Is change possible? Certainly.

This week we explore the impact on our lives of something we experience every day on Nantucket: Uncertainty.  As you know, our organization was founded around the idea of reversing the erosion of quality-of-life on Nantucket. But what exactly does that mean? Often when we talk about quality-of-life issues, we are zeroing in on those things that make living on Nantucket worthwhile and the first things that go missing when longstanding islanders decide to leave. (A few notable neighbors have done just that lately which was the spark for this note.)

Your list of quality-of-life issues may be different than someone else’s. But there are a few things we can all agree on — whether tangible or intangible — that are worth protecting and re-building. 

Tangible: Water quality that makes boating, fishing, clamming and scalloping possible and enjoyable, the ability to move about and conduct our business or leisure freely, open spaces for people to enjoy.  

Intangible: A sense of community and belonging, peace of mind, a feeling that the island we once fell in love with is still here in some form or another, and a sense of place.

When quality-of-life begins to erode, however, that’s when life on an island 26 miles out at sea becomes so uncertain that it is difficult to bear. In many ways, Nantucket has always been “Uncertainty Island.” There are the little uncertainties like guessing whether the boats will run or whether we can find a parking space or if there will be any kimchi at the Stop and Shop. And then there are the bigger uncertainties: Islanders who have to do the shuffle every year or two live with a crushing amount of uncertainty when it comes to housing. The sheer numbers of developments, cars, trucks, and boats mean we all face uncertain water quality and limits to our resources. And with the 53 citizens articles submitted for April’s Annual Town Meeting this year, it’s uncertain if voters and town government are actually in synch. [Note: Link contains a large document and will take some time to load]

The science of neuropsychology tells us that human beings are willing to put up with a lot of things. But past a certain point, uncertainty is not one of them. Uncertainty, in fact, resides in the same part of the brain as pain, so we react to it similarly. Small amounts of uncertainty are a nagging annoyance. Big ones are what we run away from. Suffice it to say that uncertainty is something that can cause a person or family to make a decision to give up and live somewhere else.

All of which means addressing quality of life, in many cases, is about dialing back uncertainty in people’s lives. If we address the tangible causes of uncertainty, the intangible quality of life issues — peace of mind, a sense of place — improve. 

A non-profit like ACK•Now cannot eliminate uncertainty from the island completely. The boats and planes are always going to be at the whim of the weather, and no one can predict when the first sweet corn will be picked at Bartlett’s. But we can take steps to address out-of-control spec development, the accessibility of housing, environmental impacts, and traffic. As well as help people to access town meeting more easily and brainstorm ways to help town government be more effective. What are some of the uncertainties you face every day that you would like to change? Reply to this email and let us know. Have a great Sunday.

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