The Challenge for Long IslandJanuary 2018
Nancy Rauch Douzinas
In 2003 a regional index seemed like a good idea for Long Island. It would report on how the region is doing, compare it to other suburban areas, and measure progress. The resulting Long Island Index emerged because a representative group of Long Island business, political, and civic leaders endorsed the idea, and the Rauch Foundation was willing to take a chance on funding this high-risk project.
In the 15 years since then, the Index has done all of that and, in the process, played a vital role in setting Long Island on a course of thinking and acting regionally. It has provided a formula that we must continue to follow if we are to maximize Long Island’s extraordinary potential for economic growth and prosperity for all. That formula has four components: provide objective data that illuminates Long Island in a broader context; focus on regional assets and the potential for leveraging them; generate new models of working together; and realize progress through concerted advocacy and public engagement.
The data is the foundation. It shows us where we stand, how we compare to our competitors, and whether we are making headway or not. Interactive maps make the data readily available to the public for their own use. And public opinion surveys have added another layer of illumination, revealing most importantly that Long Islanders are more willing to embrace change than many political leaders would have once thought possible.
Our regional assets are what give us such enormous potential. They include world-class research institutions, a public transit system with over 100 rail stations, a renowned quality of life, and extraordinary natural beauty, among many other outstanding attributes.
Developing new ways of working together to leverage those assets is essential, because as the Index has long noted, Long Island has 665 government entities providing essential services. That fact is emphasized in several of the essays in this report, because it provides a major obstacle to our competitiveness. We compete economically as a region, yet the decisions that affect our ability to compete are made locally and spread across those hundreds of jurisdictions.
From the outset, the Index encouraged and stimulated Long Island leaders from different sectors to work together in new ways. The Index’s Advisory Committee has been a model of collaboration, increasing interaction among the region’s influencers and communities in both formal and informal ways.
That spirit of collaboration, combined with the data and assets available, has led to other prominent models of collaboration and partnership. The Energeia Partnership, created and managed by Molloy College, for instance, is dedicated to educating young Long Island leaders from all sectors, and the Index is used as the core of its curriculum. The Right Track for Long Island Coalition was created to champion the LIRR’s Third Track, based on the Index’s research on the importance of relieving the bottleneck on the 9.8-mile stretch of the Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville. The MTA’s recent approval of the Third Track, with the strong leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the relentless action of the Coalition, proved that even the seemingly impossible can be achieved when we work together in new and compelling ways.
The challenge now is to implement this proven approach more broadly: drawing on objective data and regional assets to find new ways to work together to realize great progress. In a blog post for the Long Island Index, the late acclaimed journalist John Kominicki wrote of Long Island, “That this mammoth collection of excellence has not coalesced into one of the greatest innovation economies of all time remains a mystery.” That’s the extraordinary potential that Long Island possesses, but to achieve it we must make progress on many issues.
We are still suffering a brain drain, for example, as a shocking number of young Long Islanders plan to leave the area due to a lack of affordable housing. Segregation in schools and housing must be eliminated. Economic opportunities in biotech and related fields must be enhanced. And we still have those 665 government entities.
Yet we now have both extraordinary potential and a proven formula. In the months ahead, the research role of the Long Island Index will be continued by Newsday and its new research arm. It will provide the objective data that is so essential to understanding where we stand as a region and where we need to go.
But the challenge of working together in new ways and realizing progress falls to all of us. That’s the greatest challenge facing the region, and we are all part of the solution.
We need to embrace new alliances, as we have with the Right Track for Long Island Coalition, recognizing that they may have even more potential than we imagine. We need to create new regional entities, as Newsday and the Rauch Foundation are doing. We need to explore innovative forms of regional leadership, as Bruce Stillman urges in his essay, and creative ways for municipalities to share services, as Dave Kapell urges in his. And we need to be bold, as we have been with the Third Track. These are exciting opportunities with great promise, and they are just a few examples, but that promise can only be realized if we are open to it, if we are willing to do things differently, if we are prepared to take some well-informed risks.
The Rauch Foundation will continue to support and advocate the formula proven by the Long Island Index. But it’s time to move to a new stage in Long Island’s advancement—one where Long Island consistently and innovatively thinks and acts like a region; one where we leverage our remarkable assets and engage in new forms of collaboration; one where we inspire the change that surveys show Long Islanders embrace. With that approach, we can maximize the region’s remarkable potential and turn it into a great innovation economy