Monday, February 9, 2009

Get Your Message Out There

Thankfully, the Lighthouse is not the only project that aims to bring more high-density, smart growth options to Long Island.

Another such project revolves around the Courtesy, which is, let's just say, an hourly rate motel on a main street in West Hempstead. Community leaders have pushed for re-development for years, but development was held up due to unforeseen issues. Thankfully, everybody is on the same page now, and it appears things are finally moving forward. The Town of Hempstead, in conjunction with the West Hempstead Civic Association and Trammel Crowe Residential, have formulated a plan to convert the site to high-density rental property.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rosalie Norton, the President of the West Hempstead Civic Association, about both the Courtesy project and the Lighthouse. Rosalie is staunchly in favor of the Lighthouse and shares my fervent hope that the project will result in a new way forward for a Long Island that for too long has been stagnant with outdated thinking. She is optimistic about the Courtesy re-development, and if all goes according to plan they should finally close that hotel this year and begin the process of converting it from blight to something the community can be proud of.

I asked Rosalie what, if anything, supporters of the Lighthouse could take from her experience with the Courtesy project. I realize the projects are nowhere near comparable in size, but each one will have to break the mental model of "suburban way of life" in order to move forward. Therefore, here are Rosalie's lessons from the Courtesy project, followed by my take on how we could apply these principles to the Lighthouse:

Engage the Community

No community likes to be steamrolled. I can tell you that from my own experience with the Bellmore Army Base; the community got involved and proposed a better alternative when it seemed certain interests were trying to force us to accept a sub-par solution. I think the Lighthouse group has done a good job engaging the community, since they've conducted hundreds of events with local civic leaders to discuss the project and address any questions or concerns that citizens bring up. I think this is a key reason why we have not seen organized opposition to the Lighthouse.

Get Your Message Out There

Ralph Waldo Emerson had it exactly wrong in his now hallowed quote: "If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap, than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door." Nothing could be further from the truth, so let me instead propose Nick's Mousetrap Credo: "If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap, but nobody knows he has done so, he will still fail." It is not enough to simply be better, you have to communicate how much better you are and convince your target audience to commit to you. In addition, Emerson forgot one other big problem: if the people to whom you're communicating don't have a mouse problem, it won't matter how much better your mousetrap is.

This is an area in which I believe the Lighthouse Project falls short. Details of the project are readily available to anyone who does research or reaches out to them directly (which I suggest you do if you have any specific questions - they're very responsive to me). However, the average man on the street still believes many things about the Lighthouse that either were never true or are no longer true. I can't tell you how many opponents to whom I've spoken who complain about the taxpayer money the Lighthouse isn't asking for or the 60-story building that was taken out of the plans due to community opposition 4 years ago. All of us who know the truth need to better communicate that.

For advocates like you and me, this means educating ourselves on the facts and being prepared to share them (with sources) whenever an opponent or a citizen on the fence would like to discuss them.

For the Lighthouse, this means a more concentrated effort in getting the message out there. The "Meet Me at the Lighthouse" commercial is professional with a catchy jingle, but I don't think it effectively communicates their message. Those commercials are in regular rotation on News 12, and they're played before every Islanders game, but I don't think anybody, after watching that commercial, knows more about the Lighthouse or has a stronger opinion about it than when he/she went in. The Lighthouse could do many different things - taking out print ads, filming a new batch of commercials, leading the press on a "site walk-through" with canvas mock-ups of the planned additions to get a feel for how the project will look. The possibilities are endless, and I will have more on this later.

Rosalie Norton and her association were able to get a better deal for the citizens of West Hempstead by educating themselves and relentlessly pushing the idea they knew was the best solution. We who support the Lighthouse must take up the mantle and do the same.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. As always, don't forget to sign the petition and pass it on. I welcome your feedback at


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