A good friend of mine is associated with a local country club that has been hemorrhaging members as the economy (and some of its older members) has wilted. In an effort to draw new blood, the club has engaged in a membership drive towards twenty- and thirty-somethings in the hopes that adding youth to the membership roster will not only help the bottom line, but will also breathe some much-needed life into a facility that can often mimic the stodginess of Bushwood in Caddyshack. It would not be a far reach to hear some of the club’s older members asking, “Don’t you people have homes?” as if the presence of others is thwarting their good time.
It is hoped that this new marketing effort will establish positive word of mouth and bolster its ranks. Most importantly, my friend notes, is that it will introduce a new stream of revenue. “We need the dues,” he noted. Animal House anyone? The only problem is the current members don’t want that or anything other than the status quo; who cares that the village that owns the course and, like every municipality on Long Island, is hurting due to the recession and could use the money. The bottom line: They’re afraid of change.
Long Island faces the same conundrum only on a greater scale. The recession has served to exaggerate the issue of change the region has been facing—and fighting—for decades. During good economic times, the status quo, well, works. There’s a “you don’t mess with a good thing” mentality that pushes change into the background akin to cleaning your room by shoving all your dirty clothes under the bed.
But now times are tough! Change is in the air! Solutions to the sagging economy are being bandied about, so many that it’s growing difficult to tell real ideas from those of smoke and mirrors.
One solution being heralded is the call for regionalization—to make planning decisions based on the greater good rather than in a piecemeal fashion. I suppose the boldest related initiative was the most recent of pushes for Long Island statehood. And who could forget the piece that immortalized that effort on The Daily Show? The three representatives from Long Island interviewed made Joey Buttafuoco look like an MIT grad and a local legislator discussed the issue of a state bird. This idea is never going to fly.
Consolidation has also been a hot topic with its supporters claiming the multiple layers of bureaucracy are suffocating the region. So many school districts, villages and cities—well, only two cities—oh my! That idea has wings until the district, the village and the city at stake is yours, then all bets are off. In fact, it appears we are hell bent on creating more levels of bureaucracy rather than less, despite polls and surveys that speak to the contrary. The Villages like Islandia, Sagaponack and Westhampton Dunes are all relatively recent bureaucratic additions. Despite the regional approach favored by pundits and polls, it appears Balkanization has not lost its appeal. Irony aside, it also appears that these smaller government bodies are currently the only ones actively addressing the issues the region faces, such as affordable housing.
The efforts of the Village of Patchogue to redevelop its downtown stands as a strong example that maybe, for the time being, smaller is better. The clarity of its vision was key to getting public approval and the same clarity will be needed for these other ideas to gain acceptance. Only then will we be able to release the past and embrace the future.
Conor Bly has been writing about Long Island for the past 14 years covering, well, pretty much everything, from automobiles to zoning regulations. When not writing, much of his time is occupied by looking for that elusive perfect house.