I’ve been home from Nantucket for almost a month, so I’ve had time to digest everything. I thoroughly enjoyed Preservation Institute: Nantucket, from the location to the lecturers to the activities to (most) of my fellow students. I can’t imagine a better place in the U.S. to spend the summer.
On that note, I’d like to go negative. There are hundreds of things I could list about what I like about Nantucket, but here are 10 that I didn’t.
10. Bad food: I’m sure there’s great places to eat on Nantucket that aren’t too overpriced (everything is too much), and I went to at least three (Something Natural, Lola Burger, and Cy’s) but many I ate at were just awful, especially when considering the price (Fresh, Provisions, and Captain Tobey’s, I’m looking at you). Others were just mediocre (Rose & Crown and the Jetties Beach restaurant).
9. Trees on sidewalks: I’m a big fan of trees, but when they get too big and their roots start tearing up sidewalks and roads they need to go. Some of the trees along the streets in Nantucket town are hazards and it’s easy for people to get seriously hurt. However, there’s tree conservation groups on the island that protect them. As G.O.B. on “Arrested Development” would say, “Come on!” Nantucket being a windswept island didn’t even have many trees until the past century, so it’s not like the trees are part of the town’s historic appearance.
8. Cobblestones on Main Street: Unlike the trees, they are historically accurate when it comes to Nantucket’s whaling heyday. But does about a half-mile of Main Street really need to be cobblestone? Spend five minutes along the street and you’ll see what a hazard they are. Vehicles hop up and down, cyclists fall off their bikes, and scooters struggle along. The cobblestones should be kept to sparsely traveled side streets, not Main Street. Public safety beats history in this case.
7. Too many cars: This has been an ongoing problem for Nantucket, and it only gets worse. Because they were designed well before automobiles, Nantucket’s oldest, winding streets aren’t very wide and often don’t provide enough room for two cars to pass at normal speed. Plus, the island has no stoplights, making for backups at key intersections. Raising the price of bringing vehicles over on the ferry won’t help because money is no object for many residents, particularly the summer people.
6. Power lines: There are countless scenic sights in Nantucket — and plenty of power lines to block the view. I don’t know the logistics of burying lines, but you would think it would be a priority in such a windy, storm-battered island. It’s not like most of the residents couldn’t afford a tax increase to pay for it.
5. Too many cash-only places: It’s 2009 — buy a credit card machine! I had to haul a few pounds of change back in my suitcase because many establishments on the island don’t take plastic and I don’t like to carry around change, or cash for that matter.
4. Deer ticks: This is a huge problem on the island and keeps people from experiencing the many natural areas on the island. A deer tick bite can cause Lyme disease, a serious neurological disorder. Here’s hoping a rich summer resident contracts Lyme disease and pours a lot of money into research to find a cure to eradicate these ticks.
3. Some bike paths: Some bike paths I traveled were excellent (Polpis Road, Milestone, Madaket Road), but others were more dangerous than traveling on the road (Vesper Lane and Sparks Avenue). They’re narrow and set right along the road. If you’re passing someone and they aren’t paying attention, you could easily be forced off the curb and into traffic. It happened to me.
2. Lack of street signs: With Nantucket’s haphazard street layout, you would think having street signs would be a given. Not so. The ones they do have, which are gray and white, aren’t obstrustive and blend in well so ruining aesthetics can’t be a concern. It’s a very annoying island quirk that causes a lot of unnecessary frustration and wastes a lot of time.
1. Shrinking middle class: First, I don’t like this for selfish reasons: unless I marry rich, win the lottery, or write a best-seller, I’ll never be able to afford housing on Nantucket. The gap between the rich and the working class on the island is vast and only growing. For years summer workers have commuted from Cape Cod via ferry or plane, and as long as there’s a demand this will continue. (When it’s cheaper to live on the Cape and commute 25 miles across Nantucket Sound every day, you know you have a dearth of affordable housing.) The problem is the declining number of middle class year round residents. Many of them only are still able to live on the island because they inherited their property, and unless their children follow the same path they will be forced to seek a life in “America.” Much of what people cherish about Nantucket are traditions begun and kept alive by the middle class. What happens when no teachers, firefighters, and store managers can live there? The island needs subsidized housing. I know of at least one instance of this on the island (an old school converted into apartments). Nantucket can feel like a gated community it’s so far from other land. If it keeps losing its middle class residents, it will actually be one.
Honorable mention: the lack of bike racks in downtown; too many bugs; the Civil War monument intersection and its shortage of signage directing people what to do (is it a roundabout or just something in the middle of the road?); and the lack of visible signs denoting historic houses (the small, copper plaques don’t work; the Nantucket Preservation Trust’s fan signs are better but don’t reveal much).