Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Long Island Needs A Plan

And Legislators With The Moxie To See It Through

The last time there was any real planning on Long Island -- with somewhat skewed apologies to Lee Koppelman -- was when Levitt & Sons set out to build America's first suburban community.

Now, the Long Island Regional Planning Board (the first thing they need to "build" is a website) -- which planned much, but was able to implement little, mainly owing to bloated county bureacracies and opbstreperous town zoning boards that stymied even the best laid plans -- has plans for a Master Plan (yes, another Master Plan), one that will see Long Island through the next generation, and beyond.

The Plan will likely be fashioned on New York City's bold and visionary PlaNYC, an ambitious initiative that grows the city responsibly over the course of the next thirty years.

NYC's comprehensive blueprint covers everything from land, water and energy use to transportation, air quality, and climate change, promoting what is best in today's Big Apple, and envisioning what it will take to make Gotham a "model city of the 21st century."

Of course, a plan is only as good as the people who are willing and able to put it into action.

As concerns PlaNYC, of which congestion pricing was a not insignificant component, we have seen what inaction can do to snarl not only traffic, but the progress of a city -- and a region -- toward modernity.

If a regional Master Plan -- should we live to see one -- is going to benefit Long Island (as, surely, a prudent and well-implemented plan would), then we will need the elected and the appointed -- from Albany to town hall -- to hunker down and ante up, siezed of vision, of courage, of imagination, of independence, and, most certainly, of guts.

What we have seen, over the past half century of Long Island's lifetime, is a timidity on the part of local planning boards to plan, an avoidance on the part of legislators to act -- or at least to act in the best interests of their constituents -- and a brazen "who gives a damn" on the part of local zoning boards, which have given us unchecked overdevelopment, making Long Island the very model of everything than is wrong with suburban sprawl.

One need only to venture out on the major byways and thoroughfares of Long Island to see that they didn't get it right, and to spend some time at town hall -- where blight studies and "urban" renewal plans are all the rage -- to understand that they still don't get it.

Formulating that bluprint for Long Island's 21st century will require fortitude and forthrightness on the part of planners and legislators alike, and persistence from you and I, as involved citizens, to make sure that planning, and the development that must follow on its heels, is not only done, but done properly, without inordinate delay or watered-down half measures.

Let's get to it!
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From the Editorial Pages of Newsday:
Editorial: LI needs new planning blueprint

Long Island can't go on like this: choking traffic, little mass transit, lack of affordable housing, threats to open space, unbearable property tax burdens and a sputtering economy - to name a few of our problems. We need a smart plan to recommend specific actions, and we need the commitment of our public officials to carry it out.

The Long Island Regional Planning Board took a first step yesterday toward that kind of plan. It looked westward to New York City, whose PlaNYC is a model of both crunching the numbers and laying out doable recommendations.The consulting firm that had a lot to do with creating that plan is McKinsey & Co. And Long Island's planning board served notice yesterday that it intends to hire McKinsey to create a blueprint for sustainability here - unless another firm offers a better proposal. Local not-for-profits have offered $500,000 toward the eventual $1.5 million to $2 million cost of the study if McKinsey does it.

To be a success, any plan must have strong action recommendations, plus staunch political backing.

A word of warning: One of the 127 initiatives in PlaNYC was congestion pricing, which timid Albany lawmakers have just killed. The lesson is not that we don't need a plan, but that even the best blueprints need courageous politicians.

Whatever McKinsey recommends, if the top leaders of the two counties don't fight for the tough changes this study is likely to urge, we'll be stuck in the same sad rut.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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