Editorial: Lessons from up north

The rocky coast and islands of Maine and the sandy Massachusetts peninsula of Cape Cod would seem to have very little in common with the landlocked, undulating hills of Rappahannock. But recent economic and environmental policy studies reveal the three distinct geographic areas have many of the same draws — as well as similar challenges.

So, presumably, we might learn from one another.

The draw in all three places is the environment: The natural beauty, recreational opportunities and a low-crime, high-quality lifestyle. But the challenges are these, twofold and interrelated: Youth out-migration and the cost of housing.

In Cape Cod, for example, only about one-third of those aged 22 to 44 years old think that local salaries provide a living wage or that there are enough jobs to match their education and experience. It’s a safe bet that a survey in Rappahannock would yield similar — or even worse! — results.

In contrast, the 45 to 64-year-old age group keeps growing. If these trends continue, the Cape Cod study concluded, the region’s economic vitality — as well as its diverse, dynamic community — could be threatened.

For the youth who do stay, they often become what financial experts call “housing cost burdened,” forced to spend an unhealthy percentage of their income on shelter. So in Cape Cod, among possible affordable housing solutions being considered, are so-called “micro apartments” in multi-unit complexes with many shared amenities.

In theory, something similar could be explored in Rappahannock’s one town and several villages. But given our recent history of exclusionary preferences, that’s highly unlikely.

Like Rappahannock’s weekenders — who understandably like the exclusive feel of the place — seasonal residents represent an ever-growing percentage of the population in both Cape Cod and along the Maine coast. Because of this, the regions will never be impoverished. But if they become simply retreats for the wealthy, won’t something valuable and important be lost?

Walter Nicklin