Smart growth awards honor projects helping strengthen Long Island's downtowns

Downtown Huntington, Long Island. Photo by Smart Growth America.

This past Friday, several hundred people – including elected officials, developers, bankers, preachers, business executives – gathered in Melville, NY for Vision Long Island‘s annual smart growth awards luncheon. Vision Long Island, an ally of Smart Growth America, confers the awards to plans and projects using smart growth strategies to strengthen Long Island’s unique collection of downtowns.

Although Long Island grew quickly after World War II as an archetypal auto-oriented suburb, it still has dozens of small downtowns from the prewar era, each with a commuter rail station nearby. And while plenty areas on Long Island have prospered, many have struggled. For every Brooklyn neighborhood that has seen a spectacular revival, there’s a village in Nassau County that is struggling with population loss and a faltering downtown.

The smart growth projects honored Friday are bringing those downtowns back. GRB Development was honored for The Riverwalk project, a townhome project on the site of a former beer distributor which is adjacent to downtown Patchogue, NY, and just a stone’s throw from a Long Island Rail Road station. Bartone Properties received an award for a high-amenity apartment complex next to the Farmingdale Long Island Rail Road station, with a boutique hotel planned for the second phase. In both cases, local families played an important role – the Roses, who owned the beer distributorship in Patchogue, and the Bartones, who have lived in Farmingdale for three generations.

Of course, much of Long Island is still very suburban, dominated not only by single-family homes and cul-de-sacs, but also wide arterial streets – arterials that are often unsafe for pedestrians. Tragically, over the years these wide suburban arterials have taken the lives of many Long Islanders, including children.

That’s why it was such a profound moment when Vision Long Island presented an award to Sandi Vega, who responded to the tragic traffic death of her daughter by advocating for New York State’s first “complete streets” law. In 2010, Vega’s 14-year-old daughter was killed while crossing an arterial street in the Nassau County community of Wantagh. In an emotional speech, Vega thanked both Vision Long Island and State Senator Charles Fuschillo for their help in passing the complete streets law, which will help redesign streets to prevent such fatalities in the future.

The Vision Long Island awards luncheon showed that smart growth is not only important to the economic vitality of Long Island but also to public health and safety.

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