages and incomes do need to rise to pay rising taxes and costs of living, but the region's focus has been directed more to catering for the well-to-do rather than attending to the needs of the middle class. And all the while, the Cape's fragile ecosystem creaks below the weight of more and more year-round residents. And as this number gets bigger, so too do the developments that attend to this population.

        Sustainability encourages a discussion of these kinds of real-life, everyday concerns. The focus of sustainability is on our quality of life--how we maintain what we want to keep and how we improve in areas that concern us.

        The first Sustainability Fair was an effort to bring different organizations together with ordinary people so that information could be shared, interest could be prompted, and constructive ideas might be developed. And what also distinguishes this effort is the fact that there is no specific agenda. It was simply not possible to attend the fair and agree with the view presented by every exhibitor. Some, like those both for and against the proposed wind farm on Nantucket Sound, were clearly diametrically opposed. But that is the point: if we are to sustain Cape Cod, we need to present our concerns and our priorities as we each see them.

        The first Sustainability Fair was a start in our efforts to encourage such an exchange. We will make this effort again. And as we do so, we will be trying to support the effort of many other groups in the area who are also working to sustain Cape Cod. You can help by pitching in to the work of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod  (APCC), the Community Foundation of Cape Cod, the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod, the Cape United Way, the Chambers of Commerce, service organizations, and many, many more.  

Allen Larson, President