Friday, May 21, 2010

"Let's Build Something Together!"

The Highs And Low(e)s (Pun Intended) Of Rebuilding Long Island's "Downtowns"

Face it, friends. If we had a dollar for every time we blogged about smart growth, sustainability, revitalizing "Main Street," and creating walkable, viable downtowns, we'd have more money than the Hagendorn Foundation spends each year on research, studies and reports. [Levity aside, we love these folks -- and the Miracle Gro (available at both Lowes and The Home Depot, by the way) ain't bad, either. The Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund has provided over $32.5 million to more than 400 organizations on Long Island and nationwide. Approximately 90% of the funds disbursed have gone to support Long Island-based nonprofits throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. Bravo!]

Truth is, we spend so much more time, effort, energy -- and did we mention money? -- talking about the initiatives that would revitalize and jump start Long Island, than we do actually putting shovel to dirt.

Now, don't get us wrong. Visioning, creating a dialogue, and talking the talk is not only useful, it is an essential component in moving from planning to implementation.

Problem is, here on Long Island, rare is the project that leaps (or is it creeps?) from drawing board to the streets.

With Town Zoning Boards that also serve as Planning Boards, doing neither well. County Planning Commissions bogged down with the politics of the day, plans on the shelves more plentiful than potholes on the streets. Regional Planng Boards (do they even exist on more than just paper?) little more than blips appearing from time to time on Long Island's radar screen.

Master Plans come and go -- mostly go. [Whatever happened to Nassau County's most recent foray into master planning, anyway?] Mostly "under construction," like the perennial roadwork along the Belt Parkway.

Everybody talks "sustainability," but, like Jerry Seinfeld's car rental episode ("you know how to take a reservation. You just don't know how to keep a reservation."), few seem either capable or willing to sustain anything more than the status quo.

Not to say that there aren't folks out there trying like the dickens to turn vision into reality, promoting a renaissance for both "downtown" and around the town, engaging a typically apathetic and otherwise indifferent populace in the process, and at least attempting to partner with county and local governments, such as they are, to turn blight and brownfields into boon and bounty.

Among those in the fray are our good friends at Sustainable Long Island, under the brilliant and visionary (and we mean that, sincerely) tutelage of Sarah Lansdale, and Vision Long Island, steered in a most positive direction by Eric Alexander.

The programs and initiatives of both of these organizations are laudable, doable and worthwhile. The effort put forth by both leadership and staff nothing short of Herculean.

And yet, there seems to exist a disparity between plan of action and action itself. A disconnect, of sorts, between that vision for Long Island's communities and putting that vision into play.

Yes, every once in a while that vision opens our eyes, with glimmers of hope that, how should we put it, sustain us.

Projects in New Cassel and Port Washington, Glen Cove and Huntington give rise to what we believe will be a new day for Long Island. Still, with successful community endeavors few and far between, and, in most instances, the streetscape not altogether on par with the vision, with each successive sunset comes a fading of that light of renewal and revitalization.

We are left wanting for more. And more there must be. More involvement of John Q. Public, the grassroot, popular uprising that advances the causes of community. More hands-on by all levels of government, a commitment beyond the fanciful artists' renderings. More smart doing (now we're mixing metaphors, Lowes and The Home Depot) and less smart talking.

Do we have all the answers, or, for that matter, any of them, here at The Community Alliance? Certainly not. [Otherwise, they would have put us on the Boards of Directors, appointed us to the Planning Commissions, and given us a Smart Growth Award eons ago ;-)]. We are, in fact, as much a part of the talk, the unrealized vision, the not really all that much smart growth as we thought, as the rest of 'em.

Then again, the move toward smart growth, "downtown" revitalization, and sustainability (in all of its genres and nuanced incantations), has to start somewhere.

Today, let it start with you. Let's move beyond the talk, as we merge "more doing" into truly "building that better burb together!"
- - -
Check out SustainableLI's 4th Annual Sustainability Conference, June 4, 2010.
Read about Vision Long Island's 2010 Smart Growth Awards, June 18, 2010.

Follow The Community Alliance on Twitter at
E-mail us with your vision for Long Island at

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