Long Island was once a planning innovator, known far and wide for the development 60 years ago of Levittown.
For Long Island to be innovative again, it needs to seize the moment and create "walkable places," communities near transit centers and businesses, architect Galina Tahchieva said Thursday.
She spoke before about 200 government officials, planners, educators and community activists gathered at Adelphi University for the Long Island Index's public launch of its new report, "Places to Grow: An Analysis of the Potential for Transit-Accessible Housing and Jobs in Long Island's Downtowns and Station Areas."
An expert on "retrofitting" the suburbs, Tahchieva urged leaders to build places where people can live and work - or easily commute to work on mass transit. Such neighborhoods can also foster a lively social scene, something young people want, she said.
"You have to get on that train somehow if you don't want to lose the competition," said Tahchieva, director of town planning for Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company Architects, a firm in Miami.
The Long Island Index report identified about 8,300 acres of unbuilt land within a half-mile of 156 downtowns or train station areas - just more than half of it from parking lots - on which to build apartments, town houses and garden apartments.
"Imagine what can be done with that land," said Nancy Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation, which publishes the index.
To stimulate ideas, she announced a design contest, "Build a Better Burb," that will offer prizes to professionals, the public and children. The grand prize will be $10,000. Details are to come in March.
Tahchieva said "retrofitting or repairing" suburban sprawl involved "enhancing and revitalizing downtowns." It means making areas that once catered to cars pedestrian friendly: adding sidewalks, landscaping and transforming dangerous intersections, for example, into a town square.
As for concerns about high-density housing, Tahchieva said, "So much depends on design. You can achieve very high densities with buildings that don't look scary."