This originally appeared in The Point, the editorial board's newsletter for insiders. To subscribe, click here.
Little on Long Island fits so neatly into the mantra of what’s-old-is-what’s-new as the need for regional planning. Newsday’s editorial board has hammered away on that theme for decades, especially during the first week of June.
June 6, 1950: The Babylon Town Board approved a building ordinance that doubled the required ground-floor living space for houses. The new standard, 800 square feet, was condemned by Newsday’s editorial board as “arrogantly passed” in the face of “reasonable opposition,” because it “stymies low-cost housing in the Town and prevents moderate wage-earners from owning homes here.”
The context was the board’s belief that Long Island building codes should be revised to permit the kind of houses being built in Levittown. The board castigated Babylon, saying it “need not go in for Scarsdale’s type of snobbishness and force the price of Long Island houses upward.”
June 6, 1955: Comparing the region with other parts of the country, the board deplored what it called “The Blight” of Long Island, including a “rash of gimcrack business buildings,” “overdone neon signs” and “garishly painted signboards.” The board also decried sprawling business districts, inadequate parking, and the type of builder who “puts up 25 or 50 houses, and makes a fast exit,” leaving houses that “are jammed together, built in the same dreary pattern.”
The answer, the board said, was state legislation to get rid of “bits-and-pieces” local zoning and allow countywide or Islandwide zoning and planning.
June 6, 1960: The editorial board declared a “Planning Crisis.” Long Island’s population had more than doubled since 1950, which the board described as “growing like Topsy, almost totally without adequate planning.” The evidence: streets bare of trees, roads overwhelmed by traffic, and “gasoline alleys” along main arteries.
“By leaving zoning and most planning to the individual communities, we have paved the way for chaos,” the board wrote. One fascinating example was the Wantagh-Oyster Bay Expressway, just beginning construction and not yet known as the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway. It was originally planned to run from Freeport to Roslyn. But so many homes and developments were allowed into the project right of way that it had to be moved east.
The board’s prescription was familiar: countywide planning for both Nassau and Suffolk.
“If this is not done,” the board wrote, “Long Island will cease to be restful or beautiful; it will simply become another macadam desert.”