Friday, November 12, 2010

If Only We Could Get Someone To Buy "Main Street"

Resurgence Of "Downtown" Requires Private Enterprise And Community Ingenuity

Bringing downtown back!

Seems that's what Town and County officials have been advocating, if not actually doing, for years -- make that decades -- here on Long Island.

From Nassau County's now defunct Operation Downtown, to the Town of Hempstead's typically feeble Facade Improvement Program (all right, so it's all a facade), the movement to revitalize "Main Street" (best efforts of the likes of Vision Long Island and Sustainable Long Island notwithstanding) has been almost imperceptible to the naked eye.

Yes, a reinvigorated block here, and a cleverly parsed rehab there, but on the whole (and this is particularly so in the unincorporated areas of our towns, the last outposts of lawlessness, where the only things missing from the landscape are the tumbleweeds), our "downtowns" (if you can call them that) and our "Main Streets" (blink, and you'll miss them -- if you're lucky) are, for the most part, bastions of neglect, decline, and decay.

The illuminating glow of Smart Growth -- more myth than mainstay on the streets of Long Island -- has yet to light the way for progressive, essential, community-friendly redevelopment on any meaningful scale.

Zoning Boards, Planning Boards, and Zoning Boards acting as Planning Boards, have done little more over the years than to, unwittingly perhaps, best intentions aside, stay the course. Master Plans becoming servant to political expediency. NIMBYism being the rallying cry around which our communities find comfort in the status quo. A Levittownian mindset, miring our towns in the aura of the 1950s.

Amidst the complacency, the apathy, the indifference of a populace, beaten down, perhaps, by decades of governmental malaise, are heard the occasional voices of that new suburbia some of us have heard talk of. Build A Better Burb. Charming on paper. Nowhere near coming to a community near you.

No one said building a better burb would be easy, or inexpensive. The cost, in terms of dollars and cents and the sustainability of life on our Long Island as we'd like to know it, is all that much greater.

The infusion of federal money (when the feds had money). Portended Town and County "partnerships" (the stuff that photo ops and press releases are made of). Conferences, forums, diatribes and visioning sessions. All offering glimmers of hope. All vanishing, like grains of sand in the ebb and flow of the tide.

Followers of this blog have had hopes raised (recall Tom Suozzi's Magical Mystery Bus Tours), only to have them dashed (if not ground into pixie dust), time and time again, by inaction, by delay, by ineptitude, by we, the people, letting dreamscapes fall by the wayside.

Grand Avenue in Baldwin is still not so grand. The old Argo in Elmont is nowhere near being a supermarket. And is that the Courtesy Hotel we still see standing over there in West Hempstead?

So, what, we ask, is the answer? [What was the question again? Oh, yeah. The rebirth of "Downtown."] If government won't get it done, visionaries can't get it done, and the communal spirit doesn't care one way or the other whether it gets done, how do we take back "Main Street?"

Umm. One building, one block, one vacant storefront at a time, through private developers willing to take the risk on the second coming of downtown.

Check out this article in  The New York Times, Ressurecting a Village by Buying Up Main Street. [We'd reprint the story, but for fear of threatened prosecution for copyright infringement!]

Maybe bringing downtown back does take a village. Or, at the very least, one person willing to buy it.


  1. Kate & company have frustrated, obstructed and even denied any project that remotely resembled smart growth. Our downtowns not only pay a price for that, but every taxpayer carries an additional tax burden for the lack of economic development and the flight of our young people.

    If we really want to revitalize our downtowns, then we have to change the people who make the decisions, and that starts with Kate at the Town of Hempstead.

  2. Totally agree with the comment above. Time and time again the Town of Hemsptead has obstructed development and proven to be hostile to those who might otherwise be capable of attracting needed capital. I was on Grand Avenue a couple of months ago after not having been there for a few years. As someone who can remember what that area was like forty years ago or more, I was quite frankly shocked by how decimated it has become. When you look at situations such as Grand Avenue - as well as the other downtrodden downtowns in Hempstead - and then layer on to this the opportunities foregone with regard to the land surrounding Nassau Coliseum and other potential large-scale development initiatives, it's little wonder that Hempstead is becoming an economic wasteland. An entire generation of endless babble from the Town of Hemsptead and nothing to show for it.