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72° Good Afternoon
OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Amid pessimism, there's also belief in Long Island

U.S. home prices rose in October 2014 at

U.S. home prices rose in October 2014 at a slightly slower pace, as real estate sales have fallen and affordability has increasingly become a challenge for potential buyers, a report on a real estate index says. Credit: AP

I'm not sure what I think about you.

And by you, I mean my fellow Long Islanders. You just finished taking the latest Long Island Index survey, and now I'm trying to figure out what you really think.

The headline was that a record number of Long Islanders -- 56 percent -- say they are very or somewhat likely to leave Long Island in the next five years. Now, common sense, as well as a comparison of moving data with previous surveys, indicates nowhere near as many people actually leave as say they will. But it clearly tips to a pessimism about our future.

That dark outlook is most prevalent in two age brackets -- 18- to 34-year-olds, who are just starting out, and baby boomers aged 50 to 64, who see retirement looming.

So, gloom triumphs?

Well . . .

Reconcile that with the fact that for the first time since the recession started in 2008, more of us think Long Island is heading in the right direction than in the wrong direction. The margin wasn't overwhelming -- 46 percent see sunnier days ahead, 40 percent don't -- but it's there, and it hasn't been. And the most optimistic group was the young. Bless them.

We can begin to make sense of this apparent dichotomy by digging into the questions a little more. Take the one about leaving Long Island. The Rauch Foundation, which has been doing these surveys since 2002, asked, "How likely is it that you will move out of Long Island to an area with lower housing costs and property taxes in the next 5 years?"

For many, that's red meat. High taxes and the cost of housing are among our favorite complaints. We all wish they were lower.

But what if the survey had asked whether you were willing to move off Long Island and leave behind the schools, the beaches, the parks, the water, the Hamptons, the vineyards . . . and your families. The numbers would look quite different.

Clearly, some plans to flee are short-circuited by things such as an inability to sell one's house. But the things we all recognize -- quietly, perhaps -- as good about Long Island have something to do with the fact that the number of people who gleefully announce they're outta here as soon as they [fill in the blank] is much larger than those who actually do leave.

There's something profound at work here. Call it a deep-seated belief in Long Island itself, something stronger than yearning but weaker than certainty. A desire that our collective ship gets righted, and a bet that it will. What we're saying is that we can do better. And we are.

You can see that in some of the survey's other questions, where Long Islanders increasingly accept the idea that we need to offer ourselves different places and ways to live. Whether that's driving the remaking of our downtowns, or people are liking what they see taking place, hardly matters.

What's important is that a majority of us can now imagine ourselves or a family member living in a downtown apartment or condo. A record percentage favor increasing height limits for buildings in those downtowns so apartments can be built above stores. And more than half of us say we want to live within walking distance of shops and entertainment.

Those are voices begging for change, and we'd be wise to heed them. Just as we'd be wise to heed the majority of us who say the quality of jobs on Long Island has decreased.

Fix that and we'll really have a Long Island to believe in.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.