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Saturday, October 25, 2014

What will keep our young people on Long Island? Cool downtowns.

I  love Long Island. I loved growing up here, and now I love raising a family here. Most of you love it, too. So why are so many people moving away? And why are so many young college graduates refusing to come home?

One big reason is that it’s too expensive. Property taxes, housing costs and utilities are unsustainable. (More about those in future columns.) But it’s not affordable in Brooklyn or Manhattan, either, and our young college graduates are flocking there in droves. We want them, and we need them, here! It’s going to be a fight, but we can do it.

A few weeks ago, my wife, Helene, and I took our 11-year-old son to an area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that used to be dominated by factories. In an old, giant industrial boiler called the Boiler Room, two performance artists had created a huge, 20-foot-high hamster wheel fitted with two beds, two desks and two pantries, and they were living on it 24 hours a day for 10 days. (I asked about where they went to the bathroom. It seems that was a common question. They’d set up a high-tech chemical latrine behind a curtain.) Our son has always been fascinated with the idea of a giant hamster wheel, so we thought we’d surprise him. (Our two other kids had no interest in going.) He got a real kick out of it.

Afterward we toured the neighborhood, and it was shocking to see such a mix of old and new, and so much activity. There were new restaurants, shops and apartment buildings next to old warehouses and brownstones, and there were people walking everywhere. Young people, 20-somethings and old fogies like me as well. (I’m 51.)

There are places like this all over the city. People from all over the world — including Long Island — are moving there and places like it. Why? Because it’s fun! They can rent an apartment and share it with some friends. They can go to work in the city and hang out at night with other young, creative, entrepreneurial people.

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