The Long Island Business News published a landmark op-ed article on November 18th jointly written by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. Titled "Maximizing economic growth through transit", it represents significant bipartisan agreement on a vision for economic growth on Long Island.
After referencing two, major, mass transit projects now underway - East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal and the addition of a second track on the Long Island Rail Road's Main Line between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale - the article states, in part, the following:
"Key to maximizing the projects' economic potential are two fundamental priorities - enhancing the vitality of downtown areas along the LIRR and facilitating transportation from those downtowns elsewhere throughout Long Island. The downtown areas are key because Long Island now offers one primary form of housing: the freestanding single-family home. That's no longer enough, since the population of Long Island has changed... Today, young people want to live in thriving downtowns with rental apartments, a mix of housing and entertainment, and easy access to New York City. Older people want the option of downscaling to smaller units in their own neighborhoods. And people of all ages want the flexibility to adapt to new stages of life. Transit-oriented downtowns offer enormous potential. They typically have vast open spaces for parking on which development could take place - more than 4,000 acres of surface parking lots in and around Long Island's downtowns, according to the Long Island Index. That development could be concentrated around train stations, adding to regional vitality while reducing congestion and preserving single-family neighborhoods. Those downtown concentrations could also provide additional office space easily accessible by public transit from other parts of Long Island and beyond, boosting job-growth potential that too often goes to the transit-oriented downtowns of our suburban competitors."
That exceptional vision, defined more fully in the entire article, should be applauded. It builds on the remarkable regional asset of the Long Island Rail Road, the potential for open spaces for parking to be creatively re-imagined, and the opportunity for developing transit-oriented downtowns, while preserving the single-family neighborhoods for which Long Island is world-renowned.
The challenge now is to realize that bipartisan vision by addressing the zoning and infrastructure needs essential to it. Zoning changes must facilitate downtown development as well as the exciting potential for dynamic parking solutions. The Long Island Index's Parking Plus Design Challenge offers some design concepts that underscore the potential for rethinking parking and the enhancements that innovative solutions could provide.
Infrastructure improvements, including sewer and water systems, will also be needed to facilitate downtown development. These can be identified and addressed as specific development proposals emerge.
Long Island's fabled lifestyle of single-family homes must be preserved while being augmented by a broader range of housing options to meet 21st-century needs. Otherwise, Long Islanders, young and old, will move elsewhere to find those amenities, and employers will move where their employees want to live.
At the same time, Long Island has a legendary range of attractions - a stunning suburban environment in close proximity to the business capital of the world; one of the most storied vacation areas in the world, and some of the leading research institutions anywhere: from Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to the North Shore LIJ Health System and Stony Brook University, among other outstanding institutions of higher education. That's an enormous opportunity on which to build.
Our County Executives have now set a bipartisan course for economic growth. It's a course that should be sailed to take us to an ever more robust economy - one that can support our children and grandchildren on Long Island for decades to come.
Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Garden City-based Rauch Foundation.