Lee Koppelman, former head of the Long Island Regional Planning...

Lee Koppelman, former head of the Long Island Regional Planning Board, now a professor of public policy and director of the center for Regional Policy Studies at Stony Brook University. (February 2010) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

We asked Lee Koppelman, Long Island's veteran master planner, what he thought of the "Build a Better Burb" contest, announced last week by the Long Island Index in an effort to come up with ideas from planners, architects and others for reimagining and reinvigorating Long Island's downtowns.

It doesn't look like Koppelman, director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies at Stony Brook University and former executive director of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, will be submitting any ideas.

"Rauch is playing the ego game," said the always blunt Koppelman, referring to the Rauch Foundation, publisher of the Long Island Index. "Some of these downtowns have been talking about redevelopment for 40 years" without much happening.

For one thing, Koppelman says, there is little government or private money to pay for such redevelopment. For another, he says, there isn't all that much space in the downtowns to redevelop. And, he noted, developers prefer to build on vacant land, not to remake what is already there. Koppelman, who has been on the planning scene on the Island for more than four decades, said many downtowns don't want to change all that much.

"Mostly what you see is what you've got," Koppelman said.

Ann Golob, the Index's director, begged to differ.

"This is a great time to open people's eyes to what the possibilities" for downtowns might be. "I understand what Lee says, but if we don't address these issues more creatively, we're never going to get where we need to be."

There's a $10,000 prize for the winning idea. The Long Island Index gathers experts' research and polling to produce an annual report about Long Island life.