I am blessed to have a job where I am on various Main Streets working with the smartest, most passionate and dedicated people on Long Island. I see the economic power of a small business opening downtown, residents working to improve their neighborhood, redevelopment projects finally underway and the diligence of local elected officials planning the right projects in their community. Folks are organizing local events, building new businesses, and working on public safety, beautification, charity and basic public service. In short, when I am on Main Street in any number of LI downtowns, I feel empowered.
When I travel to meetings and interact with even more powerful people, oftentimes folks viewed as regional elites, I sometimes get depressed. The conversations we have on an Islandwide level remind me of the late 70’s with Jimmy Carter, his sweater and famous message of national malaise. This regional malaise discussion is insidious as it can reinforce endless stereotypes about why progress cannot happen on Long Island. There is no denying we have been through an even worse recession than the one in 1989-1992 with an even slower recovery. The story now needs to be about what we are collectively doing to make changes in our communities, build our infrastructure and grow our local economy.
This contrast challenges us to do a better job sharing the work that continues to be accomplished by the Smart Growth movement in communities across Long Island. The Vision Long Island Smart Growth Awards honorees are this year’s testament to that hard work, collaboration and accomplishment. They speak to the power of entrepreneurship that drives our economy, balanced with the public service ethos that preserves our communities.
This year’s honorees include: Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy for chairing the NYS Regional Economic Development Councils, which have funded many Smart Growth projects such as Wyandanch Rising and Hempstead Village sewers; Dolores Thompson of the Huntington Station Enrichment Center, who has worked for decades to revitalize Huntington Station and provide meaningful programs for her community; and David Schieren of EmPower Solar for clean energy leadership in projects throughout Long Island.
Many of the honorees are projects that directly improve the built environment, including: Metro 303, a 166-unit, rental housing development in Hempstead Village by Mill Creek Residential Trust; The River Walk, a 163-unit, owner-occupied townhouse development in the Village of Patchogue by GRB Development; Water Mill Station by Koral Brothers, which builds compact office space in the hamlet of Water Mill; The Paramount in Huntington, a bold new downtown theater that seats over 1,500 and draws major national acts while revitalizing Huntington Village; and Bartone Plaza, a hotel and 115 unit mixed-use project in the Village of Farmingdale by Bartone Properties.
In addition, achievements in policies and regulations that will go a long way to incentivizing Smart Growth projects are honored. These include: NYS Senator Charles Fuschillo and community leader Sandi Vega, who overcame a family tragedy, for their work to pass the NYS Complete Streets law to make roads safer for all users; Jean Celender, Mayor of the Village of Great Neck Plaza, for a transit-oriented development zoning code that will allow for additional housing within her walkable downtown; and The Elmont Mixed-Use Zoning District in the Town of Hempstead, which creates design guidelines and allows for mixed use development.
So if you are part of water cooler discussion about everything that doesn’t work about our region, take a moment and read up on some of these leaders. If you are motivated, reach out and see what is needed to take their success to another level. If you are even more energized, figure out what project you are going to create in a local downtown - maybe something similar … maybe different… maybe better.
Another way to contribute is to join your local chamber of commerce, civic association or participate in your local government and be part of the actual decision making in Long Island communities. We need folks to get off the sidelines and help advance downtown and infrastructure projects, and provide intelligence and resources. Let’s break the chains of depression and malaise and be a part of the change that is occurring on Long Island. In fact, if you look around we already have.
Eric Alexander is Executive Director of Vision Long Island, a group that advocates for smart growth projects on Long Island.