I recently flew to Chicago and while there looked at several homes just outside the city in a suburb that looked and felt very much like Long Island. Some of these homes were on five to ten acres and featured all or a combination of pools, garages and barns (a facet largely reserved for the north shore and east end here). But on the whole, the homes were modest and the equivalent of the standard three-bedroom one would find in Sayville or Syosset. The main difference were the asking prices, which were about half of the Long Island equivalent and that is without the surplus acreage. To add insult to injury, the taxes were also about half what would be required here.
On the plane ride home, I couldn’t help but reflect on this issue and wonder why any of us remain on this terminal moraine. We talk about a unique quality of life that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Geographical uniqueness aside, I’m not sure we should be so quick to boast of increasing traffic congestion, high taxes, decreasing amounts of open space and multiple layers of bureaucracy that we have pioneered.
Ask anyone why they choose to stay on Long Island and you’re most likely to hear the stereotypical answers: The beaches, proximity to New York City and good schools. But realistically, most only go to the beach during the summer and even then how many times do we really go? The same can be said for New York City. The schools, for the most part, are very good, but at a significant cost.
The difference between our perception and the reality of the region could not be more black and white.
Can these exclusive qualities be found elsewhere? According to every tracking survey taken since the mid-1990s, it is apparent that is the case. The beaches? Lots of places have beaches. The city? There are other major cities in the country. Hell, at the moment, in Florida, you can buy a beach that comes with a city. Or vice versa, it’s up to you. There’s a reason why the Carolina’s have become so popular. Based on my experience, Chicago’s not a bad option either.
What is it that keeps us here? Schools and beaches aside, there are good restaurants, but more often than not we can’t get to them because we are working to afford to live here. We talk about brain drain and the need to develop workforce housing to stem the tide of 18 to 34 year olds leaving Long Island for greener and cheaper pastures. And it’s going to take more than housing to keep young adults (or any adults for that matter) here. It’s commonly asserted that it is the cost of living here that is the main catalyst for off Island emigration; if we could just get those costs down, this would be Shangri La.
But it appears the issues prompting the departure of Long Island’s citizenry go much deeper than a lack of affordable housing. The region is shedding its former identity as the nation’s first suburb and it is yet unclear what identity will emerge. Can we integrate future development trends into what is a traditional and well established setting? If costs continue to escalate it won’t matter because there won’t be enough people here to be concerned.
The difference between our perception and the reality of the region could not be more black and white. Significant changes need to be made soon and not simply in the housing sector, but in all sectors or the exodus of brains of all ages will be continue.