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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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New Thinking Needed

Nassau’s roadways are packed, and finding affordable housing remains a challenge, explaining why Sustainable Long Island’s proposed public policy remedies to these problems are gaining a broader audience.

“We built Long Island for cars,” said Sarah Lansdale, executive director of Sustainable Long Island, which will hold its 5th annual sustainability conference on Friday, March 4 at Carlyle on the Green, Bethpage. The morning keynote speakers are state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a Nassau native and former state Assemblyman, and Woody Tasch, chairman and president of Slow Money, a group which allocates capital to start-up food enterprises. Moreover, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) has confirmed that he’ll be there as the afternoon session’s keynote speaker.

Sustainable Long Island has consistently, and convincingly, in my view, argued the best way to get cars off Nassau’s roads while revitalizing the region’s downtown business districts is to build residential apartment units within walking distance of Long Island Rail Road stations. Thousands of acres exist for this purpose, according to a Rauch Foundation study of the issue. It is just that most of the acreage in question is being used today as underutilized parking lots.

“A lot of these transit-oriented developments have been built in the incorporated villages,” Lansdale explained, pointing to places like Mineola and Westbury as communities, which have welcomed transit-oriented housing. These new residential units have, in turn, provided the people who then walk to patronize businesses situated along Old Country Road in Mineola and Post Avenue in Westbury.

Billing its March 4 gathering as a ‘Rally for Resources,’ conference attendees can participate in a number of interactive panel discussions, as well as the luncheon, between 8 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. The audience usually consists of entrepreneurs, not-for-profit organization representatives, and community activists. They come seeking guidance on how to access governmental and/or private-sector financial assistance for projects such as the redevelopment of parcels known as brownfields, or the establishment of fresh-food markets where none now exist. Brownfields are properties that once housed entities like dry cleaners and gas stations. They often sit idle for years when they’re abandoned because of the state environmental hurdles that must be cleared to convert them into new uses. The Bethpage-based group’s March 4 line-up tracks its mission, which calls for promoting economic development and environmental health.

“How can we move beyond the talk and actually get things done,” Lansdale rhetorically asked, during a recent interview. “How can we focus on improving the entire region?”

In keeping with this theme, Sustainable Long Island will bestow its ‘Getting It Done’ Awards at their conference next week to residents who identified a community need and took a project from concept to successful completion.

Lansdale, Sustainable Long Island’s executive director since September 2004, brings an eclectic background to the post, having served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala during the late 1990s, after earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont and a master's degree in urban planning from New York University. More on the conference is at www.sustainableli.org.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net