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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Teens offer solutions to LI's big problems

Teens give their solutions to Long Island's problems,

Teens give their solutions to Long Island's problems, Friday, at Dowling College in Oakdale. (March 5, 2010) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Some of Long Island's best and brightest went to work attacking the region's problems with vigor.

They went so far as to offer solutions - real, workable solutions - for issues that have been vexing Nassau and Suffolk for generations.

For them, however, it was as easy as child's play.

Problem: Too many expensive, racially segregated school districts?

Solution: Consolidate them.

Problem: Too many cars.

Solution: Build a regional public transportation system.

Problem: Overly expensive housing.

Solution: Rental apartments and condos.

The problems are not new. And the solutions have been known for decades.

But adults on Long Island haven't had the will, or the stomach, to put enough of them into place.

But during the first-ever Youth Summit at Dowling College in Oakdale Friday, the region's children fashioned a clear message to their elders:

If you won't fix this, we will - if we can find enough good jobs, affordable housing and youth-friendly neighborhoods to make us stick around.

SEND US YOUR IDEAS: See our series, "Crossroads: The future of Long Island" and then tell us what you think LI needs to do

Ah, youth.

It's a time when things are up or down, in or out, right or wrong. Ambiguity doesn't come until later. And neither does fear, inertia and a stubborn resistance to change.

But Long Island needs to accept - and take charge of - needed change, or risk letting one of the most livable places in the nation wither up and die.

There is an urgency here. And that was clear to the more than 100 students from 10 local high schools who spent a day with 22 local experts dissecting issues from governance, civic activism, economic growth and employment to energy, transportation, race, class, education and housing.

They were the crème de la crème, selected from hundreds of students who had spent weeks researching, writing, or producing photographs or videos on the issues.

"I am staying," declared Michelle Moccia, 17, of Sachem North High School, who said she was surprised to learn during the summit how fragile the region's economy has become.

"The idea of jobs not being available, that's scary," she said. "But that isn't going to stop me because I am going to stay."

Jillian Schook, also 17 and from Sachem North, said she wants to stay but is not so sure that she'll be able to.

"I knew that young people were leaving Long Island, but I did not know that so many are leaving," she said.

But she understands the exodus, she said, because, "I can see how hard it is" for adults to make ends meet in Nassau and Suffolk.

Amy Powers, a Long Beach high school guidance counselor who accompanied a student, Benjamin Weiss, to the summit, was impressed by the youth's seriousness.

"It is incredible to see the passion and the intelligence level of these kids," she said.

In one room, a small group of students tackled the thorny issues of race and class with Nathalia Rogers, head of Dowling's sociology department; Louis Medina, of Suffolk County's youth board; and Diana Coleman, a community activist from Roosevelt.

When asked if there was racism on Long Island, hands shot up from every teen in the room.

The group hashed out a series of recommendations to address the issue. Among them: That racism and classism be dealt with openly and honestly, rather than in whispers.

Later, each issue group took a turn at the front of a roomful of students, experts and teachers, elaborating on the region's problems and offering up their solutions.

And then it was off to the buses, which would return them to schools in Nassau and Suffolk. What they missed, however, was the shocked group of adult experts they left behind.

"These kids are in high school and they get it, " said Eric Alexander, of Vision Long Island, one of the experts on economic growth and employment. "They don't have the technical language, but they get it," he said.

So, what's wrong with the rest of us?
 

And the children shall lead us

Here are some recommendations from high school students at Long Island's first-ever Youth Summit.

On transportation:

More bus stops. Create a series of bus-only roadways - one student dubbed it "a railroad for buses" - embedded with sensors so customers would know when the next bus was coming. More bicycle paths. Invest in Rapid Commuter Vehicles, which can carry 20 to 40 people to train stations. Better and more frequent rail service down the spine of Long Island. Expand railroad service all the way to the tip of the Island. Safer pedestrian walkways.

On governance and civic activism:

Reorganize and simplify governing bodies on Long Island to save money and, as one student said, "make it easier to understanding how government here works." Follow Nassau County's lead by adding a local student to the Suffolk County Youth Board. Seed more civic activism among youth through education programs.

On the local growth and employment:

Offer incentives to have big companies open their headquarters on Long Island because, as one student said, referring to the halcyon days when the defense industry fueled local prosperity, "Property taxes used to be lower when we had some industry." Attract more small business too, because they are more likely to hire young people. More jobs to help grow the local economy.

On open space and water:

Build more sewers because they protect water quality. Raise more money in bonds to buy more open space.

On housing:

More condos, apartments and other rental housing. More housing concentrated in downtown areas. More housing near bus stops and train stations. High quality alternative housing.

On race, class and education:

Consolidate school districts to save money and to ensure that students in every school district have access to the same, first-rate education. Create magnet schools to draw students from the region's segregated districts together so, as one student said, "they can share a passion" for science, the arts or other areas.

Cost:

Students acknowledged that it will take money to implement real solutions. But, as one young man said, to appreciative laughs and applause from his peers, "You got to risk it to get the biscuit."

SEND US YOUR IDEAS: See our series, "Crossroads: The future of Long Island" and then tell us what you think LI needs to do

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