This is the final installment of my “Heavy House” column series covering the Lighthouse Project, but only the beginning of our coverage in the Press. A column allows the creative freedom to express opinions about this or any subject, but our news coverage will provide greater insight into the progress of what may or may not be a turning point in the future of development on Long Island.
For the moment, acrimony between the various stakeholders of this project is taking center stage. While I relish the role of armchair warrior because of the clarity it provides, it is also an uncomfortable seat when you see smart people who can’t seem to get out of their own way. I’m talking about the people so close to this project that it appears they can’t see the forest through the trees. County Executive Tom Suozzi has grand visions for a new suburbia. Charles Wang has the land, assets and means to make significant strides toward smart growth. Scott Rechler has the experience and ability to re-imagine our community. Kate Murray has the tools and political support to move mountains in the Town of Hempstead. And Long Islanders have the need to move toward a more intelligent future. In short, we all want the same thing.
When Robert Moses planned our little slice of heaven he did so with all the resources and facts that were available to him. One can easily argue that his motives were provincial and at times even racist, but no one can dispute his legacy of exerting unprecedented control over some of the largest public works projects in the United States. The challenge before us today is to re-plan the Island based upon dwindling natural resources and a crumbling infrastructure. This takes great vision. With that, I humbly (OK, obnoxiously) propose several guidelines as a launching pad for a new tomorrow with the Lighthouse Project as a proving ground.
Open space. Instead of a ballpark or other manicured garden areas, let nature exist, well, naturally. The brilliance of Frederick Olmstead’s Central Park design is that is was “created” as the Earth intended it to be. It wasn’t carved in pieces—it was enhanced. We have a tendency to pave over everything in sight and work diligently to recreate so-called natural landscapes that require an incredible amount of energy to maintain. It’s interesting to note that it was actually a young Robert Moses who revitalized Central Park in the 1930s after it had fallen into disrepair under siege from rampant vandalism.
Smart Growth. The basic theory of smart growth is to create an environment where people can live, work and play. I would add one more item to the list— harvest. Community growing areas are tantamount to the re-visioning process. Instead of putting in fountains and statues, set aside a couple of acres to harvest the land. Take Will Allen (www.growingpower.org) from Milwaukee who supplies locally grown produce to thousands of urban families from city-based gardens. Given our natural resources, can’t we do the same or better?
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). A building code is not a master plan. Long Island needs a plan that encourages pockets of development that are energy efficient or—best case scenario—energy independent. Instead of carping at developers for attempting to maximize profits through high-density designs, encourage them to do so. Want to build a six-story building? Current building codes essentially mandate basic LEED certification as it is. Want to build 10 stories? Build to the Gold LEED standard. Want 16 stories? Build to Platinum LEED standards. Want to add in commercial space and, oh I don’t know, a coliseum? Get serious about cleaning and recycling water to protect how our aquifers are recharged. It’s like creating the tangible version of carbon offsets. More than any other incentive—from low-cost bond issuances to PILOT programs—developers want density. The greater the density a developer seeks the more they should be required to build in a self-sufficient and sustainable manner.
There are scores of topics to be considered, with these three only scratching the surface. While this is the last Lighthouse installment in this particular column series, we intend to highlight many more of these types of initiatives. If you listen closely and eliminate the politics from this project you will realize that everyone wants the same thing: Safe, smart, efficient and environmentally sensitive development that will shape the way we interact with the land and help create a sense of community. Arguing against any of these principals would be silly. Unfortunately, everyone is so busy posturing and yelling that it appears the voice of reason is being drowned out.
There is one underlying theme to every single issue that surrounds the Lighthouse Project. That is the inescapable fact that Long Island has no master plan. Robert Moses can’t help us now and frankly he probably wouldn’t even know where to begin. For example, the last comprehensive study on our groundwater supply was the 208 Study in 1977. I was 4 years old. Our idea of development has been strip malls, single-family housing units and golf courses, which brings me back to the point of the first installment in this series: We need a new regional planning board.
This is about so much more than the Lighthouse; as the oldest suburb in the nation we will live and die by what happens next. No matter what, the other suburban areas in this nation will be watching and taking our lead. The only question is whether they will be following it or walking away from it. Either we come together to establish a sustainable plan for the future or sit by idly while the youth of Long Island continue to vote with their feet and leave us in droves.