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2020 Smart Growth Summit Review

Visionforarticles

We are still thinking about the 2020 Smart Growth Summit — The 3-Day Virtual Edition held by an organization that’ s more like family than a sponsor to us…

For years, the Smart Growth Summit has convened thousands of civic and chamber leaders, community-minded developers, environmentalists, design professionals, labor, academics, seniors, young people, minority owned businesses and others, along with a full range of elected officials from Long Island and the region. You can find videos on Vimeo here.  

While the event was very long, and dug into many deep challenges, it was an overwhelmingly hopeful affair, grounded in real people doing real things, so much so that folks kept watching long after 5pm on Friday! In summary:

Joye Brown of Newsday moderated her annual check-in with Town Supervisors, Village Mayors and other local officials. This year, with COVID-19, that conversation seemed even more immediately critical and long term valuable than the incredible Summit just after Sandy…if that’s possible!

Early on in the panels, Jeff Reynolds of the Family & Children’s Association and Michele Gervat of the American Heart Association discussed the ongoing and now critical need to strengthen our Health and Human Services infrastructure to address preexisting challenges, deal with current issues the virus presents, and to mitigate long term impacts on our people and their communities’ health and welfare. 

A related panel featured business leaders discussing the deep need to increase philanthropy that directly serves Long Island, while still another focused directly the massive food insecurity crisis that Vision and a key sponsor, Pink Tie (as well as countless others) have been working hard to help mitigate.

Of course, this crisis of economic insecurity is not just about the unemployed or the hardworking poor. Main Street business survival was a key summit topic, with some direct focus on deeply challenged bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

There was a fascinating conversation with diverse local Chambers of Commerce about serving their members in these strange times. This includes the challenge of understanding and disseminating the floods of information about safety and changing rules, as well as on lending and grant programs. Some have found that modern social media is actually helping them get back down to Earth, building deeper relationships with their members and customers of their own. Here’s an article about that panel in Newsday.

The Summit also touched base with diverse civic leaders on how they’re serving their communities. This included a valuable discussion on the impact of the Black Lives Matters movement and how diverse communities across Long Island are endeavoring to be welcoming to ALL of their residents. There was further discussion of the multi-generational impacts of the Coronavirus, the future of eventsarts, music, film & culture on Long Island, and what’s going on with beautification, parks, native plants and Main Street.

We are grateful to see how many folks, despite all the required distancing, are still endeavoring to foster a deeper more inclusive spirit of community, investing in our shared spaces, and bringing stewardship of our local ecology right into their own backyards!!!

We also learned about how Long Island colleges, universities and businesses — including the incredible Long Island Youth Summit which usually has a strong presence throughout the Summit– are adapting to train the next generation workforce.

Some of this connected to another panel, where we learned how PSEG and National Grid are endeavoring to transition our energy economy into something more sustainable, and about some incredible stuff being done by Empower Solar and Orsted Wind.

We also learned what essential workers have had to endure in order to safely keep the lights on. Check out this interview with National Grid’s Kathy Wisnewski – it’s been quite a commitment!

We spent time more generally considering jobs and economic development, which by their very interconnected nature got pretty deeply into trends highlighted at the residential forecast session going on at the same time. There was a panel on regional economic development projects, as well ones on transportation and transit-oriented development. There was further discussion of financing downtown development and better understanding the role of IDAs, as well as a panel focused directly on the incredibly important, fundamental issue of water and sewer infrastructure,

Another workshop discussed the ever increasing need for affordable housing, and the challenge of getting the public to understand why it’s so important for the entire region. We also looked at walking, biking and complete streets — there are some amazing plans, troubling statistics when it comes to US pedestrian safety, and even more really hopeful things going on.

The event finished with a series of discussions and presentations with local and regional officials about what to do about the NYS budget and other governmental issues….this is not an easy topic, as much because of the uncertainty coming out of Washington as the hard choices that 2020 will most certainly require!

Bottom line: None of these issues are new. Rather, their importance has been underlined in red. The virus has unmasked and exacerbated deep disparities, while showing how our economic, emotional and physical challenges, as well as the health and welfare of ALL of our communities, are interconnected.

Further, success is not just about identifying solutions. It’s about building trust and getting important messages down to the grass roots, building a foundation of support and public understanding.

Fortunately, Vision has taken a very down to Earth approach for two decades, fostering relationships and understanding across many diverse, interconnected interests to build a “coalition of the willing” to address LI’s complex, interconnected issues.

The effect has been profound. You can hear it in the conversations! We are so grateful for everyone who’s been in this for the long haul, and who has joined along the way. It’s made a tremendous difference and gives us great hope.

It was so good to see you. Thanks, guys…

FOR MORE: Follow the Vision Long Island Facebook Page and the Long Island Main Street Alliance for news and information, much of which is particularly aimed at helping Long Island’s small businesses, including some incredible interviews with diverse local leaders. They’ve also got great stuff on YouTube Check it out.