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From Sustainable Long Island - April 9, 2010

Building Stronger, Vibrant Downtowns

One thing is for sure – Long Island is home to thousands of shopping options from big boxes to big malls to downtowns to strip malls. We are known to shop until we drop. During tough economic times, we all often let the best bargains determine where we shop.

But there are other times when our shopping choices depend on many more variables. Shopping is, in fact, an activity that is an integral part of our cultural, family and personal customs. We shop to buy decorations for the holidays, presents for mom and dad’s birthdays, those first shoes for the baby, a new outfit for the start of school, or the perfect bridal dress for the big day. We weave into these shopping experiences time to chat with friends and loved ones, grab a bite to eat and rest our weary feet on a bench. There is no better place to spend this time and build these memories than in our hometown stores located in downtown communities. Downtowns save time from everyday shopping, offer value in their products and services, and give people a sense of pride and honor within their community.

I know that I am by far not the only one preaching about downtowns and their benefits.

There has been increasing attention played to rating which of our Long Island downtowns are the best and which have the greatest potential to succeed. But who’s to say one downtown is superior to the other? How does one decide between a downtown in New Cassel and a downtown in Roslyn? All of Long Island’s downtowns offer something unique. What makes a great downtown is that at some point, everyone in the community wants to be there.

Each downtown across our region offers choices and opportunities to the people who fill it each and every day. It’s the people who fill the streets and the stores, and the markets. It’s the people who are enticed by the prospect of jobs within walking distance from their home or attracted to the chance of building friendships with other locals. Yes it’s the people, who bring the energy that keeps the neighborhood’s pulse beating.

So instead of debating endlessly on which downtown is better than the other, let’s build off the assets that are already there and improve the area into a place the people can admire, not criticize. Community leaders are coming together from Port Washington to Massapequa and helping build stronger, more vibrant downtowns.

There are activities that enhance downtowns, such as a farmer’s market which brings people together and creates “foot traffic” throughout the streets. A community fair increases revenue, along with added enjoyment to the locale. Augmenting historic buildings, preserving beautiful landmarks and making a safer, more pleasant place for pedestrians are all goals our downtowns strive for.

All this can happen for the people, if the people themselves take action. It happens community by community, person by person. Make your community next.

Sarah Lansdale is the executive director of Sustainable Long Island, which focuses on creating real change in our region by promoting sustainable development. Sustainable Long Island works with residents, municipal leaders, businesspeople and all interested stakeholders to help them plan and implement sustainable development initiatives in their communities. Visit www.sustainableli.org, or call 516-873-0230.