Gloucester- Playground for the Affluent?

news from the fleet

News from the Fleet. 1918. Augustus Buhler (1853-1920)        

Coastal Communities as Playgrounds for the Affluent

I read the Gloucester Daily Times’ story March 27, 2015 (see the Enduring Gloucester post What Does Gloucester Need? March 27) about the community and economic  development expert’s assessment of what Gloucester supposedly needs to do to address the issues confronting it in the face of the decline of the family fishing industry and industries associated with it.

I was struck by the intense focus on the shortcomings of the city’s website, of all things.Now, not for nothin’, but with all the issues confronting Gloucester today, it seems absurd that a focus on the city’s website would be such a centerpiece of both the expert’s assessment and the Daily Times’ story.But then, a flawed website is a much easier issue to wrap one’s head around than a housing market growing so expensive that more and more people cannot aspire to rent an apartment in Gloucester, let alone buy a home.

It is a much easier issue to wrap one’s head head around than the reality that tourism, although an important element of Gloucester’s overall economy, will not provide the  jobs that produce the kinds of incomes that will allow people working in the industry to actually live in Gloucester – despite what those who view high end restaurants, slips for yachts, and three hundred dollar a night hotel rooms as Gloucester’s economic salvation, may think.

What I have realized in recent years is that more and more communities by the sea, whether in temperate or tropical locales, are rapidly becoming places where only the affluent will be able to live.

Here on the Outer Cape, particularly in Provincetown, that sad reality has resulted in this once viable, if not always terribly busy, year round community devolving into a virtual ghost town from November to mid April.

To scan the Provincetown Banner for a seasonal rental to live in while working for the summer tourist season is all one needs to do to see why tourism and hospitality industry businesses are desperate for employees to staff their establishments. It would make no economic sense for me to work here this season if I did not have the network of old friends that I do.

Dumps are renting for seven and eight thousand dollars a season. People are taking in boarders who clandestinely sleep in their basements on air mattresses for 175 and 200 dollars a week.

More and more businesses are staffed by English speaking eastern European college students and migrant workers from Jamaica and Central America, not because Americans don’t need work, but because the cost of housing is so prohibitively high it makes no sense for American workers in the hospitality and tourism industries to come here to work.

But I’ve realized the very same thing is happening in Puerto Viejo, CR, the sleepy little surfing and fishing hamlet at the end of a long dirt road to nowhere I washed ashore in fifteen years ago. It is happening in Vieques, where I worked two years ago.

Now, change is indeed inevitable. But given what is at stake, especially for ordinary working people, be they gringo, Latino, or Martian, those who view themselves as the leaders of these increasingly desirable coastal communities, from Cape Ann to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, really need to  not focus on  just short term gains and quick bucks for the affluent few, but on the well being and quality of life of the workers who make these coastal communities the kinds of places tourists want to visit in the first place.

If that doesn’t happen, all these coastal communities are likely to go the way of Key West, a place that these days is a far cry from the funky, bohemian and diverse place it once was.

And that would be very sad, very sad indeed.

Michael Cook
Gloucester and Truro

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