If a resident inhabiting central Long Island is asked to depict an image of their physical surroundings, composing a general aesthetic as to what their town appears to be, it may be a rare occasion to hear one describe forests, wetlands, and beaches. It may be a more common notion for one to envision chain stores, housing developments, and strikingly similar architectural arrangements; welcome to Long Island, the “strip mall capital” of America.
While this mentality has been embedded in the minds of many Long Island residents, who is really at fault? Those born into this suburban sprawl are environmentally determined to conform to this way of life.
“Many, but not all young people are swallowed by suburban sprawl,” commented Richard Amper, Executive Director of the Pine Barrens Society. He added “Most Long Islanders are surviving and not thriving”, while explaining the positive effects that acknowledging and appreciating Long Island’s physical environment will have on the lives of its residents.
“People are lazy and just don’t care. I do, but I’m only one person,” commented Kara Tobin, a criminal justice major on the Ammerman Campus. “Some people don’t even leave their home town unless they’re brought outside of it,” she later added after being questioned about those who are “swallowed by suburban sprawl”.
The Pine Barrens Society has focused on the preservation of water along with protecting open spaces on Long Island, and like many environmentalists, Amper’s critique on suburban sprawl is not an attack on corporate America or politicians; it is a concern for the fixation many corporations have with placing a monetary value on what is not meant to be a commodity. “There is nothing the matter with capitalism. The problem is greed,” commented Amper when asked about the effects capitalism has on the environment. “They are money grubbing hustlers using an economic theory to the detriment of everyone else,” explained Amper while commenting on the politicians backing housing developers and franchise owners who promote this mediocrity. Residents of Long Island, and owners of successful chains of business are an easy scapegoat.
Another factor in this battle with suburban sprawl is its political support. In 2009 civic leaders had filed suit in the New York State Supreme Court to challenge the approval of housing projects in Middle Island’s section of the Pine Barrens. An article released in May 2009 by pinebarrens.org, explained that it was a “give away to developers”, emphasizing the disregard for environmental laws. This permit (given by local officials), for the construction of 135 housing units violates state and local laws which stated the developers were only allowed 34 residences. The area in which these housing units were to be built is known as “Sandy Hill,” a designated area for groundwater protection.
An article later published by pinebarrens.org pertaining to this issue in June 2009 states that “the recession is likely to give the government a second chance to meet the 35,000 acre goal by providing more time before the Island is built out,” explaining the collapse in the real estate market, and how it has allowed the government to reduce the speed of their preservation of land. Because of the decrease in land purchases by housing planners and developers, environmentalists agree “there is still hope” in preserving land on Long Island.
Along with environmentalists, young residents of Long Island who are beginning their journey into the corporate world, have noticed the effects of industrialization on the perception of Long Island by its residents.
“Before suburbs were developed, people had to go out of their way, but once strip malls were developed younger generations were born into this convenience,” commented Lauren Sebestyen, a young professional who manages the piercing department of Cliff’s Tattoo in Centereach, NY. “It’s ridiculous to drive down the street and see an intersection with a gas station at all four corners,” Sebestyen added when questioned about chain stores and housing developers disguising rapid industrialization as a concern for consumers’ convenience. The appeal of comfort and simplicity has evidently been instilled in the minds of Long Island residents leaving no room for environmental concerns. “People don’t want to leave their comfort zone,” Sebestyen said.
In reference to the idea of government backing housing development over environmental issues Amper stated that “When government protects air, water, and land everyone benefits” then continued to say “That’s not socialism, its social responsibility.” This “social responsibly” may seem impractical considering a majority of Long Island is made up of franchises and neighborhoods where woodlands once existed.
Although it may be a struggle, it is up to the young men and women who aren’t “swallowed by suburban sprawl” to stay in touch with our environment. Involving themselves in community issues, and exercising their constitutional rights pertaining to matters of local politics may be a stepping stone in saving Long Island from losing its natural beauty entirely.