Thursday, February 08, 2007

Can UrbanAmerica Save Suburban Long Island?

Hempstead Village Looks Back To Glory Days, Forward To Revival

At one time, not all that long ago, the village of Hempstead -- New York's largest village -- was the hub of Nassau County.

Hempstead was, for all intents and purposes, the cultural and economic heart of Long Island; the place to be.

Today, like many of New York's villages, towns, hamlets and small cities, the village of Hempstead -- long ago built out and well on its way to a less than tranquil old age -- is economically if not otherwise depressed.

A village fallen on hard times, suffering ills common to the inner cities -- loss of jobs, a rise in crime, drugs, gangs, and failing schools.

Whether the disappearance of that sense of community among residents preceded Hempstead's downfall, or the decline of village life brought on the communal malaise, is best left for the sociologists. Whether chicken came before egg here will neither bolster community spirit nor recreate -- in at least the physical sense -- the village lifestyle and zeitgeist upon which Hempstead thrived in the 40s and 50s.

So the question -- one of many, perhaps -- is, can the plans now being considered by the village to give downtown a new face, and a new lease on life, revitalize an aging infrastructure, a flat-line economy, and a community mindset that often vascilates between apathy and indifference?

According to Hempstead's Mayor, Wayne Hall, it's certainly worth a try.

Hempstead's efforts to rebuild its past -- mainly through commercial endeavors, have, up to now, been piecemeal, at best. A storefront here. A shopping center there. A facelift of the transportation center.

All good, but not much in the way of vision, let alone long-term growth or stabilization. Certainly, nothing in the way of developing, and integrating along with the commercial, a viable and affordable housing stock, so as to create that vibrant and necessary mix of housing, retail and recreational space -- the stuff that village life is made of.

This may all change, however, if the Mayor and majority of village Trustees have their way.

A 10-year, $2 billion downtown revitalization plan -- the cost and scope of which rival the redevelopment planned for the Nassau Hub -- has been approved, with UrbanAmerica selected as the developer.

Plans currently on the drawing board -- but certainly not etched in stone -- call for approximately 3,000 housing units, an entertainment center, and a dozen or so retail stores for Hempstead's 21st Century 'Main Street.'

The proposal, of course is not without controversy or detractors, especially on issues of density, the prospect of 20-story towers, and condos offered for sale with a starting price of $300,000, well beyond the means of many a village resident.

Perhaps not the revitalization envisioned by proponents of sustainable downtowns, but, for better or worse, at least the leaders of Hempstead are embracing a vision.

Is the UrbanAmerica plan the answer to Hempstead's decline? In totality, of course not.

Failing schools and broken community spirits will not be mended by 20-story towers any more than by the addition of a new Stop-and-Shop. For that, you need the proverbial village, more than the mere physical or legal presence of one.

And yet, revitalizing the village of Hempstead at its core is an essential building block in that community's resurgence. A vibrant 'Main Street' can, indeed, be both impetus and springboard for broader renewal.

What's right for the redevelopment of America's inner cities may well be wrong for America's oldest suburb. The village of Hempstead is, by no means, downtown Detroit or the ghettos of the 60s. Then again, it is surely no oasis amidst what has, unfortunately, become our suburbia on Long Island -- a hodge-podge of econmomically depressed and aesthetically unimpressive towns and hamlets, one indistinguishable from the other, where both sense of community and sense of place have long ago ceased to exist.

Revitalizing downtown Hempstead will not only benefit residents of the village, but, as with the portended redevelopment of the coliseum/Nassau Hub site, will (hopefully) improve the quality of life of those who live and work in surrounding communities.

The goal here, as in the redevelopment or the nearby Nassau Hub, is to get it right from the get go.

A strong foundation supports the entire house, after all, and a weak beam or cement improperly cured can bring the entire house tumbling down.

No comments:

Post a Comment