Written by Nancy Rauch Douzinas Friday, 08 January 2010 00:00
People came here with vision and purpose. They saw opportunity, and seized it.
Robert Moses saw a deserted sandbar, and built one of the world’s greatest parks. William Levitt saw low-cost land and a nascent need for affordable homes—and defined postwar suburbia. Leroy Grumman and Jake Swirbul found opportunity in America’s Cold War defense needs—and went to the moon.
There was a boldness then, a can-do spirit—and not just among a few leaders. Across the Island, communities were built, schools, businesses, shopping centers. In the process, Long Island became the face of the American century.
That is not, of course, the end of the story. There was a serpent in this garden: a narrowness of vision. Our history of home rule left us weak in coordinated planning. In the postwar boom, Long Island grew one community, one school district, one enterprise at a time—each one focused on its own needs. That worked all right when the economy was expanding and land was plentiful and cheap.
But when times and conditions changed, we responded less nimbly and aggressively than other regions. As the defense industry shrank, and well-paying manufacturing jobs moved offshore, we had no regional strategy to replace them. As open space ran low and housing costs soared, we did little more than wring our hands.
Where once we maximized our assets, today we are squandering them. The best-educated youth in America take their talents away, driven out by lack of housing options. Meanwhile our downtowns, which could be the pulsing centers of commerce and community, sit underutilized, if not blighted.
We see all this. Large majorities of Long Islanders agree, not only on the problem, but on the solution: smart growth with more housing options in our town centers. Yet one year follows another, and we fail to muster enough force for action.
What would it to take to turn things around? Leadership to be sure. A leadership that combines the can-do boldness of Long Island’s heyday with a new, broad vision.
• A wider sense of community. The days are gone when Long Island’s villages and towns can advance one by one. No part of Long Island, no interest group, will prosper if the region declines. It’s imperative that we start thinking, planning, and acting together.
• A stronger sense of urgency. The trends are clear, and the data is compelling: we need to make serious changes, and soon.
• A greater sense of possibility. Long Island still boasts enormous assets that we could turn to our advantage. Just as we must face up to the way things are, we need to envision what they could be. The future belongs, as always, to those who seize it. That used to be us, and it could be again.
And so as this new year begins, I offer three resolutions for Long Island’s leaders:
1. Think big. 2. Be bold. 3. Act now.
Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Rauch Foundation and convener of the Long Island Index. The Index provides data about the Long Island region, in order to promote informed public debate and sound policy making. For more information visit www.longislandindex.org.