Hey, where did we go wrong? As of late, it seems you can’t go a moment without hearing about how poorly Long Island has been developed up to this point. And nostalgia for development models of the past appears to be the catalyst for the current effort to redefine—and redevelop—the suburban neighborhood to replace it with a modern interpretation of Mayberry or Pleasantville.
Recently, the Town of Brookhaven launched a much-publicized effort targeting transit-oriented development through its “Blight to Light” campaign. Among the program’s goals is the redevelopment of several areas that were tributes to the “separation of uses”—residential, industrial and commercial—model. Until recently, this edict was a cornerstone of suburban planning; now it is blamed for suburban sprawl. New planning initiatives—new urbanism and smart growth come to mind—seek to combine uses to create pedestrian-friendly communities. In the proposed future, cars are bad while public transportation and human-powered vehicles are good.
Brookhaven’s initiative is an effort to implement a cohesive regional plan to steer future development away from a separation of uses, towards a blending of uses resulting in more affordable housing and established downtown destinations.
One view of this new plan is that it will enable us to continue to build housing and the like despite the fact that we’re running out of land, which is not good news for a region that relies heavily on the building industry for its economic health.
The result is Long Island stands on the precipice of change, a material turn from a past where the separation of uses thrived by the evolution of—and utter reliance on—the automobile. The new paradigm is being formulated to deal with present issues, intent on addressing our quality of life. Ironically, it’s being formulated in much the same way as the obsolete precursor.
No matter whether you refer to current efforts as smart growth, new urbanism or green development, they are reactions to the development patterns of the past that resulted in the demise of the downtowns that we are now desperately trying to redevelop. At the time when suburbia was born, Long Island’s development model was the template followed by other regions. It must have worked on some level because despite the criticism of the past and present planning practices, there are still about 3 million of us who call Long Island home.
For many, the single family home will remain the ideal in terms of home ownership. But for those seeking an alternative to the current standard the future looks bright. Mixed use developments of greater density will offer opportunity to those home buyers averse to the white picket fence, whether they choose to rent or buy. It is a dynamic that should bolster interest in the region as we try to retain the best and brightest.
And 50 years from now, lets hope these new developments will be viewed in a kinder light than those that got us here.