The suburban experience is not what one would expect in a story about a visit to New York City. Let alone pristine beaches. There’s no ‘sub’ in New York, unless you mean the subway.
But Gordon Price has that knack for uncovering urban connections in the unlikeliest of places or, in this case, visiting a place we’ve heard about, think we know something about, but will probably never visit without a very specific reason.
Thus, we bring you Long Island — one-tenth the area of Vancouver Island, ten times the population. Long Island became a serious target of suburban development in 1883, with the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, the first of many land-based connections to come. (Whereas Fire Island, picture above, is still the very picture of disconnectedness – ferry only, and fewer permanent residents than the Village of Belcarra).
Follow along below as Gordon unpacks some of the suburban story of Long Island. And check out the PT Instagram feed for extra bonus shots.
Now here’s an establishing shot: Long Island, NY. – the longest (118 km eastward from Manhattan) and largest island in the contiguous US. Population is roughly double that of BC – with most people concentrated in the two New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens at the eastern end. (At this point you are allowed to do a crude attempt at a Long Island accent.) Jamaica is the place where subway and JFK AirTrain passengers transfer to the Long Island Railway for the journey east.
Between the brick-and-concrete denseness of the island’s west end and the lush fertility of the ag lands on the east lies the great suburban forest – more trees (and deer and ticks) than houses and cars. Hundreds of separately incorporated communities strung along the colonial post roads, farming villages, commuter rail lines, and the great parkways and expressways built by Robert Moses.
It’s fair to say that Long Island is where mid-20th-century suburbia was worked out. Somewhere in the sprawl that we passed lies Levittown, said to be the model for the mass production of the post-war suburbs. (In truth, it happened in Los Angeles first, but nothing will displace Long Island as the archetype.)
Great wealth also colonized the shorelines of the Island, in fiction and fact, from Gatsby’s East Egg to The Hamptons. The dream of middle-class accessibility got stalled literally in the endless traffic, the big LIE, of the Long Island Expressway. Yet the bucolic nature, the pastoral setting still pulls people out of steamy Manhattan in the summertime. In particular to one of the great natural features of the megalopolis. Fire Island.
It is possible to drive to the ferry of course – but not many do. Few New Yorkers have cars, it’s a hassle and expensive, there are alternatives and, in a fabled story of Fire Island, there was their own version of The Great Freeway Fight. Robert Moses (of course) could have extended the parkway, now named after him, that connects the western-most part of the island further east to more of those glorious white-sand beaches. But after a successful resistance, LBJ designated most of the island a National Seashore, which it remains today (until Trump turns it into a very thin golf course).