Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Interesting and Progressive Meeting

I spent about 3 hours at the County Seat this evening, participating in Tom Suozzi's round-table discussion on the future of Long Island for residents under 35.

You know this is an issue close to my heart, since it's my life, rather than a talking point. All my friends are moving away, and I see very little way I could stay on Long Island as I build my business and move forward. I have spoken countless times about riding Metro-North trains at 6:50 in the morning packed with reverse commuters to Westchester and Connecticut. In fact, Metro-North considers trains traveling to Grand Central from 4-8 PM to be Peak, not Off-Peak. That does not happen here on Long Island, and there need to be solutions to both attract jobs and retain the type of young people that take a wonderful (taxpayer-funded) education and bolt for greener pastures.

Mr. Suozzi gave opening remarks discussing the need to play offense, in stark contrast to those who want to play defense and "protect" a lifestyle from 40-50 years ago. As I have said many times, the world is changing, and it will not wait for us to catch up. The County Executive spoke about creating "cool downtowns" - areas with higher-density development, walkability, and mass transit access - while retaining the suburban character of the vast majority of Long Island.

During group brainstorming sessions, many issues were discussed. I think a bit of a groupthink mentality emerged, because many of the breakouts produced similar ideas. However, there were many universal truths discussed to help Long Island attract and retain younger residents:
  • A Culture Change - I've spoken many times that, as a twentysomething, I don't feel welcome on Long Island. One person at the meeting kept saying "Long Island is for families" in response to any point someone else brought up. This is not conducive to developing a cohesive and diverse community.
  • More Housing Options - people who want to keep the standard single-family life should be able to retain it. However, injecting choice into the housing market (Less than 20% of all housing in Nassau County is for rental housing, vs. 35% in Westchester County. Which is more popular among younger people?) can allow more people to realize their version of a suburban dream.
  • Reduce the Tax Burden - need I say more?
  • Better Mass Transit - my aunt recently went to a doctor's appointment 3 towns over, and the bus ride took longer than it takes me to ride the train from Bellmore to Penn Station. This is shameful. Mass transit should be improved on Long Island, and more dense neighborhoods should be created (where it makes sense) in order to make this mass transit cost-effective.
  • Cultivate and Promote and Identity - Long Island has, for too long, defined itself by what it is not. Since "suburbia" is a man-made concept, we have the freedom to decide what it is to us.
  • Encourage Entrepreneurship - This was my own. I think being able to promote and encourage entrepreneurs to stay on Long Island could finally provide a new economic engine that has been missing since the aviation industry left for greener pastures. After all - what is Silicon Valley except 3 urban areas (San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose) and a web of suburbs?
  • Build the Lighthouse - our group didn't say it (I'll wait a minute for you all to recover from the shock), but many others pointed to it as the perfect catalyst for this type of development.
I was incredibly encouraged to see such a group of progressive-minded Long Islanders who realize the status quo is simply unsustainable. There were also other issues discussed, but I wanted to touch on the repeating concepts.

One other quick thing - Mr. Suozzi at one point asked how many people in the room favored the Lighthouse. All but 3 hands went up - 2 opposed, and another felt she did not know enough about the issue. This clearly has a broad base of support among large swaths of Long Island, and it is up to us to keep the pressure going and move this issue forward.

(Blogger's Note: I'm trying to get a discussion going with the one vocal Lighthouse opponent at this meeting. See? Those polls really do have a purpose!)

Come back tomorrow for some guidelines on writing a public comment.

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  1. Mike Francesca kind of rubbed me the wrong way, with his comments to Charles Wang about Long Island...He is of the opinion that "LI is only place to live while the city is the place to work"...Who wants to commute for hrs to get to a place to work???Pretty narrow minded of him to say the least...

  2. KO - he bothered me, too. Call me naive, but I would at least like to think he should have prepared for the interview instead of asking dumb questions.

    Just the Coliseum? I mean, really? In all this time, nobody has proposed it, and the Lighthouse was the way to deal with that in a way that still gives back to the community.

    And you're dead-on about that "classical" idea of suburbia. The suburbs represented the first time in human history that people lived so far from where they worked. Other communities have prospered economically by opening up to business - is Westchester urban? How about Silicon Valley - are Mountain View, Half Moon Bay, Cupertino, or Menlo Park in California thriving cities? No.

    As I've said many times, "suburbia" is an artificial concept. It's not meant as a put-down, and in fact it represents an opportunity. Nothing is inherently "suburban," and that means we can decide how we'd like to be suburbia.