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New data shows Nantucket is on track to host 100,000 visitors on a peak summer day by 2030

Nantucket Data Platform.jpg
Community Data Platforms
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New data from the Nantucket Data Platform shows that the number of summer visitors has increased as the number of seasonal workers has decreased.

The latest analysis of Nantucket's population has come up with some interesting new statistics: the peak number of people on Nantucket during the busiest summer day has grown by about 50%, from about 40,000 people in 2014, to more than 60,000 people in 2021. And that number is increasing.

CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Alan Worden, founder of the Nantucket Data Platform, about what his team learned from crunching the numbers.

Eident In 2018, you published data for one year, which was 2017, when you took a look at a number of data points, including the number of people coming in to the island on ferries or people who flew in. And that helped you get a real sense of the year-round population and this summer influx of visitors. Tell us what numbers you came up with.

Worden Well, what's the year-round population? The U.S. Census estimated it at 11,700 and our work would use census data, but lots of other commercial data sources pegged it as closer to 17,000. So as a percent, they were off by about 50% in the summer peak. What we found was the peak was really about 48,000 people. Imagine you're in charge of new sewer pipes. And if you're sizing those based on year-round population, you could really get some critical decisions wrong without reliable data.

Eident So Alan, now we're here in 2022 and you have an update of a much wider swath of time. You looked at 2014 to 2021. Tell us what you learned.

Worden Right. So, we are pro-data and pro-analytics and we're anti-anecdotes. But in fact, a lot of the anecdotes have been proven out. So, if you look at the change over those seven years, 2014 to 2021, you would find that the peak number of people has grown about 50%. It's gone from about 40,000 to over 60,000. And it marches along, even despite COVID, relatively steadily. And if you simply connected those dots to say, "Where are we going?" They're, depending on constraints, Nantucket could be headed toward a peak population of 100,000 within ten years.

So, you know, the question is, will the islands sink? Will infrastructure hold up? Are there enough beds or there are no ferries? And it's a conversation we'll be opening up to thought leaders this winter to say what parts of the system could be under strain? Which ones are fine and which ones might break if the population continues to grow, as we've seen it grow for seven years?

Eident What does that mean for the year-round population? Have you seen that grow as well?

Worden The year-round population has grown and it's now right around around 20,000. So that that growth has been, you know, relatively steady, mid-single digits. It's marching along. The island is growing, but it's really the summer population that looks a little bit like a hockey stick.

So, if the summer population is growing dramatically, then in theory, you need service folks to serve them and to have that population grow dramatically. In fact, because of housing, it has remained flat. It's even gone down a little as a result of COVID.

If you look at the number of summer workers and you look at total population, how many people are they serving? It's like in a classroom. How many students is a teacher serving in 2014? For every seasonal worker, there were ten people that they would serve. Now it's 22 people. So, when people feel like, "I can't get a reservation, I can't get in, Stop and Shop, I can't rent a car." They are correct because the service workers, the seasonal workers are not growing. There is a constraint. It's not easy to house them. And yet the population continues to grow.

Eident Wow. One worker, 22 people served. That really shows you the precipice that we're standing on, not just on Nantucket, I would say, but for us on the Cape and the Vineyard as well, where there are similar issues.

Worden Absolutely. You know, as we think about the way the island will grow and whether it can accommodate increased population, housing is is a big one. And what we have found, Kathryn, which is gratifying, is leaders, business leaders, philanthropic leaders, government leaders want to make evidence based decisions. They don't want to wing it. The budgets are too big, the implications are too big. And so we have found people eager to engage with reliable analytics and we're delighted to serve those up.

Eident Alan Worden, thanks so much for giving us this update on the Nantucket Data Platform.

Worden Yeah, great to see you again, Kathryn.

Eident The group has released a new tool that visually shows you how the population has changed on Nantucket since 2014. It's well worth a look. A special thank you to data manager Remy Dickinson for personally giving me a walk through.

This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

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Local News Heard on CAI's Morning EditionNantucket
Kathryn Eident is an award-winning journalist and hosts WCAI's Morning Edition. She began producing stories for WCAI in 2008 as a Boston University graduate student reporting from the Statehouse. Since then, Kathryn’s work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times, Studio 360, Scientific American, and Cape and Plymouth Business Magazine.