In January 2010, the Long Island Index (LII)—a research project funded by the Rauch Foundation—published a report detailing the potential for growth and development on Long Island, identifying nearly 8,300 acres of available unbuilt land in more than 150 existing downtown and railroad areas. Long Islanders currently are struggling to find ways to revive the region's fading economy, to attract more businesses and younger workers and residents.

Redevelopment of Long Island's towns and cities, as neighboring regions have done successfully, seems the most viable option for overcoming the local economic challenges. These include limited housing options, high housing costs, and a lack of well-paying jobs, all helping to drive younger generations to leave the island in search of affordable housing and better wages. Local governments and residents now must determine the type and scale of development that can be achieved and that will yield a desirable result: a reinvigorated economy, expanded housing options, and affordable housing costs.

The LII's report, Places to Grow: An Analysis of the Potential for Transit-Accessible Housing and Jobs in Long Island's Downtown and Station Areas, found that the 8,300 acres of currently unprotected, undeveloped land could support 90,000 news homes if low-density, single-family development continues. But it also found that—if redevelopment is approached in a different manner—half the undeveloped land could support 90,000 housing units in a mixture of townhouses, garden apartments, and apartment buildings, leaving the remaining acreage for other uses.

"A lot of people just don't understand that doing things as we've done in the past won't address the economic issues we're facing," says Ann Golob, LII's director. "We could provide more parking and more housing. If we could build differently, we could really begin to address [Long Island's] issues. Other regions surrounding us have really embraced these kinds of changes. That doesn't mean you eliminate the suburban character of the region, but it does mean you start to build differently in some areas so you create more opportunities for more people."

While the report's data has been made available to the public, imagining the redevelopment possibilities and array of potential benefits is a challenge for most laypeople. That's why the LII created a design competition for reimagining Long Island's downtown areas. Architect and educator June Williamson, co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia, assisted in creating the competition's design brief and selecting the jury.

The resulting highly innovative, intriguing concepts offer residents and local governments the tools to carry out new and more productive discussions about redevelopment, according to Golob.

Out of more than 200 entries from teams in 30-plus countries, the jury selected five professionally designed concepts for awards, and also recognized one student concept. The public was invited to select one project from the field of finalists for a People's Choice Award, as well.

The winning concepts in the LII's "Build a Better Burb" Ideas Competition for Retrofitting Long Island's Downtowns are:

  • AgISLAND, by the team of Parsons Brinckerhoff, N.Y. (Amy Ford-Wagner, Tom Jost, Ebony Sterling, Philip Jonat, Emily Hull, Will Wagenlander, Meg Cederoth, Melanie George, David Greenblatt, and Melissa Targett).
  • Building C-Burbia, by the team of the City College of New York Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture Program (Denise Hoffman Brandt, Alexa Helsell, and Bronwyn Gropp).
  • Levittown: Increasing Density and Opportunity through Accessory Dwellings, by the team of Ryall Porter Sheridan Architects, New York, (Meri Tepper, Ted Porter, Ted Sheridan, and John Buckley) and William R. Morrish, Parsons the New School for Design.
  • Long Division, by the team of the Network Architecture Lab, Columbia University (Kazys Varnelis, Leigha Dennis, Momo Araki, Alexis Burson, and Kyle Hovenkotter) and William Prince, owner, PARK.
  • SUBHUB Transit System, by the team of DUB Studios (Michael Piper, Frank Ruchala, Natalya Kashper, Gabriel Sandoval, and Jeff Geiringer).
  • Student Winner—Upcycling 2.0, by the team of Columbia University School of Architecture and Planning and Preservation (Ryan H. B. Lovett, John B. Simons, and Patrick Cobb).
  • People's Choice Award Winner—LIRR: Long Island Radically Rezoned, by the team of Tobias Holler, New York Institute of Technology; Ana Serra, Buro Happold; Sven Peters, Atelier Sven Peters; and Katelyn Mulry, New York Institute of Technology.

Each of these redevelopment solutions are based on two common qualities, according to Golob. "They did not assume you'd raze Long Island and start over from a blank canvas; they designed from within the context of the existing communities," she says. "Also, they were thinking regionally, not on a city-by-city basis. They addressed the issues on a large scale and drilled down to what their solutions mean on the very local level."
Competition jurors were: Allison Arieff, contributor to the New York Times and GOOD magazine; Daniel D'Oca, partner, Interboro, New York, and assistant professor, Maryland Institute College of Art; Rob Lane, director of the design program at the Regional Plan Association; Paul Lukez, principal, Paul Lukez Architecture, Boston, and author of Suburban Transformations; Lee Sobel, real estate development and finance analyst, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Policy, Economics, and Innovation; Galina Tachieva, partner, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., Miami, and author of Sprawl Repair Manual; and Georgeen Theodore, partner, Interboro, New York, associate director of the infrastructure planning program, New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Launch the playlist for more details on each winning concept. Visit for complete details on the winners and all competition submissions.