Sarah Landsdale, executive director of Sustainable Long Island, was the featured speaker at the Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters' annual luncheon.
Landsdale said that, from an early age, she became aware of unequal access to opportunity and of environmental issues. This awareness was heightened by a stay in Guatemala. She said, "When I stepped back on U.S. soil, I didn't understand and I still don't why we are using drinking water to water our lawns. I still don't understand why other countries are following our lead into suburban sprawl." She added, "There are communities on Long Island asking for banks and supermarkets, just as in Guatemala, and there is the same unequal access to services. The only difference is that here many more people have access."
Landsdale explained what is meant by "sustainable development." "It is development that meets the needs of residents without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs....It includes the social and the physical environment...and is economically sound."
Referring to the Newsday-sponsored 1978 report "Long Island at the Crossroads," Landsdale pointed out the problems that still persist here, namely, traffic congestion, lack of housing and employment for young people, painfully high taxes, residents with no sense of community, inefficient public transportation, and rising energy costs. She added, "Our natural resources are threatened, and our residents are disillusioned and disengaged." Landsdale said, "We are living with the repercussions of our past actions, and today's actions will determine the future." As an example, she said, "We don't need a car for every trip; we don't need a single home for everyone."
Landsdale declared, speaking for Sustainable Long Island, "We believe every Long Islander has the right to a thriving economy; a healthy environment; access to public transportation; clean land, water and air; a racially and ethnically diverse population; parks, community centers and other recreational opportunities; a range of housing options, access to a supermarket with high quality and affordable food; and employment opportunities." In achieving their goals, Landsdale said that Sustainable Long Island works with communities and governments.
A major current initiative involves the revitalization of downtowns. Specifically, she mentioned Baldwin, listed by CNN as one of the best places to live; New Cassel, where over $80 million has been invested in their downtown, and Wyandanch, where they plan to link transportation alternatives to a new mixed-use development and have launched a beautification strategy that ranges from planting to a beautiful new post office. (Editor's note: Port Washington has recently launched a similar initiative; see previous article in Jan. 8 issue.) The question, said Landsdale, is, "How will the region be able to accommodate growth in a manner that simultaneously achieves economic and environmental health?"
Landsdale shared some ideas, for example, shop in your local downtown; get out of the car and take the train or bus or walk; learn about issues on the ballot and make sure you vote; attend local civic meetings; participate in local events; identify brownfields in your community and write to local officials about how that site can better serve the community. "And," she added, "You can always volunteer with Sustainable Long Island."
A great deal of the discussion after the formal presentation centered on issues of public transportation-the opportunities and the challenges. Bob O'Brien pointed out that the Long Island Bus (which he uses daily to commute to the station) does not plan its schedule to consistently meet the train, even though both are run by the MTA. Others pointed out the need for light rail and for smaller vehicles (like jitneys) that would run frequently and have more flexible schedules and routes than the full-sized buses. At the meeting and in a subsequent conversation with the Port News, Landsdale said that they have been in communication with the MTA, but it is difficult, in part because the agency has a long lead time in planning vehicles, routes and schedules. She was optimistic, however, that something could be done. LWV President Jane Thomas said, "We were successful in working with the Suffolk County bus, but it is difficult on Long Island with so many governments and jurisdictions."
Assembly member Michelle Schimel said that the New York State Legislature is looking at a bill that would give more flexibility with regard to school buses. The current law requires a seat to be assigned to every child, but because so many parents drive their children to school, many buses have a lot of empty seats. Schimel said that the new legislation would permit school districts to assign buses based on past usage, thus saving money and reducing air pollution.
The discussion provided a lot of food for thought, and was supplemented by informative handouts.