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Build a Better Burb

Build a Better Burb

There has been a crisis of imagination, and your bold new ideas are urgently needed. There should be no preconceptions about what is or is not possible. What would you do on these acres of opportunity? Build a car-free community for thousands? Plant an oasis of urban agriculture? Produce renewable energy and provide well-paying green jobs? Use landscape systems to repair ruptures in regional ecologies?

Sound intriguing? The above is excerpted from a call for bold ideas on re-imagining the downtowns of some of the country’s first suburbs on Long Island, New York. Build a Better Burb is a competition challenging planners, architects and citizens to creatively redesign underutilized spaces as innovative new uses that build on the assets of the historic centers.

The competition draws on mapping technology developed by the Long Island Index, a project that gathers and publishes data on the Long Island region. The Long Island Index interactive maps display local land use patterns on a property-by-property basis, population and housing statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, educational data, transportation routes and satellite imagery. Additionally, as a companion to the Long Island Index 2010 report, Places to Grow: An Analysis of the Potential for Transit-Accessible Housing and Jobs in Long Island’s Downtown and Station Areas, a new layer focuses on the island’s downtowns, highlighting potential development opportunities. Analysts uncovered 8,300 “acres of opportunity,” primarily vacant parcels and parking lots in close proximity to transit stations.

Acres of Opportunity in Rockville Centre.  Map: Long Island Index.

Acres of Opportunity in Rockville Centre. Map: Long Island Index.

For instance, the above map shows the area within a half-mile radius of downtown Rockville Centre, adjacent to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR). The yellow areas are land with high development potential, including surface parking, vacant land and unprotected open space – 74 acres total. This potential is further elevated by Rockville Centre’s high LIRR ridership – an average of 5,761 riders per day. The map highlights the promise of these parcels, if developed thoughtfully and creatively, to stimulate the downtown economy, facilitate accessibility to the train station, reduce auto use, and increase vitality and livability in the community.

Build a Better Burb seeks to draw attention to the tremendous opportunity represented by these underutilized spaces. Compact, walkable and transit-friendly development on this land could help address the pressing challenges faced by suburbia. For example, Long Island is confronting severe shortages of affordable and rental housing, an exodus of young people and businesses, a lack of housing and office space near the LIRR, and segregation by race and ethnicity.

With smart and creative redevelopment, Long Island's historic downtowns, like this one in Southampton, can help confront the challenges faced by modern suburbia. Photo by dougtone.

With smart and creative redevelopment, Long Island's historic downtowns, like this one in Southampton, can help confront the challenges faced by modern suburbia. Photo by dougtone.

The contest organizers encourage project ideas ranging from the small, such as an energy-producing bus shelter, to the large-scale, like regional renewable energy infrastructure systems. Entrants are asked to submit site proposals in one of the 156 mapped downtown areas, though ideas can be applicable to many downtowns. If you’re interested in participating and are familiar with Long Island, delve into the Long Island Index’s Interactive Maps to locate the acres of opportunity in the downtowns of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. For those less knowledgeable about the area, a topic-based guide lists areas well-suited to transit oriented development, public space projects, and strip mall retrofits.

The submission deadline is June 21 and at least 20 finalists will be selected by a jury of academics and professionals in July. Finalists’ projects will be publicized over the summer to encourage online voting for a People’s Choice Award. The jury will award a first prize of $10,000 as well as $10,000 in additional prizes. $2,500 will also be awarded to the top project submitted by a student currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program.

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