This is the season when the Island hits its stride. Good weather awakens the senses and reminds us why we live here. Wait, why exactly do we live here again? The taxes, the traffic, suburban sprawl, the insanity of it all! Why on Earth would anyone choose to stay here, let alone move here?
Because we’re the best. Just ask us. It’s just a matter of perspective.
Last night the Press hosted an evening in honor of the 50 most influential Long Islanders—all of whom were featured in last week’s annual Power List edition. Our “Power Parties” have always been interesting affairs because the individuals who comprise the list are themselves interesting. But last night one star shone more brightly than all the others in the room: Long Island.
One significant reason for this was the setting, yet another reminder of how fortunate we are to live here. The Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn opened its doors to more than 300 attendees, some of whom were amazed at just how incredible the grounds, and the museum itself, truly are. The common thread among the people and the conversation in the room was Long Island and, more importantly, making it better.
One of the modern writers and theorists I admire most is a surly individual named James Howard Kunstler, a resident of Saratoga Springs, NY, and author of doomsday-scenario books on peak oil and the fall of suburbia. I had the opportunity to interview Kunstler a couple of years ago and was the recipient of several golden quotes that fall from his tongue like bombs through the bay doors. But the only one that rendered me shell-shocked was his opinion that Long Island was “essentially screwed.” His theory was that our car culture, suburban sprawl and fossil fuel-based infrastructure would prove both environmentally and economically unsustainable in years to come. While not a wholehearted disciple of his suburbia-is-dead message, I tend to agree with most of the principles he espouses.
But last night, with so many of Long Island’s leaders and educators exchanging ideas, it occurred to me that the concept of failure depends upon ones definition of success. Perhaps we should re-examine the Long Island equation instead of attempting to change the figures.
Traffic is awful on Long Island. Or is it? Contemplating the alternative is devastating. Across the country, store owners sit around and dream of ways to increase traffic into their stores. The American economy is pinned directly to the success of the consumer. Conclusion: Traffic is awesome on Long Island.
Taxes are too high on Long Island. Or are they? Nearly every state in the nation is fighting for federal education funding and every administration in recent memory has made education a top funding and legislative priority. Finding the money for education is a problem nearly everywhere except… wait for it, wait for it…right here! Conclusion: Long Island reinvests heavily in our children by allocating a significant portion of our taxes to education.
Suburban sprawl fractures the community and feeds our dependence on the automobile. OK, you got me there. Having said that, I lived in Manhattan for seven years and spent the vast majority of my time in the same place everyone else in Manhattan spends their time—in a four-block radius around my apartment. Vertical living, horizontal living. It really doesn’t matter. When a friend or neighbor in the city moves more than 10 blocks away they might as well move to Spokane. On the Island, however, once you commit to getting in your car, one’s friendship radius extends from 10 blocks to 10 miles. Conclusion: Long Islanders with cars make better friends.
The lesson gained is, the things we complain about the most are not only of our own creation, they’re not going anywhere. What we are sorely lacking is a proper marketing campaign that encourages more companies to move here to maintain our tax base. That way, more people can live it up with us in terrible traffic, enjoy the exciting educational benefits of high taxes, and stretch out in our sprawling neighborhoods. But first let me leave you with food for thought this wonderful Memorial Day weekend.
The spring edition of Good Magazine features an interview with renowned author and urban theorist Richard Florida who says that beyond the obvious criteria of “a low crime rate and great schools and good jobs” the most important quality of life items to Americans are “a community that treats all of its residents fairly—ethnic minorities, new immigrants, low income people…” and “aesthetic character” such as trees and open space. The latter is something we have. The former needs work. But guess what? Treating people fairly seems a lot easier than easing traffic, lowering taxes and eliminating suburban sprawl. Not that we need to.