After a storm of late December washed the beaches of the East End into their early winter contours, some of which were familiar from other winters, and some of which quite startling and new, we happened upon a broad flat expanse of level, untouched sand at the edge of the Peconic Bay, gleaming like the tabula rasa of a brand new year.
Of course this was a great opportunity for a year-end reflection, and of course, we took the opportunity, as journalists are wont to do.
This past year was a great one for 21st Century ideas as they spread across the East End, and we have a lot of optimism about 2019.
From Amagansett to Riverhead to Speonk to Greenport, we saw real progress in the acceptance and furtherance of workforce housing ideas here. After decades of sitting through local board meetings filled with not-in-my-backyard sentiment, we were heartened to see that the tide seems to finally be changing here.
Locally, nationally and internationally, 2018 proved a reckoning for acceptance of the adaptations we will need to make in order to continue to thrive in a warming world. Nowhere on the East End is this more apparent than in Montauk, where East Hampton Town is envisioning major zoning changes designed to help move downtown businesses, most of which are at or below 15 feet above sea level, to where they will be safe from stormwaters in the future.
Some say these changes are too little too late, but the fact that we are now acknowledging the threats we face and are attempting to do something about it shows a new acceptance here of a reality that is waking up the entire world.
Local leaders on the edges of coastlines all over the world are at the forefront of the movement to protect us all from catastrophic climate change, and we expect nothing less of our leaders here than that they stand firmly on these front lines.
As the traffic snarl here has worsened, we’re only seeing little nudges of progress. We’re happy to see the rapid adoption by East Enders of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft — these services are an essential part of the fabric of transportation throughout the world, but we’ve lagged behind here. After all, ridesharing was only legalized on the East End in the summer of 2017. While these services may not seem on the surface to play a role in easing the traffic burden, they are a crucial link in the “last mile” problem — connecting commuters on public transportation to their final destination, keeping cars off the few main arteries in and out of our region. They also have the added benefit of making it easy for partiers to chose not to drive when they are drinking, giving us one more tool to make our roads safer.
Expanded Long Island Rail Road commuter train service is coming to the South Fork in March, along with a series of what we hope will be innovative solutions to solving the “last mile” problem — taking commuters from train stations to their workplaces in a seamless transition that could shave hours off their drive to the Hamptons for work.
It takes just 10 minutes to get from Hampton Bays to Southampton on a rush hour train. Tell that to drivers stuck in the morning trade parade, and you might have a game-changer on your hands. This is big.
Of course, there’s still plenty of work to do to bring the East End fully into the 20th Century. Our septic systems are a disaster born in another era, and we’ve just begun to tackle innovative ways to keep them from leaching into our bays and harbors. A lot of that will depend on public buy-in.
We are just at the verge of being able to reenvision our energy infrastructure. With offshore wind power just over the horizon, dramatic improvements in battery energy storage and ideas like using solar arrays to power a community — not just the houses that have ideal roofs for solar — we are just at the verge of seeing the potential that technology holds for our future.
Our farms and our bays give us so much. New York State recognized our region as a Heritage Area in December of 2018, acknowledging that our area possesses unique historical and current features that deserve to be protected and enhanced.
But the way toward protecting our past involves acknowledging and shaping the change the future holds for us. We’re starting 2019 in a place of great hope. We’ll see what the new year brings.