Friday, December 30, 2005

A Year In The Life

A Look Back At One Community's Quality Of Life

If we're going to take the full measure of quality of life in our respective towns and hamlets, assuming such niceties can be quantified by means other than the rectal thermometer, then perhaps we should have a closer look at how a single community fared in 2005. You know -- "up close and personal."

Let's pick a community at random. Say, um, West Hempstead -- that unincorporated stepchild of the Town of Hempstead that lies just to the west of, er, Hempstead. Yes, take West Hempstead -- please!

West Hempstead. Home of storage facilities, laundromats, illegal trailers and dumping grounds made a permanent part of the landscape, and the illustrious Sanitary District 6 (whose parking lot across the crater-filled Cherry Valley Avenue, littered with papers, plastic bags, and glass shards from broken beer bottles, boasts no fewer than a dozen spots for "Supervisor Parking Only").

As 2005 rolled in to West Hempstead's hole-in-the-wall LIRR station (not to worry, that fresh coat of paint is coming this spring), West Hempsteaders lived in the shadows of a crime-ridden no-tell hotel (the Courtesy), saw illegal accessory apartments proliferate as code enforcement waned, paid three times the going rate to a local Sanitary District for the privilege of having their garbage picked up, clamored for the reconstruction of Hempstead Avenue, waited for that first shovel of dirt to be dug at the site of the new library, and bore witness to unprecedented property tax hikes. Hey, it was a start!

Now, the door to 2006 having creaked open, and finding themselves kicked over the threshold, West Hempsteaders begin the new year in the shadows of a crime-ridden no-tell hotel, seeing illegal accessory apartments continue to proliferate as there is no code enforcement, paying four times the going rate to a local Sanitary District for the privilege of having their garbage picked up (what is it now, 8 days a week?), attempting to navigate the rocky river bed that is Hempstead Avenue (and when it rains, summon the ark), waiting for that first shovel of dirt to be dug at the site of the new library (or at least some "sign" that a library is to be built), and battening down the hatches in preparation for the coming "freeze" in property taxes.

Seems that some things – indeed, most if not all of them – haven’t changed a bit (except for those property taxes – they just keep going up). Forget the Sci-Fi Channel. This is The Twilight Zone Marathon!

When last we left West Hempstead, its inhabitants chugged along, on public roads that are not likely to see a penny of that $114 million Highway bond money, drinking their cups of daily grind, looking out over the toxic trash heaps at the ATV Carting waste transfer station, basking in the glory of ticker tape parades (more like old truck tires and National Wholesale Liquidators' flyers than either ticker or tape) down that most beautiful of boulevards, Hempstead Turnpike, and dining resplendently at the Venus. Nothing but the best for the people of West Hempstead.

This is not to say, of course, that nothing of merit -- let alone of newsworthy interest -- happened in West Hempstead in 2005. There were those glorious summer concerts in the park, bringing music to the ears and attention to that local "passive" patch of green; the annual Street Fair & Harvest Festival, a showcase beckoning the world -- or at least those from Franklin Square -- to the community; and those "20 MPH" speed limit markers, painted on the roadways near West Hempstead's schools in the hope of slowing down traffic. [They don't, but it was a good thought.]

With two active civic associations, a chamber of commerce (sort of), and myriad community organizations -- from Kiwanis to Knights of Columbus, Lions to Rotary (and dare we forget the Elks? They even have a building in West Hempstead, complete with elk!) -- there are those handful of West Hempsteaders amidst the complacency and apathy of the general public, who, like that little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike (that's "dike," not "dyke" -- uhh), are trying to hold back the next wave of the Tsunami.

But wait, there's that planned police booth coming your way in West Hempstead, right there on the debris and shopping cart strewn MTA right-of-way, to be crammed in between the storage facility and the Courtesy, just to the left of the admiring throngs of homeless -- who themselves are overlooked, by resident and officialdom both, much like the weeds and trash that adorn the MTA property and neighboring entranceway to the community's so-called railroad station. Lovely.

The Courtesy is being condemned, right? The MTA right-of-way is being cleaned up, is it not? They're finding homes for the homeless, aren't they? Yeah. And the Messiah is coming -- just not to West Hempstead.

If this blogger entertained, even for a split second, committing hari-kari for having failed to achieve the goals aspired to in The Community Alliance's 2005 State of the Community address, then what the heck -- pass the Samurai to those who represent West Hempsteaders in the hallowed halls of government. Walking along West Hempstead's "Main Streets," we can safely say that the initiatives -- planned, stated, and on the drawing board for the better part of the last quarter century -- have not been carried out, followed through, or so much as dusted off.

Face it, West Hempstead -- for all the "we care" mailers they send, the message, though largely disregarded by an oblivious electorate asleep at the voting booth, is all too clear: "We couldn't care less!"

Perhaps all the "care," "concern," and platters from all the Coliseum Delis in the world wouldn't make a difference at this point in a community like West Hempstead. Maybe we need to bring in the bulldozers and simply start over. Or it could very well be, as some suggest, that West Hempsteaders "enjoy" living in a community whose business and commercial districts are not bordering on mere brownfields, but are fast becoming festering sewers. If only they would pick up the litter from the streets as they do the garbage from the curb, it would be an auspicious beginning. Wait. That's Highways, not Sanitation. West Hempsteaders would gladly pay twice... And mark our word, they will.

Few would question whether the West Hempstead community can do better -- much better -- on many fronts. It can. Some would ask, in light of the steadfast resistance to change and the apparent contentment (or is it resignation?) among the populace, whether there is the gumption to do anything more than to march in place. There is. There must be.

Without a doubt, West Hempstead could have been a model for suburban renewal. Perhaps it could still be, were those in the position to alter this community's future not so mired in the ways of the past.

I would say, to anyone out there who might still be within earshot -- and you can note this as this blogger's epitaph, as it has been said many a time (hope you can fit it on the tombstone) -- "the status quo is never good enough; there is a vast difference between 'staying the course' and changing it, and, while looking forward is good, moving forward is even better!"

There are many folks in West Hempstead who have accepted the challenges faced by this once shining and now somewhat tarnished suburban hamlet by the pond. People, like the West Hempstead Civic Association's Rosalie Norton, the Cathedral Gardens Civic Association's Scott Jablow, the Chamber of Commerce's Greg Yuknek, the Friends of the Library's Kathy Dunne -- among others of distinction who will not be mentioned in this particular blog (you know who you are, and so do we) -- who are, if not actually making a difference, at least trying.

Still, it will take much more, and many more of us, to revitalize not only West Hempstead, but much of Long Island's lost suburbia, ravaged by too many years of neglect, indifference, and a willingness to accept "what is" over "what could be."

As this trip down Memory Lane (or is it Woodfield Road? Can't tell. The street signs are missing) sputters to its end, and this blog bids West Hempstead adieu, The Community Alliance asks, "What price are we willing to pay, and for how long, for mediocrity?"

"How's your community's quality of life?" Send us the tales -- of both woe and glee -- from your hometown. Don't be afraid to join in and speak out. Why, you can even Guest Blog, if you'd like. It is, after all, your community. Why not make the best of it?
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  1. As someone who has lived in West Hempstead going on 35 years now, I take umbrage to your comments about the place I call home. Every word you say is true, but still, I take umbrage. :-)

    I see that many of the embedded photos are dated mid-2004. Looks like West Hempsteaders have endured the miseries of neglect for much longer than just the past year.

    I also notice the For Sale signs on every block. How many of our neighbors are pulling up stakes and getting out of Dodge. Or is it WEST Dodge? Same difference.

    The taxes go up, up, up, as the quality of life goes down, down, down. Are you sure Hall's Pond Park wasn't named after clothier, Robert Hall?

    The residential neighborhoods of West Hempstead are nearly idylic, by the way. Just the place you'd want to raise a family. Of course, outsiders won't see past the unsightliness of the Turnpike, the railroad station, or the Courtesy, and, unfortunately, residents themselves simply refuse to look beyond.

    Anyway, if you live anywhere west of Levittown, you can forget about looking to the Town of Hempstead for help. We've all but been abandoned. The County of Nassau seems more concerned with the image of the Gold Coast. The forgotten South Shore does not appear to fit neatly into that economic development plan.

    So where does that leave us in West Hempstead? To fend for ourselves, I suppose. Knowing my neighbors as I do, I wonder if we will even do that much?

    Well, thanks for showcasing West Hempstead. Maybe someone - anyone - will pick up the ball and run with it. More likely, they'll just throw the ball over the fence at the West Hempstead station, right into the trash heaps at the ATV waste transfer station.

  2. West Hempstead deserves better than has been its lot. Much better. So do the other unincorporated areas of the Town of Hempstead.

    Then again, what is it they say? "You get what you ask for." At the very least, you get what you are willing to accept.

    Just how much crap are folks willing to put up with before they pick themselves up off their kiesters and say, "enough?" Looks like an awful lot.

  3. The disease seems to be spreading so be very careful as Elmer Fud would say. Remember how beautiful Elmont was with our Race Track and Movie Theaters and Great Eastern Mills not to mention Gouzs Farm. Remeber how easy it was to travel between towns and even play Miniture Golf in West Hempstead at a place called Pats right on the Turn Pike. Well those days are long gone but what awaits us in the near future is even more terrible. Look at Queens we are not far behind only we pay 3 times or more in taxes for this mess. There is no plan from Town Hall, hell Town Hall doesn't know Rome is burning they are still sending photos of a Cab Ride and Dog Ponds. I can see the future now and it looks like Queens Blvd.