What follows is the Town of Brookhaven’s Planning Commissioner, Tullio Bertoli’s contribution to #ThinkRegionally, the Foggiest Idea’s effort to spread awareness of #SoundPlanning and discuss Long Island’s planning and development issues on a regional level. 

The views expressed are strictly of the author, and do not represent any organization or municipality.

I have a confession to make and perhaps a penance to pay for it as well. As long as I can recollect, I have wanted to create objects which have intellectual, pragmatic and visual components to them. To this day, I vividly remember driving up into the Vermont countryside in my early 20’s, while still a student at Yale Architecture, to see the final construction of the first home that I ever designed. I labored intensely over that design to assure that both the architectural post-modernist theory and the practical elements were adequately addressed to my client’s and my own approval. The jubilation of first viewing that home perched precariously on a rocky knoll, warmed by the afternoon sun and back dropped by colored fall foliage has been seared in my memory bank. I freely admit that I have sought to replicate that rewarding experience in every project that I have been involved with professionally. Architecture and Planning are part of what defines me as an person which is why, in this confessional manner, I have been disturbed lately to see that our profession has become so trivialized.

More than ever, we seem to talk around and about planning a great deal through forums, summits or conferences but surprisingly little action results from these events. We plan to plan to talk about planning (i.e.thrice removed from the actual event) but are content to leave the heavier burden of implementing ideas through built projects to the more adventurous souls of us. As such, planners seem to have lost their lofty place in the public conversation surrounding the planning concerns that Long Islanders face. Witness recently that many committees set up to determine how to deal with individual planning issues or public projects (i.e. Nassau Coliseum) have surprisingly few planners on them. To be sure, the usual suspects of community leaders, public officials and single cause activists are rounded up but planners always appear to be an afterthought or an oversight. We have become relegated to the role of stenographers taking public testimony in the court of public planning discourse. We have become mere observers or recorders of events but not active participants. My dear friend Lee Koppelman says it was never always this way. During his tenure as Suffolk County Planning Director, I am told that he controlled the direction of planning debate through his extensive knowledge, his sheer force of will and of course judicious applied political support. But by his own acknowledgement that was a different time and he now perhaps represents the last of his breed. 

 We need to take back the control reins of our profession by actions rather than words so that we are no longer marginalized or dismissed as incidental to the process. In Brookhaven, I have been implementing Supervisor Mark Lesko’s unique planning vision. With his support, I have actively redesigned and reshaped many of the development projects that have come through my office so that they respond to not only good design principals but sound planning theory as well. For example, a project such as the Ronkonkoma HUB transit-oriented development addresses a new model for suburban growth based upon alternative inter-modal forms of transportation. The Carmans River Plan seeks to preserve a 9,000 acre watershed by transferring development out of a sensitive area to our downtowns and commercial strip corridors by the TDR vehicle. This balancing of preservation and development can also been seen in our Colony Preserve project or our Planned Conservation District where 70% of a parcel of land is set aside for the public trust and compact development is clustered on the balance of the property. Our Blight to Light Code seeks to restore a community by surgically removing properties that have a deleterious effect upon it. Equally, the Meadows TND establishes a symbiotic relationship for economic development and job creation with Brookhaven National Labs. All of these efforts and others like them attempt to reverse the present failed course, reset the compass point and set our main sail in a new direction for planning in this post suburban era.  

As a profession, we must collectively restore our creditability and importance once again to the process of shaping the future of Long Island. For too long now, our voices have been muted and silenced by a society who perhaps blames us for the failure of the suburban auto-centric planning model of the last 50 years. In this regard, there is enough blame to go around for every profession. What is more critical is that we provide alternatives that move us forward in a constructive manner to the betterment of our lives. In this way, we will be restoring our relevance once again both as a profession and as individuals. Let our actions and not mere empty words speak for ourselves.

Tullio Bertoli, Planning Commissioner, Town of Brookhaven
Commissioner Bertoli is a graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, Fulbright Scholar in Planning as well as APA, AICP, LEED AP and CNU certified. As Brookhaven Planning Commissioner, Mr. Bertoli oversees a staff of 100 persons in five divisions. Mr. Bertoli has introduced multiple code revisions that focus on Growth Management Principles, Form Based Zoning, New Urbanism, Tradition Neighborhood Development and LEED Green Building philosophies.