Long Island Index Launches www.buildabetterburb.org


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Long Island Index Launches www.buildabetterburb.org Where “Seeing Is Believing”

First-of-its Kind Website Focuses on Re-Imagining and Beautifying Long Island Downtowns

Garden City, NY (December 7, 2011) – Poll after poll has shown that Long Island residents are worried about the lack of affordable housing and the exodus of young people from the region. Our suburban neighbors are not as worried about these issues as we are. Why? They provide both a more vibrant economy, more housing options and a sense of community in their downtowns. Simply put, Long Island doesn’t. So what will our future be?

Re-imagining that future has been core to Build a Better Burb, which is thrilled to launch a website today which demonstrates how downtowns around the country have been rethought to create the kind of communities Long Islanders want and need for our future.

“Long Island will only be a region that creates a home for future generations and a reinvigorated economy if we are willing to be bold — to try what we haven’t tried before, to learn from what others have gotten right (and wrong), to take chances, and, critically, to demand beauty,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation and publisher of the Long Island Index. “Doing what we have always done will not work. We don’t have the space to keep spreading out. But we do have space that can be re-imagined right in our downtowns – space to build new kinds of housing, re-think how we deal with transportation, bring together our community. Many other regions are adapting, trying new ideas, building differently. If we don’t rise to the challenge, they are more likely to be the winners in the coming decades, not us.”

For several years the Long Island Index has been reporting about the need to revitalize our downtowns and create viable, living communities that are affordable and appealing. Yet, according to surveys, Long Islanders expressed concern about how “densifying” their downtown might change the small-town feel of their community and be aesthetically unappealing. The new Build a Better Burb website displays extraordinary and beautiful examples of what is possible to dispel those concerns, and to show what innovative communities from around the country have been able to achieve. Seeing is believing. And inspiring. While many magazines and websites focus on how to make a home or garden beautiful, the Build a Better Burb website is the first to focus on the beauty and possibility of our communities. The site demonstrates that thoughtful, human-centered design can create a greater sense of community, not a lesser one.

The site is organized around four ideas:

Housing Reinvented
Long Island will always be a region of predominantly single-family homes but should it be? For young people who want to live and work here, purchasing a home is usually beyond their means. For older residents whose children are grown and want to remain near family and friends but without the responsibilities for maintaining a home, few options are available. In fact, only 17% of Long Island’s housing stock is rentals–about half of what exists in our neighboring suburban regions. It may be time to rethink this. Employers cite the difficulty in finding affordable housing for their employees and often choose to take their work elsewhere as a 2 result. Long Islanders are overwhelmingly concerned about young people leaving because of high housing costs and few affordable options. We need–but don’t currently have– options at different price points and different styles. Our downtowns are a terrific place to begin.

More Transit/Less Parking
In and around just our downtowns we have more than 4,000 acres of surface parking lots – that’s about 6.5 square miles solely dedicated to parking our cars. Other regions have been reclaiming that land – termed “gray fields” by architects because of the sea of asphalt that defines them – by building multi-tier parking lots in some areas to free up space in others for housing, civic centers, or green space. Some communities have been changing their traffic patterns to encourage more walking, shopping, and human interaction. In other words, it’s time to rethink the hustle and bustle in and out of our cars, and instead create environments that make experiencing our downtown communities an enjoyable experience. With good design and top-notch planning, a lot of people are reinventing the pace within which we live our lives and in particular, our downtowns.

Thinking Regionally
With more governmental entities than most regions – 2 counties, 2 cities, 13 towns, over 100 incorporated villages – Long Island is truly challenged when it comes to regional planning. Each jurisdiction has the right to make land use decisions over the properties they control. There is no overriding entity that has the authority to help orchestrate plans across multiple jurisdictions. So really big ideas about how to control sprawl, how to develop commercial districts, how to expand agricultural lands, or even how to “densify” specific areas to encourage greater open space in other locations, become really difficult here. Such planning is more typically found in places that have countywide land use decision making authority. Seeing what has been achieved elsewhere and what can be imagined for Long Island, can aid us in finding a way to forge the necessary agreements and alliances to create a similar set of broad, wide-scale options for ourselves.

Creating a Sense of Place
What makes some downtowns a desired destination and others best forgotten? It is often a combination of factors including accentuating the physical beauty of the location, great streetscapes, preserved historical locales, walkability, and a vibrant mix of stores. But first and foremost it is a community that has a sense of who they are and what they want to be. Defining the key attributes that create a sense of place is a critical but often forgotten first step in a community redesign project. As Long Islanders commit themselves to reinvigorating our downtowns, we offer these inspirational examples of communities done right.

Last year, the Long Island Index hosted an ideas competition that sought the best and boldest ideas for retrofitting Long Island’s downtowns by exploiting the 8300 acres of “underperforming asphalt” in these downtowns. The winning ideas were showcased on the Build a Better Burb website. “The Rauch Foundation’s profound commitment to the betterment of the residents and neighborhoods is a tremendous gift to Long Island. By showing what’s possible through this comprehensive and creative site, by supporting thinkers, dreamers and doers, they will be instrumental in developing a vision for a vibrant and vital community.”

–Allison Arieff, Contributing columnist, The New York Times and Contributing Writer, The Atlantic Cities 3

According to Frank Mruk, Associate Dean of The School of Architecture and Design, New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), “Information on the site will be of interest to anyone working on or involved in a downtown revitalization project such as planners, architects, public officials, civic organizations but it is designed with Long Islanders in mind and focuses on the issues that are of major concern in our region.” The design team from NYIT received the People’s Choice Award for last year’s Build a Better Burb competition.

About the Rauch Foundation: The Long Island Index is funded by the Rauch Foundation, a family foundation headquartered in Garden City, New York. In addition to funding the Long Island Index for eight years the Rauch Foundation commissioned The Long Island Profile Report and a series of polls on Long Island to determine how the region is faring. The Long Island Index 2004, Long Island Index 2005, Long Island Index 2006, Long Island Index 2007, Long Island Index 2008, Long Island Index 2009, Long Island Index 2010 and Long Island Index 2011 are all available for download at www.longislandindex.org. The Long Island Index interactive maps, an online resource with detailed demographic, residential, transportation and educational information, is also accessible from the Index’s website.