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I saw the ghost of Walter Beinecke the other day. No, it was not during one of those bogus ghost walks. He was part of the standing-room-only crowd in the Great Hall at the Atheneum, as a panel of experts talked about the future of downtown.
The Urban Land Institute came, saw, and offered its considered insights. It was all good stuff. There was talk about traffic patterns and about the move toward mid-island, talk of special events that might draw people downtown and help stimulate a creative economy.
There were the inevitable comparisons to places like Aspen. There was the inevitable talk of a street layout and architectural plans that are modeled on something planners sometimes call “The New Urbanism,” which incorporates ideas like putting housing above storefronts.
I remember Beinecke talking about some of the same things. One panel member even called downtown the island’s front door and chance to make a first impression. There was talk of this island as a place of living history. All Beinecke golden oldies.
The next day I was talking to a friend of mine. He had wanted to take part in things, offer his opinion. But he found that he did not have anything to say. He decided he is generally happy with life here. There are small things he might change, if he woke up one day to find he was emperor, but on any given weekday he is more then reasonably happy.
The thing is that in the late 1970s he was sure that this island had gone to hell never to return. The main reason? A fern bar appeared in the place of an old-time watering hole. So he left. Then he came back. Now he shrugs at the changes. He is mostly happy with life here. The fern bar was called the Atlantic Café, and now is as local a place as you can find.
The golden age of Nantucket depends on when you arrived. A good rule of thumb for his place is that it takes most people about five years of living here to begin using the phrase, “It used to be so different here.”
I wonder sometimes if we suffer from the nirvana blues. Life is good but it feels like something is missing, something we cannot quite put our collective finger on.
The ULI panel had some interesting ideas and insights. They also had some ideas and insights that let you know they had just come around Brant Point.
ReMain Nantucket has given itself an interesting and difficult task. At the center of their task is a simple answer – the third place. It is a phrase that means those places that are someplace between home and work. They are places we stop in on a regular basis to rub shoulders with our neighbors, if only for a few moments of small talk.
A couple of places like that downtown and things begin to change for the better. Knowing the answer, of course, is the easy part. Working out the equation to get to that answer is the hard part.
– John Stanton is a documentary filmmaker and writer on Nantucket