23 finalists chosen in Build a Better Burb contest

Image from the Upcycling 2.0 proposal. Image from the Upcycling 2.0 proposal.

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Long Island as a self-sustaining ecosystem, growing its own food under domes, expanding its green space and fueling itself with 500 wind turbines off the Atlantic beaches. Parks under elevated Long Island Rail Road stations, with parking underground. Denser downtowns surrounded by organic farms. Elder housing around malls.

These were among 23 proposals chosen as finalists in the Build a Better Burb competition sponsored by the Long Island Index and unveiled Tuesday at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury. The finalists, many from professional planners and architects, were culled from 212 entries from 30 countries.

"Long Island has always served as an incubator for the reinvention of this thing we call suburbia," Frank Mruk, associate dean of NYIT's School of Architecture and Design, said in introductory remarks. The competition, he said, provided "stunning results," answering the question of " 'how do we start' the process of reinventing suburbia in a refreshing and innovative way?"

Finalists were chosen by an eight-member jury, with winners to be announced Oct. 4. The top prize is $10,000, with $10,000 in additional prizes, and another $2,500 to the top student proposal. The public is asked to view the proposals and vote from July 7 to Aug. 31 for a People's Choice Award winner online at buildabetterburb.org.

Galina Tahchieva, a Miami-based architect and jury member, said that "some of these ideas can seem quite bold and polemical in nature," but she noted that some current realities grew out of ideas considered radical when proposed.

"Some of these ideas will be realities in a decade or two," she said. One of the most important components of winning plans are walkable downtowns: "If places are not walkable and mixed-use, they are not going to be sustainable," she said.

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Ann Golob, director of the Long Island Index, a project of the Rauch Foundation in Garden City that commissions studies and polls about aspects of Long Island life to encourage regional planning for the future, said, "I had honestly expected smaller ideas. I wasn't thinking as big as the submitters were thinking and I was delighted by that."

She cited one example called agISLAND by Amy Ford-Wagner of New York City that "re-envisioned our relationship to agriculture. I loved the way they thought about how you could replace office parks along Route 110 with organic farms." In this plan, offices would move close to train stations, while light rail would carry farm produce away for local processing and distribution.

Another proposal, Bethpage MoMA P.S. 2, submitted by Nelson Peng of Philadelphia, would create an artist community in Bethpage. But perhaps the most radical plan was LIRR: Long Island Radically Rezoned, to create a self-sufficient ecosystem, proposed by a team led by Tobias Holler, an assistant professor at NYIT's architecture school.

"There would be a balance between the natural and man-made world," he said. "We need a certain amount of nature to absorb the human footprint."

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