Mapping an Illogical SystemJuly 2012
Imagine we could start over and recreate Long Island, rebuilding our communities from the ground up.
When it comes to providing basic services like who hauls away our garbage, provides our water or patrols our streets, how would you design it?
Would you create 124 different school districts? 41 police departments? How about 73 garbage disposal agencies, 227 fire and ambulance departments, 54 water agencies, 110 library groups or 26 sewer agencies?
Would you create 655 government branches to provide these seven basic services?
If we were starting anew, I doubt we would create anything this complex yet that is exactly what exists on Long Island today.
How on earth did we get here?
In the early 1900s, people began to move out of the city and into the rural, unincorporated areas on Long Island. As new communities sprung up, so did the need to provide services to those communities. As Levittown was formed, for example, so was the Levittown school district, fire district and garbage district.
The same story continued to play out for nearly every new community on the Island.
There are many examples of how the complexity of our district lines makes governance less efficient, more expensive, slower to react to a crisis and harder to organize pro-active planning to create a more sustainable future. Yet so few Long Islanders understand how we are structured in terms of these services. And from the water example, it’s clear, it matters.
Ask yourself, do you know who provides your services? Do you know when elections are held? The Long Island Index launched a new series of maps to help explain it. Take a look. Go to www.longislandindexmaps.org; select the tab “Service Providers;” enter your address in the search box and voila, check out all of your providers and look at how many providers there are for each service across the county.
As you look at the map and understand how we got here, ask yourself, “Should we let our past dictate our future or is it time for some new thinking?”