As longtime inhabitants of the East End, we have seen a bunch of changes happen here. We have seen big stretches of woods in East Hampton change into monstrous mansions. We have seen Montauk go from being THE END to being “The Beginning.” We have seen Greenport change from a sleepy little village where everybody had electric heat because it was cheaper than oil to a downtown destination that mirrors Sag Harbor, as Sag Harbor has changed from an artist colony with a whaling history to ”Wow, what the heck is Sag Harbor now!” We have watched Riverhead change from a real estate wasteland (we remember when prostitutes used to stand openly in the traffic circle) to a downtown that is fast approaching something like Patchogue, as outlying areas try desperately to hold onto farms while being attacked by mega-warehouses.
Throughout all of these changes, we see one golden value — community. Small town communities resemble neighborhoods from the old days — places where you know your neighbors and say hello. Places where people do favors for each other and watch out for each other. Places where “doing the right thing” is still a possible and acceptable choice. Places where the “almighty buck” is not the first and only consideration.
These days, some of us have begun to refer to ourselves forlornly as ‘leftovers,’ and it’s not a pretty trend. We find ourselves appalled that the newcomers don’t realize that when you build a 10,000 square foot home or insist on surrounding your entire property with a ten foot hedge, they are destroying something important. They are destroying the way that we communicate with each other as neighbors and as members of a local community.
For a bunch of years now, we have been learning new ways to communicate with each other, and after the pandemic those ways have been amplified in a big way. Zoom meetings, email blasts, social media platforms and long threads or “e-groups” of people have given us new ways to confront information and communication.
For the most part, these new ways give us something good, but they also take something away. Information can be overwhelming, tedious, questionable and at its worst, driven by fear. But it can also be enlightening and convenient. We can spend a Friday night sitting home talking to people in our pajamas instead of sitting on a bar stool paying 15 dollars for a drink just to have a conversation with somebody we don’t live with.
The fabric of the neighborhood out here is different from what it is Up West, where people don’t have an easy, calm environment that keeps them civil and attached to nature and each other.
Out here, it’s not ok to walk past somebody on a rural street and not say hello. Friendliness may not be on trend, but it is vital.
Each local hamlet here is unique, but the East End is also its own place, with an identity that is distinct from the rest of Long Island. It is not an undeveloped spot that is just waiting to be turned into “Levittown by the Sea”.
If you have been out here for a while, you are aware of what happens in East Hampton even if you live in Southold. You are aware of what the Industrial Development Agency does in Riverhead even if you live in Hampton Bays. You go to the ocean in Westhampton but you buy your groceries at the Handy Pantry in Mattituck. We have to see the East End as a separate community from the rest of Long Island.
At a recent candidates forum in Orient, several of the candidates said that we need to reinstate stakeholders’ committees in each hamlet to let the” larger” local government keep in touch with the ideas that are distinct to each community. What a refreshing and timely idea — keeping in touch with each local hamlet, so we know how the residents, the people who actually live here, feel about their distinct location. The old idea of Peconic County is alive and well in the hearts of many of the leftover people out here. We hope some newer arrivals take the time to learn what this is all about.
This year in Riverhead, a groundswell of locals learned a lot about a global conglomerate’s plans for a logistics hub and cargo airport that was being pushed through the town’s regulatory agencies. The local residents rose up and said “No!” in unequivocal terms, and their voice was undeniable. They showed us all that it’s time for the small governments of the East End to have a backbone and do the right thing. These governments must be held accountable to us all this November.