Saturday, August 14, 2010

Preserving Open Space on Long Island: A matter of survival

Sands Point Light House, c. 1890
“Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes-a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1926

The Long Island of my childhood has changed. Growing up in Sands Point, where there were no manicured curbs, the lawns ran down to the edge of the beach road that led to our house. The remains of sea walls still protected the beach where the Hearst Castle once stood. The house Fitzgerald based Gatsby’s house on. Only the gatehouse, clock tower and walled garden stands today. On the other end of the beach stood the house he based Daisy’s on. A Stanford White, gleaming white mansion that is now about to be torn down and its rolling lawns turned into a subdivision.

My first school was Buckley Country Day and it was at the end of a long driveway off Shelter Rock Road.  Our school bus passed ponds and deep woods and then  opened to the clearing where the estate house that had become our school stood. Now, the children who travel to Buckley pass a condominium complex,  the woods are gone and only one pond is left, reflecting the manor house on its surface.

My high school was in Locust Valley. The Friend’s Meeting House still stands on its hill, where the daffodils fulfill Wordworth’s poem every spring. It is a new Meeting House, but it was rebuilt after a tragic fire with sensitivity to what was. Salvaged nails and window panes were reused wherever possible.

In our senior year, we used to leave campus and have lunch in the abandoned playhouses of the closed estates which silently awaited their fates of the crashing of wrecking balls and earth movers. Sold for taxes, subdivided for plastic, miniature facsimiles of what they once were, creating a new world of McMansions.

Some estates were saved and converted to golf courses or art museums. There, the land is open, and one can still breathe. There were many farms when we were growing up. Saturday mornings would not have been complete without a trip to Youngs Farm or Filaski Farm stand. Filaski is gone now. And we almost lost Youngs Farm this winter. But thanks to the work of the North Shore Land Alliance, it was saved. Sitting in the courthouse waiting to hear the verdict was an anxious moment. Driving home past the fields, knowing it had been spared, you could almost feel the farm let out a collective sigh of relief.

It is not just the aesthetic that is being protected. The beauty speaks for itself and the legacy for our children, not withstanding, we need our open spaces for our very lives.

Long Island’s water comes from a deep aquifer. Massive development since the post war years, has affected this water supply. Whether the scientists will officially admit it or not, there is a direct link to our drinking water and our health. The breast cancer rate on Long Island is out of proportion with the rest of the country. What do we all have in common? What one factor do we all share? We all grew up drinking the same water. The more land we “develop” and the more open spaces we destroy, the aquifer will be tainted. What will the future of the children’s health hold for them if we let this happen?

Currently, there is a golf course that stands on a large area directly over the aquifer, that could not be saved. Plastic imitations of classic homes will carve up the land and the waste from each will seep deep into the earth.  We will be drinking that water. So will our children.

If trying to keep the North Shore open and beautiful and saving what precious little is left of its original natural wonder is not enough to get you involved, then think of the health effects of congested, over-development.

I have had breast cancer twice. I lost two childhood friends to cancer. My sister has had cancer. Three people on the street where I grew up had cancer. As the founder of the No Surrender Breast Cancer Foundation, I see the numbers growing, not decreasing. Is it just a mere coincidence that the rates of cancer have risen along with the development of our Island?

To help save the open spaces of the North Shore of Long Island visit the and if you would like to help us in our fight against breast cancer please go to our site, To take a glimpse back in time, visit

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mill Neck, February 15, 2010

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