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Long Island’s civic spirit is alive and well

The creation of the first Garden City library,

The creation of the first Garden City library, a repurposed railroad foreman's house, was vigorously debated before private fundraisers were able to open it in 1952. Credit: Garden City Historian

Friday, May 4, marks the 66th anniversary of the opening of a library in Garden City. It’s hard to believe now, but Garden City was the last incorporated village of its size in the state to get itself a library, and it came after years of community opposition filled with ugly claims — for instance, how a “better element” would buy its own books.

Decades later, life without a public library is unthinkable to many. These institutions are centers of local life, offering art exhibits, literary discussions, musical events, workshops of all kinds, free internet access and, of course, plenty of books.

The Garden City library story is the story of change on Long Island. When something new is proposed, it’s discussed, debated, even fought over — often for years. Critics and supporters weigh in, planners plan and elected officials try to reach the right decision. Some projects move forward, eventually flourishing. Others wait as land lies barren. Still others morph into something completely different.

The last two weeks have been particularly spirited for ongoing development efforts across Long Island. At last week’s meeting in Bayville, hundreds opposed a Long Island Sound tunnel. This week, hundreds more turned out for a six-hour hearing on Syosset Park, a mixed-use plan to build hotels, town houses, condominiums, retail space and restaurants on the former Cerro Wire site. And the Nassau County Legislature held a hearing Wednesday to discuss the future of the Nassau Hub, perhaps the Island’s most significant symbol of unfulfilled promise.

Perhaps the most definitive move of the week came in Lindenhurst, where the board of trustees approved the village’s largest apartment complex as part of a newly zoned downtown redevelopment district across from the village’s Long Island Rail Road stop. Board members voted unanimously to approve the 260-unit project, despite resident concerns that it’ll be too big or too dense.

The meetings, the hearings and the votes are all part of the process, part of the ebb and flow of trying to do anything new on the Island. When that process works, it’s thanks to strong leadership, significant community engagement, and a willingness to work together and recognize what the neighborhood and the region need now and into the future. When it works, change comes.

And eventually, that change becomes part of the fabric of who we are. Many will forget what the Island looked like before there were apartments in Lindenhurst, townhomes in Syosset Park, or just maybe, an innovation district or entertainment destination at the Nassau Hub.

The Garden City Public Library just turned 66. Imagine what Long Islanders will think of the conversations we’re having today when they look back 66 years from now.