Today the Long Island Index released its last report under the leadership of the Rauch Foundation. Written by Regional Plan Association, the report shows how far Long Island has come since Nancy Douzinas, President of the Rauch Foundation, convened some of the best minds on Long Island in 2002 and challenged them with a straightforward but difficult question: How can we get the leaders and residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties to think and act like a region? It was far from the first time this question was asked, and there was more than a little skepticism that the outcome would be any different this time. But with America’s first postwar suburb running out of the steam that had fueled its growth and way of life for over half a century, a new model for suburban prosperity was clearly needed.
The foundation and its leadership group looked beyond the Island’s shores at places that had demonstrated success in overcoming parochialism to develop solutions for their economies, communities and environment—Silicon Valley, Utah, even New York City! Their deliberations led to the conclusion that Long Island lacked a basic foundation for collaborative action—a common understanding of the facts. Guided by the principal that “Good information presented in a neutral manner can move policy,” the Long Island Index was born.
For the last fifteen years, most of them under the superb leadership of Ann Golob, the Long Island Index succeeded where previous attempts fell short. It created a common vocabulary and compelling data, interactive maps and infographics to focus attention on problems ranging from the decline of Long Island’s young population to the segregation in its schools and neighborhoods. Its public opinion surveys illuminated what Long Islanders thought about where they lived, often exploding myths such as the belief that few Long Islanders would leave their single-family home to live in a downtown townhouse. And it showed the potential for change, from the capacity for new homes in village and town centers to the ways that investments in the Long Island Rail Road could boost Long Island’s economy.
And true to its promise that good information can result in positive change, there is little doubt that the Index played a role in the Island’s recent progress in becoming a modern, transit-oriented suburb. The approval of a third track on LIRR’s mainline would not have happened without the case made by the Index and the subsequent work by the Right Track for Long Island coalition. The modest resurgence of multi-family housing coincided with a consistent flow of analysis from the Index that changed the conversation about what was needed and possible.
RPA is proud to have been a partner with the Rauch Foundation from the inception of the Index, contributing to every annual set of indicators and researching and writing several of its key reports, such as Places to Grow that identified 8,300 acres of where 90,000 new homes could be built near transit, Getting It Done that highlighted how approval processes needed to change, and How the Long Island Rail Road Could Shape the Next Economy that launched a new conversation about the third track and other investments.
I am personally honored to have worked with Nancy, Ann, Dave Kapell and the rest of the incredible staff, advisory board and partners of the Rauch Foundation throughout this amazing run. And I am excited to see Newsday continue this history with fresh eyes and new ideas.