Sunday, September 27, 2009

Culture Shock, Culture Change

Map featuring areas covered in the manhuntImage via Wikipedia

TheMetalChick mentioned it in a comment, and I was struck by it, too. During the Re-Zoning (Grandstanding) Hearing, Councilman Santino was talking about the bus service proposed by the Lighthouse for the site, and he incredulously asked the Lighthouse if they intended to change the car-centric culture of Long Island. Suddenly, a roar came up from the crowd....and Mr. Santino changed his line of questioning.

It was a minor line of questioning in an otherwise eventful day, but it underscores an important larger point when it comes to the Lighthouse: the need for a cultural change on Long Island, from the car-centric culture of today to the walkable communities inherent in 21st Century life that should be some sort of component in 21st Century suburbia.

Quickly, I want to take a detour and address an issue with the environmental review:

Changing Reviews?

I mentioned previously that the Lighthouse Project is filing a Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FGEIS), a normal tactic for projects such as this that provides maximum flexibility while adhering to a larger vision. We know that negotiations are likely coming up, and some readers began wondering what that meant for an environmental review.

I did some research on this, and I think I have the answer. As you recall, SEQRA allows for a developer to file an FGEIS for the following reasons:
According to 617.10(a) of SEQRA, a Generic Environmental Impact Statement can be filed if the project being considered includes one of the following:
  • A number of separate actions in a given geographic area which, if considered singly, may have minor impacts, but if considered together may have significant impacts;
  • A sequence of actions, contemplated by a single agency or individual;
  • Separate actions having generic or common impacts; or
  • An entire program or plan having wide application or restricting the range of future alternative policies or projects, including new or significant changes to existing land use plans, development plans, zoning regulations or agency comprehensive resource management plans. (Source)
Therefore, it is my understanding that a Lighthouse Project that has changed in size will not require a new FGEIS. However, if the use of the land changes, or the overall vision changes, a new review would be needed.

Culture Change on Long Island

LIRR tracksImage by threecee via Flickr

They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Long Island is a community that, since Levittown, was built to serve an inanimate object: the automobile. Robert Moses, a man who did so much to advance the use of the automobile (even though he never had a drivers' license himself) undertook bold initiatives in roads and bridges to give Long Island the transportation arteries it has today, and mass transit suffered as a result. Many Long Island Rail Road lines were closed or scaled-back, and we are still feeling the repercussions to this day.

Certain decisions and lifestyle changes occurred in order to facilitate this, and it left Long Island with some glaring issues. For example, the lack of a reliable north-south mass transit corridor in any part of the island has hampered adoption of this kind of travel, and current suburban planning has only increased dependency on the car.

The Lighthouse aims to begin a change in this type of thinking, but it is wrong to consider it an endpoint. As they always say (and I agree), the Lighthouse Project is meant to be a catalyst. This good decision can be a catalyst to attract federal funding to improve infrastructure and transportation in the area, things that have been neglected for too long. A successful Lighthouse Project will hopefully lead to other good decisions that will, together, work to address the problems Long Island has been facing for too long. It is also worth noting that these other good decisions do not necessarily have to be megaprojects like the Lighthouse - it took us a long time to get into this mess, and one project, no matter how good or needed, will not erase the mess.

However, there appears to be a startling lack of will among many voters and elected officials - a seeming belief that the Lighthouse developers have a responsibility to bring about the cultural shift that will move Long Island toward walkable, mixed-use communities and allow residents to abandon their cars when it makes sense to do so. This is dangerous thinking, because it gives the Lighthouse responsibilities up to which it by definition cannot live. True change must come from the people, who are willing to change their lives a little bit in order to embrace a new reality that enhances their quality of life.

There is a great story in Phoenix about a light rail system that was roundly opposed and ridiculed when it was first proposed. Despite this, people have flocked to the 20-mile route, and it is now praised as a vital artery between Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe. The organization that built the system did not affect the cultural change any more than William Levitt altered the course of Long Island by the simple act of building mass-produced Cape Cod houses in a planned community he dubbed Levittown. The people who embraced this new reality and worked to change their environment in order to support it brought about the change, and we must never forget that. People do not change unless they decide they should.

Bottom Line

No one organization or private developer can dictate change. If we want to being about a shift in Long Island's culture, we need to stand up and fight for it. We need to work with our elected officials, make our needs known, and act like people with an active stake in the end result. We cannot wait for the Lighthouse or any other group to foist change upon us.

As our President likes to say, we are the ones we have been waiting for. Any cultural change on Long Island, no matter how needed, must come from us.

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  1. i think the councilman's comments re: the 'car-centric culture' were more an attempt to concoct a semblence of credibility for his stance rather than probe a legitimate issue. it was silly.

  2. You're probably right - but the underlying issue is legitimate. There are people out there who genuinely think and expect that this project will, in one fell swoop, reverse Long Island's decline and change the culture, and that kind of thinking could end up being just as destructive as those of people who don't think there's anything wrong with the status quo.

  3. my impression is the councilman was trying anything to justify his position by seeming to raise a caution flag about a move toward the dreaded urbanization (and de-suburbanization if you will) of LI. it's a phony issue, just like the nonsense about the railroad going through the middle of GC village.
    the problem is - as you note - many people are still uninformed and/or clueless about the whole thing. and the councilman knows that.

  4. Hey Nick,

    Just saw this. Though I'd bring it to your attention.

    It seems Mr. Wang is trying to line up as many BIG guns as possible to try and push this over the goal line. Good for him.

    -Big Van Vader

  5. Day1fan, I don't know why you call the light rail line planned to go through Garden City a "phony issue". Nassau County is considering building such a thing, and the NC Planning Commission held a conference for bidders over the summer. See

    The information about the plans are available on the Nassau County Planning Commission's web site.

  6. Anon - I believe what Day1 is saying is that this is used by many as a reason for opposing the Lighthouse when the Lighthouse isn't proposing it or relying on it in any of their plans.

  7. Yeah, but if the Lighthouse doesn't get built or if it gets scaled down to a reasonable size, there is no need to build the rail line.
    This proposed rail line isn't like the Green Line in Boston, Nick. That ran down a wide commercial artery. This one is slated to run directly behind people's back yards. The right-of-way parallel to Franklin Avenue is maybe 50 feet wide, barely wide enough for two train tracks.
    Tom Suozzi told GC's officials that the light rail wasn't going to get built any time soon. And then he stabbed them in the back and had the Planning Commission invite engineering firms to submit bids without a word to either the media or GC. That's where a lot of the anger is coming from.

  8. Then, Anon, you should direct your anger toward the proper source and not this project.

  9. The fact remains that none of us are discussing that and are, in fact, only concentrating on what the Lighthouse is proposing (which does not include this idea). I understand your feelings of betrayal, and I hope you talk to the people who betrayed you about it.

    However, you also have to understand how frustrating it is that many people from your village are whipping themselves into a frenzy about something that is not currently included in the Lighthouse plans and using it as a reason to oppose the project. Also, your characterization of the Green Line is not 100% accurate, but I will leave it at that.

    I'm in favor of any transportation solution that is the best for the community as a whole, and there is more to this project than what some people are discussing.

  10. "you also have to understand how frustrating it is that many people from your village are whipping themselves into a frenzy about something that is not currently included in the Lighthouse plans and using it as a reason to oppose the project."

    EXACTLY, Nick!

    Anonymous, please read those words thoroughly. LH advocates are not affirming or countering your rail assertions because the fact is that they have nothing to do with the LH project.

    If this is something that you feel so strongly about, it would be wise for you to channel your feelings about it to those who have something to do with it. Complaining to LH developers or the projects advocates about rail proposals is like complaining to Red Lobster that your steaks were overdone over at the Outback.