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What Every Long Islander Should Know: December 7, 2011

Now You Can See What Long Island Is Missing

Year by year, Long Island loses ground, yet we seem to resist making changes. I wonder: What will it take to get us moving?

Back in 2004, the first Long Island Index uncovered the extent of the Brain Drain. The exodus of talented young people, and the underlying need for more affordable housing, received much public and media attention, and in a poll later that year, 72 percent of Long Islanders rated the lack of affordable housing as either a “Very Serious” or “Extremely Serious” problem. Yet in the years since, we’ve made hardly any progress.

In 2010 the Index investigated solutions. We published a study of Long Island’s downtowns that identified 8,300 acres of empty lots and surface parking lots—enough space to build, comfortably, tens of thousands of affordable homes.

Building in town takes advantage of transit facilities and other infrastructure, regenerates blighted areas, and creates vibrant social centers that attract the talented young people employers need.

Yet support for such development is tepid. Participants in focus groups express concerns. Will higher density affordable housing bring neighborhoods down, instead of building them up? Will it replace empty lots with eyesores?

Instead of trying to guess the future, the Index decided to do more research. It turns out that, while Long Island dithered all these years, folks across the country were working. Thinking, planning, and building places that answer the needs of the new millennium.

Today there is a world of success for us to draw on. For ideas . . . inspiration . . . and courage if indeed it’s our fears that are holding us back.

And now this world is on view at our newly redesigned website, www.builda­betterburb.org. It offers a feast for the eye and mind, starting with photos and case histories of groundbreaking development projects. Such as:

• The rebirth of Beacon, N.Y., from a rundown relic of a manufacturing town to a revivified jewel that draws 70,000 visitors a year.

• Multi-unit housing in Aspen, Colorado, that proves beautifully that affordable housing for local workers can be attractive enough for even the toniest communities.

• Even groundbreaking parking lots, such as 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami, where a futuristic open stack of parking levels provides the gleaming centerpiece of a shopping, dining, and residential complex hailed as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of 2010.

The website also features renderings of the winning entries in last year’s “Build a Better Burb” design contest. Colorful infographics showing where we are and where we’re headed. Informative, yet nontechnical articles on the best-thinking about tomorrow’s suburbs. Plus links to more success stories from across America.

The new www.buildabetterburb.org is meant to be an inspiration to a stagnating Long Island—but also a goad. Once, Long Island defined the modern suburb; now suburbia is leaving us behind. If we’re not ready to accept second-rate status, we need to take action.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Rauch Foundation, a family foundation that supports innovative programs centered on children and the environment. For more information visit www.rauchfoundation.org.