Monday, November 14, 2011

Extreme Makeover, Hempstead Turnpike Edition

A Call To Take Back The Turnpike

Forget Occupy Wall Street. Smack dab in the middle of the road, bisecting hamlets from Elmont to Wantagh (actually, Farmingdale), is that once venerable (really? when?) biway that, quite literally, carves its way through the very heart of America's largest, if not most blighted township -- Hempstead Turnpike.

Good old NY 24. Once described by The New York Times (as later adopted by this blog) as Twenty Miles of Ugly, and oft times, with its hodge-podge of ill-placed brownfields and dilapidated storefronts, as an open sewer, Hempstead Turnpike cries out for renewal, revitalization and a rebirth.

If the Champs-Élysées, with its cafes, cinemas, luxury specialty shops, and stately horse chestnut trees is the pride of Paris, and one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world, then Hempstead Turnpike, with its dilapidated streetscapes, leaning utility poles, gangle of overhead wires, and structures that are one side or the other of condemnation-worthy, is the bane of Hempstead Town.

Don't get us wrong. While the Champs-Élysées has its cinemas, luxury shops and sidewalk cafes (from which, it is said, one can watch the entire world go by), Hempstead Turnpike has the ruins of the Old Argo theater and the wasteland that is the parking lot of the Nassau Coliseum, and more after hours clubs, storefront iglesias, and purveyors of shlack than Paris could have laid claim to during Napolean's Reign of Terror. The Turnpike is where the masses run from, not throng to.

Decades of what can only be characterized as "turn-the-other-cheek" (not to mention checkbook) zoning, lackluster (if not entirely absent) planning, and sheer neglect by municipalities and commercial property owners alike, have given us today's excuse for a major bisecting roadway that transverses the township, leaving in its industrial waste-filled wake a scene straight out of The Great Gatsby. [They may, to a great extent, have reclaimed the Flushing Meadows of F. Scott Fitzgerald's day. Not so Hempstead Turnpike!]

Ugly, dirty, outmoded, the very mauling of Main Street. And let's not forget dangerous, too!

Designated as THE most dangerous road in the region -- a dubious distinction that both motorists and pedestrians are reminded of daily -- it is almost as if the Turnpike was made deadly as well as unsightly by design.

The roadbed of Hempstead Turnpike may be under control of the Department of Transportation of the State of New York, and the utility poles and appurtenances the stuff that keep the likes of LIPA in the money, but what lines the Turnpike -- the zoned, the exceptions, and the downright illegal -- all comes under the province (though certainly not the watchful eye) of the Town of Hempstead.

What could have been the pride of every community through which the Turnpike so ignobly passes has instead become the great detractor of suburbia. Rather than a mecca for shoppers, or an oasis for the meandering walker, Hempstead Turnpike has become the antithesis of sustainability. A means to get from here to there (unless it can be avoided). A distinct failure of aesthetics and mobility, the Turnpike is a declaration of defeat rather than a destination of choice.

Vison? None. Viability? Little. Promise? Only the broken.

From drawing board to drafting table, plans to bring new life to an old roadway perenially fall by the wayside. Each year, we hail "the Hub," "the new Elmont," the era of "Streetscape enhancement." And with the passing of the months, we witness only decline, dismay, and the ocassional Victorian-style streetlamp, shedding dim light upon a dreary boulevard of shuttered stores and broken dreams.

And so, having only recently survived earthquake and hurricane (not to mention the return to office of the very folks at Hempstead Town Hall who pride themselves -- at taxpayers' expense -- at giving us the very best suburbia has to offer (cue the white picket fence), we call upon residents to rise up, take to the streets (just don't try to cross Hempstead Turnpike), and join the crusade (call it a "movement," should it stoke the embers of revolutionary zeal) to TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE!

Call Kate Murray's Helpline at 516-489-6000, and let them know you want a boulevard befitting America's largest (even bigger, when you include illegal renters) township. TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE from the neglect, the missing Code enforcement, the hands of a Zoning Board/Planning Board which has demonstrated that it is not very good at either.

And as for you, our elected, if not highly exalted officials... No more talk of urban renewal plans, Lighthouse lite, distinctive planters and brick pavers. The time to TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE has come!

We've tired of the artists' renderings and engineers' sketches. The mock-ups and wink-and-nods won't do it for us anymore. We want -- no, we DEMAND -- a Hempstead Turnpike that is attractive, inviting, open for business, and, yes, safe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.

Come Chambers of Commerce and civic associations. Rotary and Kiwanis. Lions and Pythians. John and Jane Q. Public. Stand up. Speak out. TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE. This generation, and the hope of the next for a thriving, vibrant "Main Street," implores you to act today!
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For more on TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE, email The Community Alliance at, and follow us on Twitter at

The Community Alliance
New Visions for America's First Suburb

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