Recently, the Foggiest Idea launched an all-new feature called The Foggiest Five, which asks influential Long Islanders five questions regarding the future of the region. The feedback to the feature has been positive, with the first round of answers by Suffolk County’s Chief Planner Andrew Freleng generating much discussion on the Nassau and Suffolk’s future. Freleng’s segment can be read here.
What I found most compelling about Freleng’s answers was that he touched upon many aspects of regional development that participants in today’s discussion often ignore. Those engaged with the issues forget that development issues are complex, and cannot solely be captured by buzzwords or agendas.
Overall, Freleng’s responses capture two distinct needs that get lost in the zeal to build “smart growth mixed-use walkable communities” to “plug the brain drain” – Further utilization of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in conjunction with increased efforts to preserve open space. These important land use tools, paired with the proper use of Home-Rule authority that maintains the distinct “sense of place” that Freleng mentions in his favorite part of living on the Island, can help Long Island not only be fiscally and environmentally sustainable, but help the region grow in future decades.
As Chief Planner for the County, Freleng has worked on a multitude of projects both large and small, allowing him a unique perspective to the issues that many don’t share. When asked what Long Island’s greatest regional challenge is, Andy succinctly responded:
“…to recognize that there is a carrying capacity/saturation population to our island. In that respect, finding a model for sustained economic growth is a huge challenge.”
It’s very telling for a planner to state that the greatest challenge we face as a region is admitting that we have limits. He did not say that we need more development, nor did he claim that more growth is needed to capture millennials, as countless others have said when asked the same question. Those answers would serve as the easy way out- and unfortunately, many opt for that path. Development and growth is needed, but in the right places, and offset by equal (if not more) preservation.
Freleng chose to point out the fact that despite what stakeholders and others claim, our land use decisions are to be determined by environmental factors first, and economic interests second. For Long Island to remain competitive in the coming decades, we must start planning for the needs of our environment, not doing so as an afterthought. To be blunt, we as an Island cannot build our way to a solution to many of our regional challenges.
Often, I write that the key to planning is maintaining the balance between Long Island’s environment, economy and social equity. In recent years, the tone and pace of the conversation regarding our approach to critical regional issues has been determined by involved stakeholders (housing groups, environmentalists and builders), and invested policymakers who are more concerned about the election cycle and maintaining their fiefdoms.
Despite the stacked odds, Long Island must always have prevailing sense of optimism. Freleng’s final response noted that the Long Island of the future will have room for all generations, which is an encouraging sign we may finally be able to diversify our housing stock. Suffolk County Government seems to be optimistic that the Island’s carrying capacity can be increased thanks to advanced wastewater treatment techniques and traffic congestion management, two key factors that limit the Island’s growth. Advances in both would help ease the burdens of growth, but sound planning now is necessary for both to be successful.
Now, more than ever, we must properly lay the foundation for a stronger, sustainable Long Island. If we just throw density at the issue, we’ll have a whole host of other problems that are far more extensive and expensive to deal with.