Imagining a better future for LI

The Long Island Index commissioned seven essays about how our region should think about housing, education, the economy and the future.

Bob KeelerA Better Long Island for All

It’s time for our local leaders to lead the way to the future with a strong dose of regional thinking

Perhaps the most difficult attitude to nurture in Long Islanders is regional thinking. Despite the best efforts of the Long Island Index and Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, regional thinking remains a still-desirable but still-distant goal. That is deeply disappointing to me, as a Long Islander, as an employee of Newsday for more than four decades, and as the author of a book about the paper, which also focused on the history of Long Island.

In the 1940s, the decade when both Newsday and I came into being, Long Island was essentially a collection of small villages separated by large trees. The number of trees has declined, the number of villages has increased, but the sense of regional interconnectedness has not grown nearly enough.

Yes, entities such as the Long Island Regional Planning Council and the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council have come into existence, and they perform useful roles. But the instinct of separateness and parochial thinking continue, untamed.

Take the Third Track for the Long Island Rail Road, between Hicksville and Floral Park. Research commissioned by the Index showed that it would produce major regional benefits. Still, local officials resisted, thinking locally instead of regionally. One of the great triumphs of the Rauch Foundation and the Index, through the creation of the Right Track for Long Island Coalition, has been overcoming that resistance and putting the Third Track on a promising road to completion.

Still, the array of more than 900 governments, from elevator districts to huge towns, has stood in the way of regional thinking and progress toward a sustainable future for Long Island. That progress requires less reliance on cars, better mass transit, and walkable downtowns—all key elements of what the Index research has shown Long Island needs.

“Cost aside, those many levels of government, and their varying rules and regulations, also slow the planning and development process and make it harder to move forward on the key issues impacting the region,” said the Index’s overview of issues impacting Long Island. “As a result, developers find it far easier to replicate the automobile-dependent, single-purpose suburb of the past than to create the mixed-use, transit-oriented and walkable downtowns the region needs for the future—and which young Long Islanders demand.”

In addition to the multiplicity of government units, the obstacles to a sustainable region include the proliferation of industrial development agencies, too often competing with one another and giving corporations tax breaks that do not produce the promised number of jobs.

Until we start to think as a single unified region, working toward the common good of its nearly three million residents, we will continue to be stuck with the reality that the Index has documented: the continuing loss of the young people who should be the region’s future. The Index has worked hard to produce the data that show what we need, what we have, and what we’re missing. Now it’s time for our local leaders to lead the way to the future with a strong dose of regional thinking.

– Keeler is a former Newsday reporter and editor.

Elaine GrossThe Need to Tackle Segregation Head-On

Central to the prosperity and sustainability of Long Island is the extent to which Long Islanders tackle segregation head-on.

Long Island is renowned for being the nation’s first suburb – birthed with its tens of thousands of affordable new homes, federally financed to bring them within reach of GIs returning from World War II. But this wealth-building machine was explicitly for white people only. GIs who were black were summarily blocked from living in these new homes, just because they were black.

The racism was structural – brought about by both government and business – and it was interpersonal, with individuals actively carrying out the policies and discriminating to ensure that blacks didn’t slip in. This is Long Island’s legacy. Structural racism continues, and today other non-white groups are sometimes victimized as well.

Our housing is still segregated. Measuring residential segregation, Long Island is among the 10 most racially segregated metropolitan regions in the United States. White-to-black segregation levels remain severe. Segregation levels between whites and Hispanics, and whites and Asians, while not yet severe, are rising. Housing discrimination is still occurring. Local housing discrimination lawsuits are resulting in successful settlements.

Segregation levels in public schools are heading in the wrong direction. Between 2004 and 2016 the number of intensely segregated school districts (90-100% non-white) more than doubled, and students attending these segregated schools more than tripled.

Interestingly, the Long Island Index’s latest survey of Long Islanders shows significant differences by race concerning public education – with 60% of blacks saying that more should be done to integrate schools, compared to 49% of Hispanics and only 28% of whites. Whites are also dramatically more satisfied with the quality of public education than are blacks and Hispanics. (See accompanying graphic.)

The ongoing segregation and discrimination create indefensible disadvantages for certain Long Islanders and also deprive Long Island of talent and skills that the region needs to compete successfully in a 21st-Century economy. They are a self-inflicted drag on Long Island’s economic prosperity.

How can the current trajectory be reversed? A sizeable proportion of the current silent bystanders on Long Island will need to become champions for change in their own communities and with local and state governments. They will need to support laws, policies, and practices that dismantle segregation.

Structural problems require structural solutions. Yet too often the instinct is to leave structural racism in place and then wonder why efforts around the edges don’t make a lasting difference.

Regional cohesion and empathy across racial groups is far less likely, because people from different racial groups do not know each other, do not live together or go to school together, and as a result inhabit very different realities. Solving structural racism will require a shared understanding of history, objective facts about current challenges and how to address them, and familiarity with and empathy for people who are not like oneself.

The familiarity and empathy gaps on Long Island will not lessen if segregation remains so widespread and unchallenged. Central to the prosperity and sustainability of Long Island is the extent to which Long Islanders tackle segregation head-on.

– Gross is Executive Director of ERASE Racism.

Marianne GarvinBuild Apartments, and They Will Come

The economic future of Long Island depends on developing transit-oriented multifamily housing across all price points.

The economic future of Long Island depends on developing transit-oriented multifamily housing across all price points. That’s not instead of single-family neighborhoods; that’s to strengthen single-family neighborhoods.

We all know too well the complaints of excessive property taxes, unaffordable housing, not enough jobs, and young people leaving. That won’t change until Long Island offers more housing options, accessible to public transit, in settings that attract businesses and young people.

My experience building more than 1,000 affordable rental apartments, while leading the Community Development Corporation of Long Island (CDCLI), provides confidence that such essential developments will enhance the region’s traditional strengths and values – not undercut them. That experience suggests some guiding principles:

First, the housing should always be transit-oriented: near trains and/or buses. That provides easy access, enhances walkability, and reduces congestion and pollution. Walkability is key, because it increases community, strengthens local businesses, and provides a destination for those living downtown as well as those in nearby neighborhoods, which are reinforced in the process.

Second, the housing should be at all price points (with both ownership and rental options) for several reasons: to offer breadth of opportunity and choice to respond to diverse needs; to provide housing for those who work in local businesses as well as those who shop there, and to ensure that everyone, regardless of income, has money (not consumed by housing) to spend locally. It’s always easier to get approval for higher-cost housing, but it’s vital to have the full range.

Third, that range of housing should be located together – not separated. It should reinforce community, and it’s already happening. Wincoram Commons, which CDCLI co-developed, and the luxury Enclave at Charles Pond Apartments are located next to each other in Coram. Together they bring needed definition and vitality to the hamlet’s center.

Fourth, support for multifamily housing has grown on Long Island, as Long Islanders themselves seek more options. The 2017 Long Island Index survey shows that most Long Island residents support raising height limits in local downtowns from two to four stories to build apartments above stores. That proposal is especially popular among young Long Islanders (74% of those 18-34). And 26% of Long Islanders expect to live in an apartment, condo, or townhouse in five years (an increase of 11% from 2015).

That support is reinforced by growing evidence of downtown development. Downtowns like Patchogue, Copiague, and Rockville Center have permitted higher-density housing, and it has invigorated their centers as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. The benefits are no longer theoretical; they can be seen, experienced, and enjoyed over dinner.

Fifth, the greatest practical barrier going forward is no longer public opinion; now it’s outdated municipal zoning codes – often 50 or 60 years old. It will take time, effort, and expense to update them. But that’s no excuse; it’s essential.

Long Island is lopsided with single-family housing, and the multifamily housing that is needed will not change that reality. What it will do is provide a range of housing options and the economic vitality to sustain the region’s single-family neighborhoods in the 21st century.

Build apartments, and they will come. And they will be coming largely from Long Island.

– Garvin was President & CEO of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island from 2009 to 2017.

Tom RogersEducation and the Economy

Long Island can no longer afford to overlook the talent that is every bit as present in disadvantaged communities as it is in the Gold Coast

In the second half of the 20th century, Long Island was the beneficiary of the region’s strong economy, as both the host of a robust defense industry and the archetypical bedroom community for New York City. That economy has in turn built Long Island’s many regional assets, including and perhaps especially, its superb public education system. With the decline of the defense industry and growing cost of living, that symbiosis has come under stress. Long Island’s educational excellence has come at a price, and it would be delusional to presume it could endure a protracted period of austerity without damage.

Thus, Long Island is confronted with the challenge of reimagining itself as a regional economic powerhouse, not just the beneficiary of the happy coincidence of its location and legacy. But this region is not alone in seeking to establish a high-tech economic presence, and its ability to compete will fall far short of its potential should it suffer from Long Island’s chronic affliction of fragmentation. The window of opportunity hasn’t closed, but in the prescient words of the Long Island Index, “The Clock is Ticking.”

Fortunately, Long Island has internationally-renowned research institutions in the bio-tech, alternative energy, advanced materials engineering, and health care fields that could be the foundation for this high-tech renaissance. Moreover, its public education system collaborates with these institutions to routinely produce more Intel, Siemens and Regeneron scholars from our two counties than from most other whole states in the country. But this has been driven more by internecine competition than a concerted plan to connect and leverage these assets in service of a regional economic development strategy.

While it’s unclear where the leadership will emerge to make this vision a reality, the first steps forward are apparent, if not easy. Though extraordinary, Long Island’s education system is far from perfect, as too many of Long Island’s educational opportunities and successes are shared unevenly along lines of race and income. This has been Long Island’s intractable challenge and regional shame for decades. The situation is exacerbated by fragmentation and underinvestment, so it’s clear it won’t be solved in the absence of collaboration and resources. A focused regional development strategy could direct investments towards partnerships supporting economic sectors highlighted as regional growth priorities. These priorities could in turn shape the education system. Just as schools focus on teaching New York’s unique history, we can be attentive to the unique skills and programs needed to build the region’s workforce.

Long Island is a high-cost region. It requires high-wage employment, which in turn requires high levels of skill and education. The education part of that equation and the region’s powerhouse industries and research institutions are Long Island’s twin advantages. Coupled, they could accelerate Long Island’s new economy, provide a pipeline of talent to its emerging industries, and slow its “brain drain” among young people. Long Island’s symbiosis between education and the economy can emerge from this stress stronger than ever; but it must evolve, and it can no longer afford to overlook the talent that is every bit as present in disadvantaged communities as it is in the Gold Coast.

– Rogers is the Superintendent of the Syosset Central School District in Nassau County.

Shuprotim BhaumikMoving a Region Forward

Without bold moves, Long Island will stagnate, falling behind the rest of the region.

Long Island’s transformation from farmland to vibrant suburb started in the early 20th century and gained momentum after World War II, as our troops returned home and started families. In contrast to the dense, closely-packed, apartment buildings of New York City, from which many residents had moved, Long Island symbolized freedom – the ability to comfortably raise a family in a single detached home within commuting distance of the city and with easy access on leafy parkways to beaches for weekend outings. Nationally, Levittown became an iconic symbol of idyllic, affordable, suburban living.

In recent decades, the decline in good quality jobs, combined with increasing housing costs and property taxes, has led to a brain-drain of young working-age adults. According to the Long Island Index, The Island’s share of young adults (ages 25-34) dipped by 12 percent between 2000 and 2010, even as their numbers grew in NYC and the U.S. as a whole. Young educated workers, as well as empty-nesters, now wish to live in walkable transit-friendly communities that have great restaurants, distinctive shopping, and unique cultural attractions.

Not only is the urban experience becoming more in demand but residents are growing increasingly intolerant of sitting in traffic. And ongoing transit investments will make public transit an increasingly attractive option. The Third Track and Double Track, for instance, will both increase capacity and improve reliability. East Side Access will provide commuters a one-seat ride to Midtown East. Proposed new north-south transit options like the Nicolls Road BRT from Stony Brook University, with connections to the Ronkonkoma Hub and MacArthur Airport, will provide much-needed inter-regional mobility.

To complement these transit investments, a handful of towns and villages on Long Island are re-imagining the notion of suburbia in and around LIRR stations and downtowns with flexible zoning that encourages density, walkability, and a mix of uses. Communities such as Mineola, Farmingdale, Wyandanch, and Valley Stream have shown the way in creating a new suburbia that is anchored by public transit.

But more needs to be done. Throughout the New York metropolitan area, many municipalities are well on their way towards a future where fewer residents and workers rely on automobiles. Those communities are experiencing the clear benefits of transit in creating economic activity and attracting new residents and employers.

Long Island’s communities have a lot of catching up to do. Change is difficult, and increasing density brings fears of “becoming Queens.” But change can be designed to be both distinctive and attractive. And without bold moves, Long Island will stagnate, falling behind the rest of the region.

Transportation is changing before our eyes: soon driverless vehicles will be an integral part of our daily lives. Big ideas – such as a true north-south transit network, bicycle highways, and ambitious transit-oriented downtown developments – are key to keeping the region competitive, resilient, vibrant, and still distinctly Long Island.

– Bhaumik is a Partner at HR&A Advisors.

Bruce StillmanBuilding Regional Leadership for the Innovation Economy

Long Island has an extraordinary opportunity to make the most of the innovation economy.

Long Island is in a remarkable position to capitalize on the innovation economy, an economy built around the latest research and development as well as a highly educated population. But we have a major challenge: a greater need for regional leadership in this area. Fortunately, it’s a challenge that we can overcome with enough collective effort.

The opportunity is extraordinary, because of Long Island’s many assets, including world-class research institutions, proximity to New York City, a celebrated lifestyle, and a strong legacy of innovation from the space age to the present. But the region’s government is broadly diffuse – with 665 government entities providing services, as the Long Island Index has underscored.

This raises an essential question if Long Island is to effectively pursue an innovation economy: Who is leading it?

If Long Island was a state, the Governor would oversee an office of economic development focused solely on Long Island. But that’s not the case.

On key issues like infrastructure and economic development, we look to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who fortunately has taken welcome action, for instance, to make the Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track a reality.

But Long Island must also “compete” with other regions in New York, so it is incumbent on us to take the lead and propose how we can most effectively move our innovation economy forward. This requires cooperation between both counties, their towns and villages and existing industries.

The challenge then is to expand our regional leadership, so that we can more aggressively champion the innovation economy on Long Island. To do that, we need to discuss and consider how to generate a powerful regional consensus. That consensus requires buy-in not only from the two counties and the State but also from the public and the region’s cities, towns, and villages, so that all parties are engaged, aligned, and committed to a shared future. Once a consensus is achieved, proposals put to the State have a much higher probability of succeeding. The Third Track is a great example.

The innovative regional leadership that we need for the innovation economy has several key components:

First, Long Island must articulate an increasingly distinctive and compelling vision for positioning itself in the innovation economy. What sectors of that economy can we dominate, as we did in past decades with aerospace and defense? How do we differentiate ourselves from the competition? What do we need to make ourselves not just competitive but unbeatable?

The Long Island Index has given us an extraordinary base of objective data – about our comparative strengths and weaknesses. We should continue to draw on it heavily.

That vision must provide a clearly articulated direction that can generate public support. It must enable us to be opportunistic and capitalize on emerging fields, where we are in the forefront.

Second, implementing the vision will require a multi-faceted strategy with such essential elements as facilitating entrepreneurship; recruiting business development experts and tech CEOs who can turn promising ideas into successful businesses; attracting companies that need more space, and developing clusters of companies so that talent can move among them.

Third, each element requires constant regional pursuit, tracking, and promotion.

To achieve these goals, I suggest that a Leadership Council be established so that our political, academic, and business leaders can meet to discuss and formulate ideas that may facilitate the new innovation economy. In essence, the Council should form a consensus that presents a vision on which we can build.

Long Island has an extraordinary opportunity to make the most of the innovation economy. Let’s now enhance our regional leadership to maximize the opportunity before us.

– Stillman is President and CEO of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Jeffrey KrautCreating Alliances Among Long Island’s 665 Government Entities

Long Islanders should actively support leaders who encourage cooperation and collaboration between local governments.

Since its founding in 2002, the Long Island Index has facilitated the creation of a unifying future vision for our region by collecting and disseminating data that documents the challenges facing Long Islanders and monitors change. One persistent piece of data stands out: the number 665. That’s how many government entities exist on Long Island, including special districts providing basic services such as fire, police, sanitation, water, schools, and libraries.

Boundaries in government can be good; they define responsibility for our elected officials and create accountability to taxpayers who vote. But too many boundaries create inefficiency and drive up property taxes, which are legendary on Long Island, as duplication of services drives up costs.

A stunning example of that inefficiency appeared in the Index’s 2006 report, which revealed that Long Island’s 179 fire agencies had more fire trucks and apparatus than the City of New York and the City and County of Los Angeles combined! At the time, Long Island had 146 heavy rescue trucks at a cost of $750,000 a piece, for a total of $110 million, while New York City owned six – one per borough and a spare – for a total cost of $4.5 million.

The prospect of significantly reducing the number of government entities on Long Island may seem dim, but creating alliances and sharing services should be politically palatable and practical.

That approach could produce high-value opportunities to improve services, increase cost-effectiveness, and bend the cost curve of tax increases. The State of New York is encouraging this approach through its Shared Services Initiative – mandating last year that counties appoint working groups of local officials to identify ideas for sharing services, and agreeing to match any Year 1 savings that the towns and counties achieve.

I’ve seen the extraordinary benefits of sharing services right here on Long Island in my work at Northwell Health, which has evolved from a group of like-minded hospitals that came together to improve care and achieve economies of scale in response to rapid changes in the industry and significant reductions in federal and state funding. Each hospital had a board of trustees that aggressively valued its independence and local focus. But over time they recognized the benefits of sharing knowledge, pooling resources, and improving access – creating a regional health system that now provides the majority of care on Long Island and is the region’s largest employer.

New winds of change are blowing from Washington, DC that will increase pressure on all levels of government. The resulting demands of a highly taxed electorate may further alliances among the 665 government entities to reduce costs through economies of scale or improved services.

Fear of losing local control will be advanced as an obstacle to change, but with 665 government entities we need not fear losing local control. Instead we should recognize the shared interests of many of those entities and the rampant opportunity for increased efficiency and improved services. Long Islanders should actively support leaders who encourage cooperation and collaboration. It’s essential to reducing the economic consequences of government fragmentation on Long Island.

– Kraut is Executive Vice President, Strategy and Analytics at Northwell Health.