Friday, November 16, 2007

Long Island Needs Visionaries, Not Naysayers

To Nix Coliseum Redevelopment Plan Is To Say "No" To Nassau's Future

"Mixed reaction" to the Suozzi/Wang Nassau Hub proposal, writes Newsday -- their unscientific poll showing otherwise, with nearly 80% of those responding seemingly in favor of the plan to bring Long Island into the 21st Century (or at least beyond the circa 1950 mentality that, unfortunately, pervades much of the discussion among the ignorant and the unenlightened).

The informed, the astute observers of what suburbia was meant to be, what it has become, and how it must evolve if the concept has life beyond the sprawl, get it. They understand that we either move forward with a progressive, well-thought out plan -- the hub being the perfect place to start -- or we stand in place, fall to the ground assuming the fetal position, and wait, in the sewage we have surrounded ourselves with, for our island to die.

There always seems to be an undercurrent of negativity on Long Island; a dissatisfaction with anything and everything, and an overriding reluctance to even remotely make an effort to effect change, even change for the better.

But change -- in attitude and in outlook -- we must, and the proponents of change, of that new suburbia, must now come to the fore, to be heard, to be seen, to be the activists that are in too short supply in America's first suburb.

Reclaiming Nassau, and with it, Long Island, from its duldrums -- a once vibrant suburb, now little more than part of the Smithsonian collection -- won't be easy. Reinventing the very image of suburbia will be even more difficult. And getting the Nassau Hub project off the drawing board and onto the Hempstead Plain will test our collective will, especially as the folks at Hempstead Town Hall (where there hasn't been much of a change of anything in more than 100 years) will be the arbiters of the cause.

The problem with the Town of Hempstead -- and with Supervisor Kate Murray, in particular -- is that they're stuck in a 1950s time warp. Their "vision" of suburbia -- one of low density and the white picket fence -- went out with the Good Humor ice cream truck and the $6,000 Levittown cape.

This is not rural America, folks, or even upstate New York, where the nearest "city" is a hundred miles away, and cows roam the meadows (east and otherwise).

We are a suburb of a great metropolis, and the good, bad, and downright ugly that is both its virtue and its backwash. Heck, we ARE the great metropolis, as much a part of New York City as the spoke is to the wheel.

The Town needs a lesson -- or three -- in "smart growth" and a good reading of new suburbanist material. The people who live in this Town, and this County, need a good re-education on what the viable suburb of the 21st Century must entail, lest the malaise of urban sprawl consume our communities in one, enveloping brownfield.

And we all need to understand -- and to embrace -- that the suburb of tomorrow has a sense of place, varied housing options, reliable and convenient transportation, and walkable neighborhoods in which open space is preserved, accessible, and to be enjoyed by all.

Density, and even height, are not necessarily enemies of suburbia. Indeed, as in the "suburban" (of their day) outreaches of Brooklyn and Queens (the places we now loathe, but may one day only hope to become), where the idea and ideal of "smart growth" have clicked, density works, the housing stock never looked better, mom and pop have brought their stores and restaurants back to once again tree-lined boulevards, and the old neighborhoods -- walkable all -- are now teeming with a new-found exhileration. And guess what? Property taxes are less than a third of what we pay on Long Island.

Yes, we need be concerned about congestion and traffic. We have, after all, spent decades creating this mess. Light rail is an answer, among other viable alternatives to the almighty automobile. Of course, that means we have to give up the all-consuming reliance on our cars in favor of an efficient mass transit system that is both people-mover and cost-saver. And most of us have to relearn to do that which we haven't done in years -- walk.

If Long Island is to survive, and to thrive beyond the staid vision of what once was a potato field, Long Islanders have to embrace that new suburbia, and get out of the habit of saying "no" to practically every new idea that comes along.

True, we are set in our uncomfortable ways here, much like the guy whose worn yet familiar underwear constantly rides up on him, but he's too lazy to go out and buy a new pair -- or too stubborn to make the change to boxers.

Chop up, or worse still, forestall and descimate the plan for the Nassau Hub -- as the Town of Hempstead has been known to do, from time to time, when plans call for reasoned rezoning and prudent development -- will leave us with a rambling, unsightly, hodge-podge of dead space, and that semi-utilitarian predecessor to the creeping paralysis of strip mall sprawl we have already come to know all too well as Hempstead Turnpike.

Squander this opportunity for growth and revitalization -- to become a destination and not just a "pass-me-by" -- and we not only concede that Long Islanders are not up to the challenge, we also condemn ourselves to forever slide into the twilight of that old suburbia, a county and an island that, through stagnation and capitulation, has all but rendered itself irrelevant.

It is time to seize the day!
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A glimpse back into the future of Nassau's hub -- Westgate City Center, Glendale, AZ
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REALITY CHECK: What is the likelihood that Supervisor Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead can successfully see the Nassau Hub project through to fruition?

Well, look at it this way -- Here's a local government that isn't able to figure out how to convert a dilapidated movie house into a much needed supermarket; can't manage to close a hideous no-tell hotel, let alone come up with a proper plan to redevelop a site of less than 10 acres; doesn't have the gumption to say "no" to yet another cell phone tower in the middle of a residential neighborhood; can't seem to understand that "downtown" revitalization favors "mom and pop" over "big box," or that a Victorian-style street lamp does not a re-energized business district make; and equates a mandate from the people with the number of stolen lawn signs in its cache.

The likelihood of success? Well, we were liberal arts majors. You do the math!

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