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Opinion

EDITORIAL: The Long Island Index's scary movie

The clock is ticking on Long Island. That's the message of a 4 1/2-minute "scare reel" from the Long Island Index. One image after another drives home the idea that we're in steep decline. We must do something, right now.

Before we go on, check it out for yourself. Just enter "The Clock Is Ticking on Long Island" in the search box on YouTube. We'll wait.

OK. Now that you've seen it, we hope you share our concern about the Island's future trajectory. It's possible to argue with the level of attention the video placed on some elements of our dilemma, but we agree strongly with its overarching theme: We are losing.

 

So much bad news, so little time

In too many dimensions, the trends are ominous. What parts of the video made you feel the gloomiest? Erosion of salaries? Growth of foreclosures? Loss of high-paying jobs? Flight of our young people? Explosion of property taxes? The cumulative drumbeat of all of them? In any case, don't let concern lead to depression. There's some good news in all of this.

At the presentation of the seventh Index report Thursday at Adelphi University's new, green performing arts center, the Index offered hopeful signs along with the scare reel.

One was a keynote by Galina Tahchieva, a nationally known town planner with deep credentials in the movement to slow sprawl and retrofit suburbs. She showed how other suburbs and cities have reinvented themselves, creating vital, walkable places that provide jobs, affordable housing, and the downtown vitality that attracts and keeps young people.

The presentation also included a video showing progress here on the Island: in Wyandanch, Greenport, Patchogue and Great Neck Plaza. And the written report looks at the promising strides Mineola is taking.

The other sign of hope is a changed approach by the Index, created by the Garden City-based Rauch Foundation, a family philanthropy. Emulating a process in other regions, it has served us well with good data about our past and present, hoping the data would drive action to make our future better. So far, not much action.

 

Time for some attitude

Last year, Index founder Nancy Rauch Douzinas challenged people to adopt a let's-do-something-about-this attitude. But the attitude, like the action, hasn't materialized. So the Index is adopting an attitude of its own.

It still will present data neutrally, and it won't take sides, but it will be much more active in trying to make sure that its ideas and its sense of urgency don't end when the lights come on after the annual presentation.

Among other things, it will encourage others to spread the word, using the persuasive graphics on its Web site (longislandindex.org), like the ominous video and interactive maps showing population trends and downtown areas ripe for revitalization.

For example, the Index is planning to work with the Energeia Partnership at Molloy College, which has been developing leaders in all sectors of the Island to serve as future agents of change. If energetic Energeia folks carry the doom-and-gloom message of the Index, that would help keep alive our civic conversation about reversing the perilous trends that make our future look so unpromising.

Beyond that, the Index will be running a contest (top prize, $10,000) that invites anyone, from kids to architects, to design an exciting new look for an existing downtown.

That brings us to the core of this year's Index report, "Places to Grow." Two years ago, an Index survey showed that Long Islanders are receptive to downtown living, even if that means parking garages and somewhat taller buildings - two elements that politicians tend to resist, catering to the fears of some constituents.

This year's report takes the analysis a step further. Working with the Index, the Regional Plan Association tried to figure out which places are best suited for some kind of downtown revitalization. They focused on 156 locations, including 111 actual downtowns and 45 LIRR stations outside downtowns.

 

8,300 acres of potential

They found that 8,300 acres of unbuilt land - much of them now serving as parking lots - are suitable for development as places to live, shop, eat, work and find entertainment. Development of even half of the 8,300 could produce 90,000 units of town homes, garden apartments and apartments. That would provide affordable living places for our young and our old - instead of building single-family homes on virgin land that should be preserved.

This kind of increase in downtown development is nothing to be feared. What we really have to worry about is what happens if we keep developing the way we've been doing it. For us, the way of sprawl is the way of slow economic and cultural death, more traffic congestion, higher property taxes, fewer jobs.

The creators of the Index are correct to see our downtowns as our only realistic hope for the future. And they're wise to go beyond data alone to spreading the word. We should all join that conversation, spread that word, and adopt a we-can-do-it attitude. But we don't have a lot of time. The clock really is ticking. hN

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