Friday, November 19, 2010

Long Island 2035?

We Can Hardly Wait!

Actually, we can't wait. Not another generation. Not another decade. Not even another year.

Long Island's economy, infrastructure, mindset of suburbia, all need to come of age now, not some 25 years hence, best laid blueprints of planning councils and "visionaries" (as in the adherents of the "visioning" process, rather than those possessed of any real foresight) notwithstanding.

Long Island 2035 is, in its own words:

The Long Island 2035 Regional Visioning Initiative was funded by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) to help achieve a regional public consensus for where the next generation of Long Islanders could live and work, the transportation systems needed to support these settlements, and the institutional actions required to ensure a prosperous, equitable and environmentally sustainable Long Island. The project's findings are being used to help the Long Island Regional Planning Council produce a Long Island 2035 Comprehensive Regional Sustainability Plan.

So, there you have it, in a nutshell. A study to reach a consesus leading to findings to be used in developing a plan. Hummmph! Imagine that. A consensus? On Long Island? Who's kidding whom?

Not just any plan, mind you, but a Comprehensive Regional Sustainability Plan (CRSP), to be promulgated by the Long Island Regional Planning Council. [Lousy acronym. Try, Comprehensive Regional Action Plan. CRAP. There. That's more like it!]

And this would be Plan Number, what, 100, since Long Island's various planning boards have been generating such initiatives -- and shelving them, accordingly -- from back in the day when Levitt first set eyes upon the fertile Hempstead Plain?

Don't misunderstand. We, at The Community Alliance, are all for planning. Just once in a while -- or in a lifetime -- it would be nice to see one of these "comprehensive" (that which, at one time, was called, "Master") plans evolve from "initiative" (as in "initiate," meaning "to begin") to fruition (as in, "implementation").

Visioning Workshops (which, from the photos, appear to be groups of people trying to piece together a giant jigsaw puzzle that somewhat resembles Long Island). A Visioning Workshop Final Report. [How could it be "final" if this is only an "initiative?"] A Visioning Initiative: Principles and Evaluation Benchmarks. [Benchmarks? Like in Iraq?]

Great stuff. On paper.

Years ago, we used to throw money (when we had money) at projects, with the hope that the more we spend, the better the mousetrap -- or Main Street -- we can build. That didn't work out very well.

Nowadays, we throw money to study projects, to talk about (excuse us, "roundtable") the future, to engage in "visioning" (as myopic as it may be), and to generate "findings" via footnoted reports, stylized charts (the more data, the merrier), and high tech PowerPoint presentations.

How's that working out for Long Island?

Yes, we have read the Visioning Initiative Final Report. [Isn't that an oxymoron?] We encourage you to do likewise. [At least take a look at the highlights. (Where's Warner Wolf when you need him?).

Lots of hard work and copious thought going into those 60 pages. Not all that much, however, that is either new or visionary.

By way of history, for instance, the Report opines:

As early as the 1960s, however, the problems associated with growth in these communities, such as increased congestion and fewer unspoiled open spaces, threatened the very qualities that attracted people here in the first place. A succession of village, town, county and regional initiatives emerged to address these challenges, including the creation of the Long Island Regional Planning Board in 1965, one of the first institutions of its kind...

Frankly, not all that much has happened on our Long Island -- save the sprawl, the Levittownization, the brownfielding, and the demise of downtown -- since.

History, indeed, repeats itself, particularly for those who refuse to learn from it!

Much of the hoopla surrounds a central, textbook philosophy -- the stuff  new urbanists (suburbanists?) might well embrace (and Jane Jacobs, were she still with us today, might deplore).

Yes, we're all for social and economic equity, a healthy environment, and sustainable communities. [Throw in a farmers' market, or three, and we've got a deal!] Somewhere along that long, green line, however, we need to shift from visioning and talking to actuating and doing. [Our old take on The Home Depot motto, Less Talking. More Doing.]

Bright people among the folks facilitating and participating in the Long Island 2035 initiative. [None, we note with more than passing dismay, from the Town of Hempstead, or so it would appear from the listing in the Final Report, where representation by TOH is conspicuous by its absence.] Surely, there must be a few among these visionaires who realize that, going down this road to 2035 (a road now more traveled and less maintained), we have been this way before, and, those Victorian-style streetlamps along Main Street aside, there hasn't been all that much progress.

Beyond the artists' renderings (almost all of which, in one incarnation or another, we've seen before), or allusions to what has been accomplished in suburbs far from Long Island's shores (not to mention the delusions of getting anything of virtually any scale -- short of a storefront facade -- to appear on our neglected and over-burdened landscape), there must be, one would think, a day of reckoning.

After all, one can't be expected to wait for the revitalization of Elmont, the resurgence of Wyandanch, or the reinvention of the Lighthouse at the Nassau Hub (which will happen, by the way, right after the reinvention of the wheel, for the 100th time) forever, right?

True, that day may come when those of us who have long advocated for change, for redevelopment, for the resuburbanization of Long Island beyond the white picket fences, have passed on to our final reward, whatever that may be. Or, perhaps, when the last of Generation Next has abandoned the land of strip malls, big box stores, unaffordable housing, skyrocketing taxes, and special district fiefdoms that consume every last breath -- and every last dollar -- out of a populace perennially promised the moon and too often delivered manure.

We can, as has become custom in these parts, simply keep putting off Long Island's future to, well, the future.

Or, someone -- anyone, really -- in the back of this Long Island 2035 bus, having sustained about all he/she can of "getting there is half the fun," can pull off the seatbelt, stand up, high tail it to the front, move forward of the yellow line, and shout at those behind the wheel, "ARE WE THERE YET?"
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What are your thoughts about Long Island 2035? Better yet, what about Long Island 2011? What are the initiatives you would like to see taken to improve the quality of life of Long Islanders, rekindle our sagging economy, revive our downtrodden Main Streets, and create a truly sustainable community for the next 25 years and beyond?

Write to The Community Alliance with your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and comprehensive plans. Guest blogposts for publication would be most welcome.
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Follow The Community Alliance on Twitter at Better yet, take the lead in your community!
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