RCBJ-Audible (Listen For Free)
City Dwellers Are Making A Beeline For The Burbs; That’s Why Rockland Needs To Put Out The Welcome Mat
By Tina Traster
Everyone remembers the cornflower blue sky on that Tuesday morning. I also remember the night before. I was living in New York City, on the Upper West Side, with my husband. It was a beautiful late summer night. We’d had dinner with a friend from New Jersey and we strolled home along Broadway, talking philosophically about letting go of another summer, preparing for a change of season.
The next day, which felt like the end of times for New Yorkers, and others impacted by the Sept. 11 attacks, set my life in directions I could never have anticipated. The shock, trauma, lingering pain, and discomfort with tall buildings and closed-in spaces led us to Rockland County. My lifelong love affair with New York City was irreversibly undermined and we landed in a place that was unknown to us but cradled the possibility of building a new life in a community that felt less daunting than my beloved city.
Twenty years from that fateful event, there is a bookend to the migration of city folks like me who are seeking a safer haven – this time from a deadly and stubborn virus that is still challenging our ability to return to a true pre-pandemic normal. Real estate agents have been deluged with house buyers who’ve been pushed to the edge. There’s robust interest in co-working spaces, as New York City offices remain ghostly. Many who’ve been displaced professionally are turning to entrepreneurial pursuits and will need a vibrant business community to connect to and operate in.
When the human race pulls itself from the wreckage of disaster, it often does so with renewed and vibrant energy. Disasters like 9/11 and COVID-19 force many to reevaluate their lives: what’s working, what isn’t, what are the possibilities?
Leaders of Rockland County should plug into this unique juncture of time and win new residents, fresh talent, business opportunities. Public officials and planners should diligently work to make Rockland a desirable realm for affordable housing for millennials and young families who are seeking a place to invest their talent and energy. Likewise, housing stock and walkable downtowns are the kind of lure seniors from the city may also be seeking.
Business districts thrive when streets are lined with hip concepts like artisanal foods or brew pubs or mountaineering stores. Downtowns need new generations to till the soil and plant new seeds of inspiration along the streets. This is a very different engine than more big box stores.
COVID has brought us outdoors. We have sampled what it’s like to eat, dine and spend more time together outside: this new paradigm, which for a long time has been common in Europe, creates common spaces. It stimulates business. It’s what folks from the city want. We should keep doing that here.
Public officials should be focused on protecting green spaces and waterways because these are priorities for younger blood. Again, these resources and assets are opportunities for transplanted folks who want access to the Hudson River and to the county’s hills and forests and trails. At the same time, the county and towns should focus on protecting water quality and doing whatever is possible to mitigate the impact of building – whether it’s for a single-family house or a major development.
Ideally, county and state officials will one day figure out a one-seat fare to the city by train.
Manhattan urbanites, like I once was, hanker to live “upstate” when living under the shadow of disaster. For many city dwellers, the notion of upstate may begin with visions of the Catskills or points north. But as we know, Rockland has just enough upstate charm, assets, and proximity to everywhere to be the exit where Manhattanites get off and plant their roots. I’m calling on Rockland leaders, decision makers, and residents to put out the welcome mat and invite a new generation to add to our cornucopia.