Copyright 2007 Newsday, Inc.

Newsday (New York)


December 3, 2007 Monday  - NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION




750 words



The greening of the suburbs;
Making Long Island more eco-friendly will require visionary planning, but the effect could be worldwide


BY SCOTT CARLIN. Scott Carlin is an associate professor of geography at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University.


Last month, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi announced a plan to turn Levittown into America's first green suburb. Sounds like an oxymoron. After all, isn't consumerism our highest calling? This is still the land of home remodeling, tear-downs, McMansions and SUVs. Here in the land of plenty, green is just an accent color.

Beneath that surface glitz, however, our actions and aspirations are pulling us in opposite directions. In our hearts, we know that bigger is no longer better. We are long overdue for some big shifts in public policy.

The Levittown plan calls for various financial incentives to promote the use of attic insulation, energy-efficient windows and compact fluorescent light bulbs. It's an excellent first step. But is that what it means to be a green suburb? Is it just a few purchases at Home Depot?

Greening the suburbs is about recalibrating philosophy, technology and public policy so we champion interdependence rather than individualism. The suburbs were born out of an ideology of separation from the city, but the 21st century requires new regional and global partnerships.

Green suburbs will need a new generation of regional plans that are far more visionary than current offerings. The challenge is to reduce total energy consumption dramatically, yet create more enjoyable and healthier communities that reconnect us to nature. Green suburbs will be high-density, mixed use, walkable communities built close to public transportation. In a greener future, cars will be used sparingly - maybe even shared among neighbors instead of being privately owned. Food and energy will be produced locally. The green suburb won't be an assemblage of individual homesteaders; it will be a mixed-income, ecologically integrated community that promotes natural and cultural diversity.

One way to help get there is to embrace a "healthy bodies, healthy planet" philosophy. We can eat lower on the food chain. Walk more and drive less. We can curb pesticides and promote organic lawns and farms, leaving fewer toxins in the environment and our bodies. Mental health is also a planet saver: By lowering our stress and expanding our compassion, we grow more aware of environmental damage and become stronger proponents for treating life with love and respect.

Another challenge is to develop green fiscal policies. We need to increase the costs we pay for natural resources: Higher prices will lower consumption. Such usage fees - like higher taxes on gas, electricity, forest products and the like - could allow us to cut income taxes, since more revenue would be generated through the fees. But we should avoid cap-and-trade systems that offer windfall savings to big business. Let's finance greener products through low-interest loans or allow the public to buy expensive products like solar panels for minimal upfront costs. A useful next step for New York would be commercial net-metering, available in states like New Jersey, which allows businesses to sell solar power back to the grid.

We also need to create suburbs with smaller ecological footprints but greater social equity. Today's suburbs are large consumers of globally produced goods and services. The world's resources are disproportionately funneled into the metropolitan regions of industrialized nations. Green suburbs need to reverse this trend. Suburban affluence should be an obtainable lifestyle for Earth's 7 billion people. This requires shifting our attention from "me" to "we." As Gandhi put it, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed."

Finally, suburban communities should explore new partnerships with communities in developing nations, beginning with educational and cultural exchanges. Such relationships will help us to learn that the poorest need trivial sums of money to make dramatic improvements in their standard of living. Our suburbs can easily afford many of these investments. Further down the road, we can make larger changes, like working to rebuild rainforests to offset our own greenhouse gases.

Suozzi's Levittown plan to transform America's first suburb is an exciting initiative. All Long Islanders should hope this program succeeds, and also that low-interest loans to promote household conservation will become a reality across the region. But truly greening the suburbs will require a bigger shift in values and behaviors. A philosophy of interdependence can help us craft full and satisfying lives that promote human development and protect the Earth.


December 3, 2007